Leave and Let Dice

Imagine a game with six players, numbered #1 to #6, and one six-sided die. Someone rolls the die and the player who matches the number wins the game. That is, if the die rolls 1, player #1 wins; if the die rolls 2, player #2 wins; and so on. With a fair die, this is a fair game, because each player has exactly a 1/6 chance of winning. You could call it a simultaneous game, because all players are playing at once. It has one rule:

• If the die rolls n, then player #n wins.

Now try a different game with six players and one die. Player #1 rolls the die. If he gets 1, he wins the game. If not, then he leaves the game and player #2 rolls the die. If he gets 2, he wins the game. If not, then he leaves the game and player #3 rolls the die. And so on. You could call this a sequential game, because the players are playing in sequence. It has two rules:

• If player #n rolls n on the die, then he wins.
• If player #n doesn’t roll n, then player n+1 rolls the die.

Is it a fair game? No, definitely not. Player #1 has the best chance of winning. 1/6 or 16.6% of the time he rolls 1 and wins the game. 5/6 of the time, he rolls 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 and passes the die to player #2. Now player #2 has a 1/6 chance of rolling a 2 and winning. But he has the opportunity to roll the die only 5/6 of the time, so his chance of winning the game is 1/6 * 5/6 = 5/36 = 13.8%. However, if player #2 rolls a 1, 3, 4, 5 or 6, then he loses and player #3 rolls the die. But player #3 has that opportunity only 5/6 * 5/6 = 25/36 of the time. So his chance of winning is 1/6 * 25/36 = 11.57%. And so on.

To put it another way, if the six players play 46656 = 6^6 games under the sequential rules, then on average:

• Player #1 wins 7776 games
• Player #2 wins 6480 games
• Player #3 wins 5400 games
• Player #4 wins 4500 games
• Player #5 wins 3750 games
• Player #6 wins 3125 games
• 15625 games end without a winner.

In other words, player #1 is 20% more likely to win than player #2, 44% more likely than player #3, 72.8% more likely than player #4, 107% more likely than player #5, and 148.8% more likely than player #6. Furthermore, player #2 is 20% more likely to win than player #3, 44% more likely than player #4, 72.8% more likely than player #5, and so on.

But there is a simple way to make the sequential game perfectly fair, so long as it’s played with a fair die. At least, I’ve thought of a simple way, but there might be more than one.




To make the sequential game fair, you add an extra rule:

1. If player #n rolls n on the die, he wins the game.
2. If player #n rolls a number greater than n, he loses and the die passes to player n+1.
3. If player #n rolls a number less than n, then he rolls again.

Let’s run through a possible game to see that it’s fair. Player #1 rolls first. He has a 1/6 chance of rolling a 1 and winning the game. However, 5/6 of the time he loses and passes the die to player #2. If player #2 rolls a 1, he rolls again. In other words, player #2 is effectively playing with a five-sided die, because all rolls of 1 are ignored. Therefore, he has a 1/5 chance of winning the game at that stage.

But hold on: a 1/5 chance of winning is better than a 1/6 chance, which is what player #1 had. So how is the game fair? Well, note the qualifying phrase at the end of the previous paragraph: at that stage. The game doesn’t always reach that stage, because if player #1 rolls a 1, the game is over. Player #2 rolls only if player doesn’t roll 1, which is 5/6 of the time. Therefore player #2’s chance of winning is really 1/5 * 5/6 = 5/30 = 1/6.

However, 4/5 of the time player #2 rolls a 3, 4, 5 or 6 and the die passes to player #3. If player #3 rolls a 1 or 2, he rolls again. In other words, player #3 is effectively playing with a four-sided die, because all rolls of 1 and 2 are ignored. Therefore, he has a 1/4 chance of winning the game at that stage.

A 1/4 chance of winning is better than a 1/5 chance and a 1/6 chance, but the same reasoning applies as before. Player #3 rolls the die only 5/6 * 4/5 = 20/30 = 2/3 of the time, so his chance of winning is really 1/4 * 2/3 = 2/12 = 1/6.

However, 3/4 of the time player #2 rolls a 4, 5 or 6 and the die passes to player #4. If player #4 rolls a 1, 2 or 3, he rolls again. In other words, player #4 is effectively playing with a three-sided die, because all rolls of 1, 2 and 3 are ignored. Therefore, he has a 1/3 chance of winning the game at that stage. 1/3 > 1/4 > 1/5 > 1/6, but the same reasoning applies as before. Player #4 rolls the die only 5/6 * 4/5 * 3/4 = 60/120 = 1/2 of the time, so his chance of winning is really 1/3 * 1/2 = 1/6.

And so on. If the die reaches player #5 and he gets a 1, 2, 3 or 4, then he rolls again. He is effectively rolling with a two-sided die, so his chance of winning is 1/2 * 5/6 * 4/5 * 3/4 * 2/3 = 120/720 = 1/6. If player #5 rolls a 6, he loses and the die passes to player #6. But there’s no need for player #6 to roll the die, because he’s bound to win. He rolls again if he gets a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, so eventually he must get a 6 and win the game. If player #5 loses, then player #6 automatically wins.

It’s obvious that this form of the game will get slower as more players drop out, because later players will be rolling again more often. To speed the game up, you can refine the rules like this:

1. If Player #1 rolls a 1, he wins the game. Otherwise…
2. If player #2 rolls a 2, he wins the game. If he rolls a 1, he rolls again. Otherwise…
3. Player #3 rolls twice and adds his scores. If the total is 3, 4 or 5, he wins the game. Otherwise…
4. Player #4 rolls once. If he gets 1 or 2, he wins the game. Otherwise…
5. Player #5 rolls once. If he gets 1, 2 or 3, he wins the game. Otherwise…
6. Player #6 wins the game.

Only player #2 might have to roll more than twice. Player #3 has to roll twice because he needs a way to get a 1/4 chance of winning. If you roll two dice, there are:

• Two ways of getting a total of 3: roll #1 is 1 and roll #2 is 2, or vice versa.
• Three ways of getting a total of 4 = 1+3, 3+1, 2+2.
• Four ways of getting 5 = 1+4, 4+1, 2+3, 3+2.

This means player #3 has 2 + 3 + 4 = 9 ways of winning. But there are thirty-six ways of rolling one die twice. Therefore player #3 has a 9/36 = 1/4 chance of winning. Here are the thirty-six ways of rolling one die twice, with asterisks marking the winning totals for player #3:

01. (1,1)
02. (1,2)*
03. (2,1)*
04. (1,3)*
05. (3,1)*
06. (1,4)*
07. (4,1)*
08. (1,5)
09. (5,1)
10. (1,6)
11. (6,1)
12. (2,2)*
13. (2,3)*
14. (3,2)*
15. (2,4)
16. (4,2)
17. (2,5)
18. (5,2)
19. (2,6)
20. (6,2)
21. (3,3)
22. (3,4)
23. (4,3)
24. (3,5)
25. (5,3)
26. (3,6)
27. (6,3)
28. (4,4)
29. (4,5)
30. (5,4)
31. (4,6)
32. (6,4)
33. (5,5)
34. (5,6)
35. (6,5)
36. (6,6)