The Game You Win By Losing (Parrondo’s Paradox)

The Game You Win By Losing (Parrondo’s Paradox)

Vsauce! Kevin here with two games. If you
play Game A — you are guaranteed to lose.
If you play Game B — you are guaranteed to
If you alternate back and forth between playing
Game A and playing Game B — you are guaranteed
to win.
How? How can two losing games combine into
one winning one? Is it just a cheap game hack
or something more? And does this mean that
grandma was wrong and it’s actually possible
for two wrongs to make a right? Welcome to
Parrondo’s Paradox.
Real quick, I did a video with Donut Media
where they brought me out to rip around a
racetrack and talk about carbon fiber, aerodynamics,
and carbon ceramic brakes. Y’know. Awesome
things. Go watch the video on their channel
— link down in the description below — and
tell them Vsauce2 sent you in the comments!
Okay so physicist Juan Parrondo who created
this paradox demonstrated with flipping a
biased coin. A coin that, instead of having
50/50 odds of landing on heads or tails has
49.5/50.5 odds. So slightly unfair, biased
odds. And… that’s not gonna work for us.
Because precision-biased coins that look like
normal coins are likely impossible, or as
statisticians Andrew Gelman and Deborah Nolan
wrote in a 2002 paper, “You can load a die
but you can’t bias a coin.”
So, instead, I made a series of games using
3 roulette wheels with a total of 114 spaces
and 1 Markov Chain. Because…PENGUINS.
Seriously, this paradox can be visualized
using a penguin slide toy. The same mechanism
that moves these penguins to the top allows
us to turn two losing games into our own money-printing
machine. This is… this is really loud. I’ll
explain how later but for now let’s actually
talk about our games.
Okay, Game A works like this: it’s a game
of chance in which your odds of winning are
slightly lower than your odds of losing. The
American roulette wheel has 38 spaces — 18
red and 18 black, and these two 2 green zeroes.
The rules of Game A are that you can only
bet on red or black. Either way, our odds
of winning are 18/38, or 47.36% — so a little
less than 50/50. Our 53.6% chance of losing
means the house edge is 5.2%, which we’ll
round down to 5%. Because of that 5% losing
edge, theoretically, every time we bet $1
on this game, we’ll lose about 5 cents.
If we start with $100 and keep playing this
game, we’ll be totally broke after about
2,000 spins. In the long run, when we play
Game A, we’re guaranteed to lose.
Come onnnn, red!
Since definitely losing sounds terrible, let’s
give Game B a shot.
Before we do that you may want to add up all
the numbers on a roulette wheel and just tell
me the sum in the comments.
Okay. B is composed of two games of chance,
each with different odds. You’ll still bet
$1, but the wheel that you play depends on
how much money you have left. We’ll call
these B1 and B2. You’ll play B1 only if
your total money is a multiple of M and…
let’s say that M=3. So if your leftover
money is a multiple of 3, like 93 or 81 or
66, then you have to play wheel B1. If your
bankroll balance is not a multiple of 3, then
you’ll play wheel B2.
Here’s the catch.
With B1, you’re only allowed to make what’s
called a Corner bet — choosing an intersection
of 4 numbers, so you’ll win $1 if the ball
lands on any of those four. So like, a corner
bet of 26, 27, 29, or 30. A corner bet means
your odds of winning are just 4 out of 38,
or… about 10%. So when you play B1, you’re
going to lose 90% of the time. Losing isn’t
guaranteed, but you’re going to lose a lot
more often than not. Game B1 is a pretty bad
game for the player.
Don’t worry, though, B2 is much better.
You get to choose a combination of winning
spaces — red or black AND odd or even. So,
if you choose red and evens, you’d win every
time the ball lands on a red space or an even
space, even if it’s a black even space.
The two green spaces are also winners for
you on B2. This allows B2’s odds to shift
significantly in your favor, with 18 reds
and 9 black evens plus the two 2 greens giving
you a total of 29 chances to win out of 38
possible spaces — and that, my friends, is
The good news is that since there are more
possible money counts that aren’t multiples
of 3 than there are, you’ll be playing the
much-friendlier B2 a lot more than the nearly-impossible
B1. So that means most of the time, with Game
B, you’ll be winning, right? No.
Here’s the thing.
B1 is a loss 90% of the time. And since you’ll
also lose roughly every 1 out of 4 times playing
Game B2, overall you’re guaranteed to lose
if you just play the B Games. Game B is actually
a Markov Chain, a stochastic process that
takes a situation like ours — different states
with varying probabilities — and generates
a loss by B1’s disproportionate effect on
our fortunes.
Let me explain.
The key is that even though there are only
three possible states of our money balance
— a multiple of 3, like 90 or 93, or two
possible states in between multiples of 3,
like 91 and 92 — our probabilities of playing
the bad B1 game vs. the better B2 game aren’t
a simple ⅓ and ⅔. What’s surprising
is that a Markov Chain analysis, and if you
want to learn more about Markov chains I’ll
link you to a course on those in the description,
shows that our probability of playing the
bad B1 game is actually closer to 40%. And
the winning edge that the good B2 game gives
us isn’t enough to make up for the terrible
All of that is to say that Game A is a simple
guaranteed loser. And Game B is a kinda complex
guaranteed loser. And… this is getting dreadful
so let’s bring back our penguins and lighten
the mood. Our flightless bird friends will
help us visualize how we leverage two negatives
to create a positive.
In a 2000 paper titled, “Parrondo’s paradoxical
games and the discrete Brownian ratchet,”
Derek Abbott, Parrondo and others, described
a process known as the “flashing brownian
ratchet” as an analogy for how the paradox
