How to win Buffett's $1 billion bracket challenge

Play the seeds, but be careful with the top seeds. No matter what, recognize that the odds are stacked against you.

By InvestorPlace Jan 22, 2014 3:28PM

Caption: Billionaire investor Warren Buffett
Credit: © Nati Harnik/APThe Oracle of Omaha has gotten into the collegiate sporting spirit early, offering up a Warren Buffett March Madness challenge.

Warren Buffett (pictured) and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert are pairing up to offer a cool billion bucks to whoever can pull out a flawless NCAA men's basketball bracket.

Not bad.

The details are pretty straightforward -- you can enter from March 3-19, fill out brackets starting March 16, one bracket per household. (More info here.)

But how do you give yourself the best chance to win the Warren Buffett March Madness challenge?

You're in luck, as you're talking to a member of the financial media who also has a decent background in sports. . . especially when it comes to winning the occasional pick 'em, suicide pool and bracket.

And I'm willing to let you in on a little secret:

There's no good way to do it

None. No magic bullet. No secret formula.

Really, the truth is that Joe Fan doesn't know nearly enough about all 64 (sorry, 68!) participants to have even remote confidence in their bracket.

Think about it: You'd have to make educated decisions not only about all the first-round matchups, but then all the resulting matchups through the very final one. And that means factoring in not only what you know about the teams, but having to account for the possibility of individual/team outperformance, underperformance, injuries, emotional highs and lows, ability to play closer to/farther from home, etc.

That's why urban legends surround winning-but-not-even-perfect brackets. Enough people with little knowledge win their bracket pools that such strategies as "I picked the coolest mascots," "favorite colors," and even "dartboard" are plausible.

And there are no old wives' tales concerning how such-and-such achieved a perfect bracket for one simple reason: It's never happened.

Frankly, I'm a little peeved that my NBA rooting interest's owner is dangling this apple of Tantalus in front of everyone, but hey. . . better to win $1 billion for the impossible than nothing at all, right?

And impossible it is -- or as close to impossible as something technically possible can be.

The winner of the $1 billion Warren Buffett March Madness prize is looking at a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance. Off the cuff, those are about the odds of finding a needle in a haystack, and that needle actually being the key to Davy Jones' locker, in which someone has stuffed a winning Powerball ticket, the Hope Diamond and a written Kanye West apology.

Of course, if it were me. . .

I'd just pick by seeds

The seeds are more or less an imperfect way of ranking teams based on their regular-season success, and reward better teams with easier paths to the championship (at least early on). The top seed is "1," and the lowest seed is "16" -- in the first round, 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, so on and so forth through 8 seeds, which play 9 seeds.

In theory, "lower" seeds should beat "higher" seeds because they're supposed to be better. Happens more often than it doesn't, but certainly not all the time.

So, here's how you play the seeds:


  • 1 vs. 16: Always pick 1s. The 1 seed has never lost to a 16 seed, and increased parity be damned, it's probably never going to happen. If it does, it's going to screw with a lot of brackets anyway.
  • 2 vs. 15: 15 seeds are 7-and-109 against 2 seeds. Granted, three of those came in the past four years, but the odds still scream "don't advance a 15 seed."
  • 3 vs. 14, 4 vs. 13: Of the eight games represented here, pick one underdog.
  • 5 vs. 12: Pick one 12 seed at minimum, two at most.
  • 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, 8 vs. 9: Whatever floats your boat.


Go nuts. Whatever strikes your fancy. Try to stick to two things, though:

  • Do not pick a seed lower than 8 to win the Final Four. Only one has done it ever (Villanova, 1985). Stick with 1s through 4s.
  • Do not pick all 1s. That has happened just once (2008).

Of course, both sports and finance have something to say about betting on history: "History has never won a game," and "Past performance is not indicative of future returns."

Frankly, it's just the way I'd prefer to lose.

Bottom line

Playing the seeds is just what I'm comfortable with. But frankly, it's no better a way than drawing each game's winner out of a hat or having your dog point to pictures on a wall.

Remember that when you read the next 20 articles on how to be the king of Warren Buffett's March Madness challenge.

More From InvestorPlace

Kyle Woodley is the Deputy Managing Editor of InvestorPlace, a former sports copy editor and a degenerate fantasy sports player. He's also a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but not their progress this season.

Jan 22, 2014 7:58PM
Aw yes --- we have now entered the era where the government protected rich are now entertaining themselves throwing watermelons to the chickens to watch them scurry about.

