buncoOn Tuesdays here in Springhouse Village, it’s Bunco night.  You know.  Bunco.  That mindless little dice game designed as much to socialize as to amuse.  No … you don’t know it?   It is played with three dice.  You score points by trying to roll a particular number with the number progressing through 1 to 6 with each round.  Let’s say the number is 1.  You get one point for each 1 you roll and you get to keep rolling as long as you are scoring points.   If all three dice come up as the number, that is a Bunco and you score 21 points.   If all three dice come up any other number, that is a Funco and you get five points.  It is played with 2 two person teams at each table where the number of tables is determined by how many players turn up each week.  Now, the social part.  After each round, the winning team moves to another table … BUT you can’t stay partners with the same person.  So, in the course of an evening (we play three rounds, with the number going from 1 to 6 in each round), you get to spend some time with lots of different people.  Wikipedia says that the skills required to play Bunco are counting and simple mathematics.  Indeed.

Bunco was originally a confidence game similar to three card monte. It originated from 19th-century England where it was known as “eight dice cloth”.   I’m not sure how you would con someone with three dice but I suspect it would involve using loaded dice.   Here among the seniors at Springhouse Village we use fair dice and we all know that it’s a game of luck not skill.   But it is still fun to watch people throw the dice in different ways to improve their odds.  There’s the shake and roll, the shake and drop, and just dropping the dice.  There’s the long roll and the right or left-handed roll.   If someone at the table is scoring a lot of points, another player may try the same roll that they used.   The drop is particularly popular with players after they have scored on the previous roll.   They carefully pick up the dice and drop them on the table.  I’ve watched carefully and most of the time, the dice all change sides.  Still, I suspect there may be some small advantage.  At the crap table in Vegas, you have to throw the dice hard enough that they bank off the felt at the end of the table.

diceAs a statistician (among other things), I can’t help thinking about the odds in games of chance.    Did you know that throwing a Bunco on a single roll of the dice is 1/216?   Thats because each die has 6 sides so there are 6x6x6=216 possible outcomes and only one of those outcomes is a Bunco.  The probability of a funco is, by the way, 5/216.   Last week I won the prize for most buncos with two buncos but other weeks someone may have six or eight.  Random processes can be funny like that.  The actual odds only play out over a large number of trials.  If you flip a coin, the probability of heads on any throw is 1/2 but if you keep throwing you will see some long runs of heads (or tails).   It is interesting that the probability of throwing no matches is 125/216, that is, on the average you will score no points on more than half your rolls.   So, you’ve just thrown a bunco … what are your chances of throwing on again on your next throw?  Well, the same, making the likelihood of throwing two buncos in a row 1/46656 and the probability of two funcos in a row is about 1/1866.   So, the next time you roll two funcos in a row, or score on 7 consecutive rolls, don’t say I’m on a hot streak.  Say I’m on a lucky streak.  And have fun.

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