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# Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Contestants Ignore the Odds

19 March 2000

Allow me to put you into an intriguing predicament for a moment. I promise you won't mind. There you are, sitting in the "hot seat" on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the new TV quiz show that everybody and his brother has been watching and talking about.

You've already won \$125,000 and Regis Philbin has just fired the \$250,000 question at you. It's multiple choice with four available answers. Looking them over you think the right answer is probably "D". But just to play it safe, you resort to your last remaining "lifeline" option by asking Regis to make two of the wrong answers go away. That leaves just two choices--one right and one wrong (this is one of the many cute features of the game that help make the show so popular). So Regis gives the command and "D" disappears along with "A". Great. Now there's just "B" and "C" left, and you have absolutely no clue as to which one's right. It's a pure 50-50 deal.

Now what? Well, you still have alternatives. If you don't like your odds, you have the right to "take the money and run," cashing out with your \$125,000. On the other hand, you can venture a blind guess. But if you miss, they'll take back \$93,000 and send you home with the other \$32,000 (you can never drop below 32 grand once you've gotten that far).

However, if you guess right, you'll have \$250,000 and Regis will ask you a \$500,000 question with the same \$32,000 guarantee, but no more 50-50 "lifeline" option since you've already used it. And should you somehow answer the \$500,000 question correctly, you'll advance to the \$1,000,000 grand prize question with the same conditions. All right, that's the whole picture. What would you do? Think about it from all sides before you decide.

Mathematically speaking, the answer is a clear-cut one. Yet, on repeated occasions I've seen contestants in precisely this situation turn their backs on the odds. Yep, they took the money and ran.

Why not lock up a \$125,000 profit, you ask? First, notice that by going for it, you're getting 125 to 93 odds on a 50-50 shot (you either lose \$93,000 or win another \$125,000). Where else can you find that deal? Statistically, it's equivalent to Regis just handing you another S16,000! How do I figure? If you guessed twice, on average you'd win \$125,000 once and lose \$93,000 once. You'd have \$32,000 more after two guesses, which averages out to \$16,000 per guess. You can't find that lying in the street.

Yes, I understand the rub is that you only get to guess once, but that's not all there is to it. If you guess right, when the next question comes along, what if you know that answer? Then you'd be sitting on 500 grand. And if you don't know the half million dollar answer, since you've already burned your option to reduce it to 50-50, your best move would now be to quit with a quarter million. That's because you'd be a 3 to 1 underdog (still having four answers to pick from), getting odds of only 250,000 to 218,000.

My wife says all this talk about percentages is fine if you're dealing with pocket change in the casino — but when lifestyle altering sums of money are involved, certain self-preservation measures are in order. Ironically, though, it's the enormous upward financial mobility that makes it so important to look a little further down the road before making a decision. When you have the 125 grand sitting in front of you, three things can happen.

1. You can take the 125 Gs and make the most of it.
2. You can gamble, lose and go home with a \$32,000 payday.
3. You can go for it, win and be assured of coming home with at least a quarter million, depending upon whether you know the answer to the \$500,000 question when you see it.

If you go for it, you'll get to the next question half the time. If there were a 90% chance that you would not know its answer and quit there, your averaged total win would be \$153,500 rather than \$125,000. That includes the times you lost and went home with \$32,000.

The only reason to quit short is if you absolutely must have that \$93,000 you'd be risking. But then, how could that be? You came to the show without it.

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Best of Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send \$9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

#### Books by Fred Renzey:

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send \$9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

#### Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II