Nautilus

In Quantum Games, There’s No Way to Play the Odds

Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog.

These games combine quantum entanglement, infinity and impossible-to-calculate winning probabilities. But if researchers can crack them, they’ll reveal deep mathematical secrets.Photograph by Everett Collection / Shutterstock

In the 1950s, four mathematically minded U.S. Army soldiers used primitive electronic calculators to work out the optimal strategy for playing blackjack. Their results, later published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, detailed the best decision a player could make for every situation encountered in the game.

Yet that strategy—which would evolve into what gamblers call “the book”—did not guarantee a player would win. Blackjack, along with solitaire, checkers, or any number of other games, has a ceiling on the percentage of games in which players can expect to triumph, even if they play the absolute best that the game can be played.

But for a particularly

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