works. Basically, directed motion is achieved
by alternating between a sawtooth and a flat
potential. I’ll show you. These penguins
clearly reach the top of the slide, even though
they themselves aren’t moving, because they’re
being carried back and forth between two downward-sloped-sawtooth
shapes and a flat shape. These shapes slope
downward. And this shape here — sorry, penguin!
— is flat. Yet the penguins climb to the
top by alternating between them. Ok, that’s
loud, sorry penguins. Wheeee! The end. Excuse
me one second, Happy Feet.
Think of Game A as our flat shape because
the odds of winning Game A are close to 50/50
with a slight bias toward losing. Think of
Game B as our sawtooth shape because the odds
are much steeper in Game B1 and much better
in Game B2, creating a distinct asymmetry.
Look at that! But instead of moving plastic
penguins uphill, by alternating between playing
Game A and playing Game B, we, the player,
are carried upward by our combination of losing
games into winning.
To put it another way, we can get really simple
and math-y about this. Back to the North Pole
with you! Say you start with $100, and each
time you play Game A, you lose $1. That’s
it — done. That’s just how Game A works
in this simplified scenario. You’re a loser
with no hope of winning. And if you played
Game A 100 times, your financial trajectory
goes downward until you’re broke.
There are two strains of Game B: if the amount
of money you have left is an even number,
like $82, then you win $3. If it’s an odd
number — say, you’re down to $71 — then
you lose $5. If you only played Game B, you’d
be broke even faster than if you’d just
auto-lost Game A. At least with Game A you’d
get to play that game 100 times.
Both Game A and Game B are clearly 100% losing
games, but when you switch back and forth,
you can make them profitable. Check it out.
Play Game A and you’re down to $99. That’s
an odd number, so you don’t want to play
Game B or else you’d lose another $5…
instead you can play Game A again and lose
another dollar. Now you’re at $98 — when
you switch to Game B, you win $3, and suddenly
you’re up to $101. Lose Game A to get to
$100, win Game B to get to $103. You can repeat
a cycle of A/B switching to amass infinite
wealth despite playing two games that on their
own are guaranteed losers.
But is that really a paradox? When we examine
the best way to flip coins or spin roulette
wheels, it seems like just a cheap trick to
manually hack a couple of games. It’s not.
The paradoxical situation is that you can
alternate playing Parrondo’s two losing
games randomly and it will still produce a
winning one.
We can use Stan Wagon’s Parrondo Paradox
wolfram simulator to prove it. This simulator
uses Parrondo’s biased coin flip odds and
allows us to set the number of flips and how
many times we want to repeat that experiment.
Parrondo’s numbers for Games A, B1 and B2
are almost identical to our roulette example.
So, we set the number of flips in a game and
how many times we’ll repeat that game, and
each time we click New Run, the simulator
crunches those numbers… which is a lot faster
than flipping an impossible biased coin 2
million times.
Let’s set this to run 1 repetition of 1,000
flips. When we play in a specific pattern
— BBABA — we clearly win over time.
But what happens if we choose Game A or Game
B randomly? Most of the time we win over 1,000
flips, occasionally we don’t — that’s just
variance. But when we run 2,000 simulations
of 1,000 flips, a pattern emerges: we see
a clear upward slope. We don’t win as much
as when we carefully orchestrate the best
approach to the two games, but… we win.
Despite having no plan and no specific hack,
alternating randomly between Games A and B
yields a long-term win.
So even if it takes a while, even it’s done
randomly, by alternating between these two
losing games, we actually get a winning result.
We get to the top of the slide — like our
But here’s the question.
Can you use this strategy to guarantee that
you win at a casino? No. Parrondo’s Paradox
depends on being able to interact within two
games, and you just can’t do that in a casino.
Real casino games like slot machine spins
or the way roulette is actually played are
based on entirely separate events — one outcome
will never influence the outcome of the next
round or a different game, like a roulette
result will never steer you toward an advantageous
round of Pai Gow.
By guaranteeing that games never intersect,
casinos avoid the possibility of an exploit
or a weird Parrondo situation. The outcome
of every ‘bettable’ event in a casino depends
on nothing before it or after it. It exists
in its own impenetrable bubble that pops as
soon as that round is over and then is blown
up again — and that keeps the games fair
and keeps the casino’s math predictable.
The independence of each game is actually
one of the reasons you so rarely see new games
at casinos. It’s just hard to come up with
games that are totally independent, give the
house enough of an edge that they win over
time but also give the player enough of a
chance that they want to play and have fun
What’s exciting about Parrondo’s Paradox
is not how to win money playing two games
that no casino would never allow. It’s figuring
out how to apply its surprising property to
other fields of study. Researchers are working
on real world applications for it in disciplines
ranging from quantum mechanics to biogenetics.
And for the rest of us, it can be helpful
to realize that two losing games can become
one winning one. That, in a way, as weird
as it sounds, two wrongs can make a right.
And even what seems, by all accounts, like
a totally hopeless situation can, undeniably,
mathematically, be turned into a winning one.
And as always, thanks for watching.
Woah! Ahhh! Hello there, my little penguins.
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100 thoughts on “The Game You Win By Losing (Parrondo’s Paradox)”

