You are here

The Mathematics of Games

John D. Beasley
Dover Publications
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Underwood Dudley
, on

For more than sixty years Dover Publications has been reissuing in paperback books, many of them mathematical, that had gone out of print. Its prices have always been low. They are no longer the $1.50 or $1.75 that they once were, but back then $1.50 was more than four times the price of a paperback novel. The $9.95 asked for this book is less than twice that of its counterpart today. Dover deserves a medal, or at least great credit, for performing a public service. Long may it continue!

The book is an unaltered reprint of the original 1989 edition. Seventeen years is a long time, but mathematics in general, and recreational mathematics in particular, tends to be timeless and to wear well. Beasley included more on Rubik’s cube than he would have had he written the book this year (I hope we haven’t yet reached the point where young readers will ask, “What’s Rubik’s cube?”) and the book shows the influence of the then-recent Winning Ways by Berlekamp, Conway, and Guy (1982), but other than that the contents are as fresh as yesterday’s newspaper.

They include a variety of topics that are related to games in one way or another. There are cards and dice, golf and soccer, chess and nim, there are coins being weighed, and the cross-country teams A, B, and C where A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A. Beasley is a writer of taste and does not repeat material to be found in every other recreational mathematics book. He does not hesitate to use mathematics when necessary — equations, even some containing subscripts, appear, and the normal distribution is referred to as if that were a normal thing — but the book can be read with pleasure even by those who were defeated by calculus.

There is interesting material on the shortcomings of ranking systems, as in chess, and there is delight in reading prose that American authors are incapable of producing (“There are even games in which the correct strategy is to lie completely doggo.”) If you don’t buy this admirable book, at least send Dover an e-mail telling it how good it was to reprint it.

Since Woody Dudley has retired, his days are filled with recreations, a few of them mathematical.


2. The luck of the deal
3. The luck of the die
4. To err is human
5. If A beats B, and B beats C...
6. Bluff and double bluff
7. The analysis of puzzles
8. Sauce for the gander
9. The measure of a game
10. When the counting has to stop
11. Round and round in circles
Further reading