Is picking the letters an advantage?

All discussion relevant to Countdown that is not too spoilerific. New members: come here first to introduce yourself. We don't bite, or at least rarely.
Post Reply
Martin Smith
Acolyte
Posts: 203
Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:12 pm
Location: Eastbourne

Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Martin Smith » Tue Oct 05, 2010 6:31 pm

One of Jeff's catchphrases was heard today - after the champion took a lead in the first round, he said it was the challenger's chance to get on the scoreboard as he was picking the letters. I'm not sure if Jeff has thought about the inference of this, that picking the letters is an advantage on a round, but I wonder if anyone has any thoughts on this. Clearly there will be times when you notice that, if the last tile is an e, you have a nine-letter word your opponent probably doesn't know, but does it happen that often? Is declaring your score second a bigger advantage? Is picking 6/11 of the letters rounds more important than picking 2/3 of the numbers rounds?

User avatar
Kirk Bevins
God
Posts: 4923
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 5:18 pm
Location: York, UK

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Kirk Bevins » Tue Oct 05, 2010 6:41 pm

I prefer to pick the letters as I'm always playing goatdown when selecting. On my shows I wanted my opponent to pick a final vowel for a potential I for OLEFINIC. I got very lucky as he went vowel and it was an I but it very often doesn't happen that way. You also get to declare second one more time which can be crucial for wondering whether to risk a word or not.

User avatar
Michael Wallace
Racoonteur
Posts: 5458
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 5:01 am
Location: London

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Michael Wallace » Tue Oct 05, 2010 6:47 pm

I'm going to go for no.

User avatar
Jon Corby
Moral Hero
Posts: 7933
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 8:36 am

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Jon Corby » Tue Oct 05, 2010 6:53 pm

There is the advantage that Kirk has described, but personally I found that hard to do in the studio. I much preferred when my opponent was picking because I could concentrate fully on the letters that were coming out, and start making words, and realising what was nearly there etc. When I was picking, I was focussing not more on not saying something stupid like cowel or vonsonant, or pausing too long, or not realising I still had three letters to pick, or was dribbling slightly while the camera was on me, etc etc

User avatar
Rhys Benjamin
Fanatic
Posts: 2094
Joined: Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:28 pm
Location: Down in the tube station at midnight
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Tue Oct 05, 2010 6:55 pm

It's been the opposite for me.
The forum's resident JAILBAKER, who has SPONDERED several times...

Paul Howe
Kiloposter
Posts: 1070
Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 2:25 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Paul Howe » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:01 pm

There are some advantages:

- When you've spotted a good word from the first 7/8 letters, you can try and pick the rest so it's not beatable or ideally darrenic.
- You can try and pick awkward selections to stop your opponent scoring heavily (e.g. if you have a healthy lead in an endgame or you think your opponent is much stronger and able to nail you with a soul crushing nine).
- You can fish for letters to make a good word. Most effective when fishing for vowels, especially if you're autistically good and able to see multiple vowels that would produce a killer word. Obviously this has a patchy success rate, and you have to know the dictionary really well for this to be much of an advantage.

User avatar
Charlie Reams
Site Admin
Posts: 9418
Joined: Fri Jan 11, 2008 2:33 pm
Location: Cambridge
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Charlie Reams » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:04 pm

I always prefer to be picking, and deliberate fishing gave me the YouTube moment of my run, but I have no idea if there's any real advantage to it statistically speaking.

User avatar
Michael Wallace
Racoonteur
Posts: 5458
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 5:01 am
Location: London

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Michael Wallace » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:04 pm

Charlie Reams wrote:I always prefer to be picking, but I have no idea if there's any real advantage to it, statistically speaking.
Pimp me the numbers sometime, big boy.

User avatar
Matt Morrison
Post-apocalypse
Posts: 7563
Joined: Wed Oct 22, 2008 2:27 pm
Location: London
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Matt Morrison » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:06 pm

For once, a thread that really deserves a poll.

User avatar
Michael Wallace
Racoonteur
Posts: 5458
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 5:01 am
Location: London

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Michael Wallace » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:07 pm

Matt Morrison wrote:For once, a thread that really deserves a poll.
You think? I think we need a poll for that.

User avatar
Charlie Reams
Site Admin
Posts: 9418
Joined: Fri Jan 11, 2008 2:33 pm
Location: Cambridge
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Charlie Reams » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:09 pm

Michael Wallace wrote:
Charlie Reams wrote:I always prefer to be picking, but I have no idea if there's any real advantage to it, statistically speaking.
Pimp me the numbers sometime, big boy.
Yeah, I actually will. It's a good question.