In the meantime, you continue to lose your liberties and economic opportunities to ever growing government  driven by laws promoted by lobbyists representing the rich political class.

Jan 22, 2014 7:32PM
Throwing a bone to the little people, it seems.  The older he gets, the more Warren Buffett seeks publicity.
Jan 22, 2014 4:27PM

Sports. I'm so tired of billions of dollars funneling through something I enjoyed doing for free when I was a child.


Honestly, professional sports has turned me off, and college sports are getting that way too. Thank goodness for High School sports, until the greed gets to them at least.

Jan 22, 2014 4:10PM
This thing has "way less" chance, than a "snowball in hell."
Jan 23, 2014 9:21AM
some of you boys woke up in FOUL moods...calm down, seek anger management or shut up.  Always such a downer on stories like this.  DON"T PLAY if you hate it or hate him...Grow up!  
Jan 23, 2014 12:37PM

Interesting that the "haters" are complaining that Warren Buffet is at least offering the chance to win that much money.  I would say it's a hell of a lot more than celebrities, pro sports players, or even the government is doing for you.  Whine, whine, whine!!!


What have you got to lose?  Play the game and give it a try.  Or would you rather just sit at home, watch the games on TV, and complain about those that have money?  Never mind - already know the answer to that question!


Jan 22, 2014 5:53PM

Absenthe67...Think Warren and some of his Charities or ones he is connected to, have given Millions to Scholarship Funds or Foundations...

Maybe YOU should read up some on Mr. Buffet...?

I have read much about that, in just articles over the years, to cheap to buy books about him.

Jan 22, 2014 8:41PM
Jan 22, 2014 7:45PM
Wanna guess how much the attention from this little scam will net the NCAA?  The media is giving the NCAA a billion dollars in free publicity over this thing.  If someone actually wins this thing, how much will these guys actually be out dollarwise?  Buffet is a shrewd businessman and there has got to be something in it for him somewhere.
Jan 23, 2014 9:25AM
Ralph and Eagle and the rest of you 'envious,jealous ignorant haters' : Educate yourself before you spout your entitled ignorant opinions about those that have more than you. Buffet started out with a paper route-worked HARD, is brilliant and a good and HONEST man. He has donated more in time to help others than you have watched TV, which I'm sure is a LOT-and is giving away 90% of his wealth to charity. READ a book! It was BUFFET who the government went to to bail out the banks and prevent possible international economic collapse in the 80's.It was BUFFETS money and influence that saved us. READ,LEARN before your spout ignorant green-eyed jealous hatred about the 'rich'. He has paid more in taxes than a small state. he is giving to charity more than you can even fathom and all you can say is he is seeking publicity or the govmnt is protecting his $$.  WHAT? Go back to your chips and dip in front of the TV and criticize those that actually ADD something to society and this great and GENEROUS man who has done more than 50K people like you...
Jan 22, 2014 7:56PM
My 93 year old aunt is a sports fiend, does the brackets every year and is pretty darned good at it. She walks faster than me (30 yrs her junior) with no assists, takes no meds and wears no corrective lenses. Lookout.
Jan 22, 2014 7:53PM

"Off the cuff, those are about the odds of finding a needle in a haystack, and that needle actually being the key to Davy Jones' locker, in which someone has stuffed a winning Powerball ticket, the Hope Diamond and a written Kanye West apology."

That Kanye West part was hilarious!

Jan 22, 2014 3:55PM
Does Buffett just need some attention, make a bet that the odds are so great that it will not be accomplished ...odds are you probably get a trip to Mars first.  Is it all for attention for him?
Jan 22, 2014 8:42PM
Jan 23, 2014 10:26AM
Wonder if obama has left a bad taste in his mouth yet.
Jan 23, 2014 1:05PM

The guy already donates most of his money to charity.  Give him a break.


He is doing this for the excitment of the game.  Does it not make you just a bit excited to see the outcome?

Jan 22, 2014 4:17PM

sharriannie....I think Warren may be involved for just kicks...

Maybe he has a connection to Quicken Loans or Dan Gilbert, which I believe Gilbert is CEO of ?

How about the "cheap advertising" for Quicken Loans or Finance..

I don't really think Buffet needs any attention, and is not what he is putting his name on it for.

Jan 22, 2014 6:38PM
He is just showing you how he acquired wealth. A calculated risk!!!
Jan 22, 2014 9:06PM
gimmee, go warren, arf, arf, arf...
Jan 23, 2014 5:47PM
Buffet voted for obama.  That tells you all you need to know.
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