Gavin Chipper
Post-apocalypse
Posts: 9508
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 10:37 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Tue Oct 05, 2010 8:03 pm

Jon Corby wrote:There is the advantage that Kirk has described, but personally I found that hard to do in the studio. I much preferred when my opponent was picking because I could concentrate fully on the letters that were coming out, and start making words, and realising what was nearly there etc. When I was picking, I was focussing not more on not saying something stupid like cowel or vonsonant, or pausing too long, or not realising I still had three letters to pick, or was dribbling slightly while the camera was on me, etc etc
Hang on - you mean before the clock has started? Outside the time allowed? What a fucking cheat. I have no respect for people that do that. I actually had no idea it went on.

User avatar
Ian Volante
Postmaster General
Posts: 3483
Joined: Wed Sep 03, 2008 8:15 pm
Location: Edinburgh
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Ian Volante » Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:40 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Jon Corby wrote:There is the advantage that Kirk has described, but personally I found that hard to do in the studio. I much preferred when my opponent was picking because I could concentrate fully on the letters that were coming out, and start making words, and realising what was nearly there etc. When I was picking, I was focussing not more on not saying something stupid like cowel or vonsonant, or pausing too long, or not realising I still had three letters to pick, or was dribbling slightly while the camera was on me, etc etc
Hang on - you mean before the clock has started? Outside the time allowed? What a fucking cheat. I have no respect for people that do that. I actually had no idea it went on.
I'm coming over all John McEnroe right now.
meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles meles

User avatar
James Doohan
Enthusiast
Posts: 323
Joined: Mon May 04, 2009 4:20 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by James Doohan » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:12 pm

Ian Volante wrote: I'm coming over all John McEnroe right now.
Glad I read that a second time :lol:

User avatar
Rhys Benjamin
Fanatic
Posts: 2094
Joined: Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:28 pm
Location: Down in the tube station at midnight
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Wed Oct 06, 2010 4:48 pm

Charlie Reams wrote:YouTube
The forum's resident JAILBAKER, who has SPONDERED several times...

JackHurst
Series 63 Champion
Posts: 1317
Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2009 8:40 pm
Location: Leics

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by JackHurst » Wed Oct 06, 2010 8:44 pm

To put it plainly, if you are good, then yes, picking letters is an advantsage in a round. I think theres a certain Level you have to be at before it becomes an advantage.

Nik Mackintosh
Newbie
Posts: 15
Joined: Sun Oct 03, 2010 11:16 am

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Nik Mackintosh » Thu Oct 14, 2010 10:11 pm

I found it much easier when my opponent was picking the letters. It meant i could stare at the letters coming out and start making words rather than staring at Rachel. :lol:

User avatar
Jon Corby
Moral Hero
Posts: 7933
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 8:36 am

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Jon Corby » Fri Oct 15, 2010 7:44 am

JackHurst wrote:To put it plainly, if you are good, then yes, picking letters is an advantsage in a round.
:(

User avatar
Rhys Benjamin
Fanatic
Posts: 2094
Joined: Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:28 pm
Location: Down in the tube station at midnight
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Fri May 22, 2020 4:57 pm

Reading back last night's ZoomDown, Damian thinks I need shooting for picking 5 vowels and a Y.
The forum's resident JAILBAKER, who has SPONDERED several times...

Gavin Chipper
Post-apocalypse
Posts: 9508
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 10:37 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Fri May 22, 2020 5:00 pm

JackHurst wrote:
Wed Oct 06, 2010 8:44 pm
To put it plainly, if you are good, then yes, picking letters is an advantsage in a round. I think theres a certain Level you have to be at before it becomes an advantage.
Yeah, I'd agree with this, so just looking at the raw statistics (as suggested above) wouldn't tell you very much unless you took a more nuanced approach to it.

Old threads are good.

User avatar
Charlie Reams
Site Admin
Posts: 9418
Joined: Fri Jan 11, 2008 2:33 pm
Location: Cambridge
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Charlie Reams » Sat May 23, 2020 12:09 pm

I took a quick look into this based on apterous data. I only considered games that are reasonably simulations of Countdown, i.e. human-vs-human games with normal rules and 30-second rounds. I also only looked at data for the last two years, because the move to the much bigger dictionary presumably raised the skill ceiling overall and might've changed the balance of the game. That leaves about 550,000 rounds. I put the exact numbers in a spreadsheet if anyone is interested in digging further, but here's a summary of what I found:

Overall, the picker expects to score about 5.47 points per round versus the receiver's 5.43, which amounts to an extra 0.43 points per game in a standard 15-rounder. The picker expects to win about 50.4% of decisive rounds (i.e. ignoring draws), which is statistically significant at the 99.9% level.

To test Jack's hypothesis that this is a bigger factor for the strongest players, I looked at games where both players were in the Pro Ranks top 25 at the time the game was played. This leaves about 30,000 rounds. In this case, the picker expects to score 6.58 points per round versus the receiver's 6.53, netting out to an extra 0.49 points per game. The picker expects to win about 50.7% of decisive rounds, which is a bit higher than the overall 50.4%, but this difference is not statistically significant (p=0.2).

So overall I think my conclusion is that picker's advantage is real but very small, and doesn't increase much for the strongest players.

Gavin Chipper
Post-apocalypse
Posts: 9508
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 10:37 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Sat May 23, 2020 1:06 pm

Interesting analysis! Thanks for doing that!

Conor
Series 54 Champion
Posts: 479
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 7:29 am
Location: Luton - UK

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Conor » Sat May 23, 2020 4:00 pm

Charlie Reams wrote:
Sat May 23, 2020 12:09 pm
To test Jack's hypothesis that this is a bigger factor for the strongest players, I looked at games where both players were in the Pro Ranks top 25 at the time the game was played. This leaves about 30,000 rounds. In this case, the picker expects to score 6.58 points per round versus the receiver's 6.53, netting out to an extra 0.49 points per game. The picker expects to win about 50.7% of decisive rounds, which is a bit higher than the overall 50.4%, but this difference is not statistically significant (p=0.2).

So overall I think my conclusion is that picker's advantage is real but very small, and doesn't increase much for the strongest players.
Nice analysis. Looking at Paul's list of advantages above, this should capture the fishing/goating advantage pretty well. But in games between two top players this effect can be pretty minimal since players probably arrive at the same words similarly. It might be interesting to see how top 25 players do vs non-top 25 players: how many extra rounds they win on their pick. Or even to bucket the groups more narrowly, e.g. top 10 players.

Anecdotally, I can think of too many occasions when I've fished for something against a top player, it's come out and I've won the round with it, but rather the bigger advantages are being able to influence the round probability distribution in order to maximize your chances of winning the match.

Also, it'd be interesting to see how the edge in picking has changed with the updated dictionary. I'd presume that it's been reduced.

User avatar
Jon O'Neill
Ginger Ninja
Posts: 4253
Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:45 am
Location: London, UK

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Jon O'Neill » Sat May 23, 2020 7:37 pm

Charlie Reams wrote:
Sat May 23, 2020 12:09 pm
I took a quick look into this based on apterous data. I only considered games that are reasonably simulations of Countdown, i.e. human-vs-human games with normal rules and 30-second rounds. I also only looked at data for the last two years, because the move to the much bigger dictionary presumably raised the skill ceiling overall and might've changed the balance of the game. That leaves about 550,000 rounds. I put the exact numbers in a spreadsheet if anyone is interested in digging further, but here's a summary of what I found:

Overall, the picker expects to score about 5.47 points per round versus the receiver's 5.43, which amounts to an extra 0.43 points per game in a standard 15-rounder. The picker expects to win about 50.4% of decisive rounds (i.e. ignoring draws), which is statistically significant at the 99.9% level.

To test Jack's hypothesis that this is a bigger factor for the strongest players, I looked at games where both players were in the Pro Ranks top 25 at the time the game was played. This leaves about 30,000 rounds. In this case, the picker expects to score 6.58 points per round versus the receiver's 6.53, netting out to an extra 0.49 points per game. The picker expects to win about 50.7% of decisive rounds, which is a bit higher than the overall 50.4%, but this difference is not statistically significant (p=0.2).

So overall I think my conclusion is that picker's advantage is real but very small, and doesn't increase much for the strongest players.
This is great and intuitively about what I would expect. Can we say that picking tactically will change the winner of the game extremely infrequently?

David Williams
Kiloposter
Posts: 1033
Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:57 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by David Williams » Sat May 23, 2020 11:26 pm

Declaring second is an advantage. It can be an advantage even if it gives you a lower expected score.

You're 21 points behind. Last letters game. You're looking at a safe seven or a dodgy eight. He goes eight, you go seven, and vice versa. He goes six, you go seven. In the long run it costs you points, but you win more games.

User avatar
Rhys Benjamin
Fanatic
Posts: 2094
Joined: Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:28 pm
Location: Down in the tube station at midnight
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Sun May 24, 2020 12:08 am

If you're >10 points behind (or any points behind and you're rubbish at conundrums) in the final letters game surely you go for the dodgy 8? At least, that's what I did (except with a dodgy 6)? If I'd have said 5 I wouldn't have won the game.
The forum's resident JAILBAKER, who has SPONDERED several times...

User avatar
Mark Deeks
Kiloposter
Posts: 1928
Joined: Tue Jul 12, 2011 3:15 am

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Mark Deeks » Sun May 24, 2020 1:46 am

If his eight is fine, then even if your eight is fine, you've lost anyway. Whereas if his eight is not fine, but neither is yours, you've also lost anyway. Might as well take the possibility of the sure points to potentially cut it to 14 and hope he's wrong about his.
Eoin Monaghan wrote:
He may not be liked on here, but you have to give some credit to Mark

Gavin Chipper
Post-apocalypse
Posts: 9508
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 10:37 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Sun May 24, 2020 7:49 am

David Williams wrote:
Sat May 23, 2020 11:26 pm
Declaring second is an advantage. It can be an advantage even if it gives you a lower expected score.

You're 21 points behind. Last letters game. You're looking at a safe seven or a dodgy eight. He goes eight, you go seven, and vice versa. He goes six, you go seven. In the long run it costs you points, but you win more games.
This is a good point and obviously the picker declares first so it complicates the statistics.

User avatar
Mark James
Kiloposter
Posts: 1283
Joined: Sat Oct 23, 2010 3:21 pm
Location: Dublin

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Mark James » Sun May 24, 2020 12:23 pm

I wonder if anyone has ever declared "dodgy 8" but actually knew it was fine but said dodgy because they suspected their opponent to have the same 8 but be less confident in it and hope they decide against risking it.

User avatar
Rhys Benjamin
Fanatic
Posts: 2094
Joined: Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:28 pm
Location: Down in the tube station at midnight
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Mon May 25, 2020 12:24 am

Mark Deeks wrote:
Sun May 24, 2020 1:46 am
If his eight is fine, then even if your eight is fine, you've lost anyway. Whereas if his eight is not fine, but neither is yours, you've also lost anyway. Might as well take the possibility of the sure points to potentially cut it to 14 and hope he's wrong about his.
Depends whether they say non-dodgy 8 or not, I think.

The actual game situation in my case was 62-55 with the final letters round, selection MIFGOSEMV, and he said "six". I had FOGIES (dodgy 6) and some 5, I can't remember what it was now. Saying FOGIES kept it 68-61, and after the final numbers that was 68-68. So if I'd said 5 I'd have lost. I don't really get this line of thinking.
The forum's resident JAILBAKER, who has SPONDERED several times...

User avatar
Mark Deeks
Kiloposter
Posts: 1928
Joined: Tue Jul 12, 2011 3:15 am

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Mark Deeks » Mon May 25, 2020 12:34 am

You're using that to rebut a different situation. See what David wrote again.
Eoin Monaghan wrote:
He may not be liked on here, but you have to give some credit to Mark

User avatar
Rhys Benjamin
Fanatic
Posts: 2094
Joined: Thu Sep 09, 2010 4:28 pm
Location: Down in the tube station at midnight
Contact:

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Rhys Benjamin » Mon May 25, 2020 12:52 am

Mark Deeks wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 12:34 am
You're using that to rebut a different situation. See what David wrote again.
So what are you saying? That less than 21 points behind you do gamble? Because that's not the inference at all.
The forum's resident JAILBAKER, who has SPONDERED several times...

David Williams
Kiloposter
Posts: 1033
Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:57 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by David Williams » Mon May 25, 2020 7:59 am

Rhys Benjamin wrote:
Mon May 25, 2020 12:24 am
The actual game situation in my case was 62-55 with the final letters round, selection MIFGOSEMV, and he said "six". I had FOGIES (dodgy 6) and some 5, I can't remember what it was now. Saying FOGIES kept it 68-61, and after the final numbers that was 68-68. So if I'd said 5 I'd have lost. I don't really get this line of thinking.
That's the reverse situation, but the same thing applies. If you win or draw that round it makes no difference. If you lose it's disaster. So declaring second you match what your opponent says. If you declare first you have to make a decision, and it's distinctly possible that your opponent will take the opposite decision, because for him losing the round is irrelevant.
It's never conclusive, with another numbers game to come, of course.

Sam Cappleman-Lynes
Newbie
Posts: 21
Joined: Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:30 pm

Re: Is picking the letters an advantage?

Post by Sam Cappleman-Lynes » Mon May 25, 2020 8:01 am

EDIT: Sniped by David who has explained much the same thing.

I mean, in your situation Rhys, saying "six" was obviously the right choice, for much the same reason as David's line of reasoning for the 21-point situation. If your opponent says "six", then if their word is valid you need to have your own six to stay within 10, and if their word is invalid you'll be within 10 whatever happens.

David isn't presenting a rule like "you should never gamble" or "you should always gamble" - it depends on the exact score difference, and the lengths of the words involved. But the point is that only the second player (i.e. the one not delcaring) has the luxury of using this to their advantage.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: L'oisleatch McGraw and 2 guests