  1. Quick point — those added green spaces throw off the math a little bit and make game B2 very slightly biased toward the player. With a 38.36% chance of a player in the B1/B2 Markov Chain playing B1, we can calculate (4/38)*(.3836) to find B1's share of the overall win: .04037. We can do the same for B2, which he plays 61.64% of the time: (29/38)*(.6164) for a share of .47041. When adding those two together, .04037 + .47041, we get a winning probability of 0.51078, or 51%.

    How do we tweak this to get a truly losing Game B? We take away those additional green spaces. By giving a player just 27 spaces to win on B2, the value becomes (27/38)*(.6164) = 0.43796, putting the combination of B1 and B2's payoffs well below the 50% threshold and turning it into a proper loser.

    tldr; Make the green spaces losers in our B2, and my roulette version of Parrondo's biased coin flips align properly.

    Also, check the footnote in the video about the North Pole penguins. 😉


  2. At school we learned that – *=+ & +*+=+ but – *+= (*could be /). I haven't seen the whole video but that what I first thought of

  3. Same principal as how a pen clicks up and down. Alternating notches. Also, said pen mechanism rotates and you do not notice it.

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  5. ok, lemme just save everyone some time, the reason loosing twice makes you win is cuse double negative = positive 🤷‍♂️

  6. Given that some, if not most, of the assets in the stock/crypto market are somewhat connected, would this work when applied to trading?

  7. A game with a 0 % of winning is a game impossible to win so you will always lose no matter what you do; that would be my definition. The games he proposed never had a 0% of that…

  8. Or maybe you could just keep adding a dollar to your balance (or removing a dollar from your balance) when it is an odd number as you play game B and skip game A altogether.

    "game A" is just a way to destroy a dollar to make your balance even again. But if you're allowed to walk away from game B and come back with a different balance the game isn't a losing game in the first place.

    In summary, game B isn't a losing game given the assumption that you can leave and come back with a different balance (which you almost certainly wouldn't be allowed to do if this was a real casino game). Game A is just a pointless waste of money and a distraction.

    Two losing games don't make a winning game. Game A is just a sneaky way to hide the fact that you are either cheating or that game B is broken.

  9. "So instead, I made a series of games using 3 roulette wheels with a total of 114 spaces and 1 Markov chain.
    Because … PENGUINS." — Jake, 2019

  10. "And this is getting dreadful, so let's bring back our penguins and lighten the mood." — Jake, 2019

  11. Games Vsauce is going to tawk about:

    The game you win a waqf by winning a waqf.
    The game you lose by winning.
    The game you win by buning.
    The game you win by eating the other player.
    The game you lose a waqf by losing a waqf.
    The game you win by fhqwhgads.
    The game you you.
    The game where people eat accumulates.
    The the the game game game.

  12. 0:22 HOW

    But that's like two wrongs make a right, and we are teached that two wrongs DONT make a right!

    but do they make a left

  13. the odds of winning are actually 26.32% odds of loosing are 26.32% and odds of not loosing nor winning are 47.36% so after a long game of playing it is same as 50/50 will you go with profit or not

  14. as someone who has studied mathematics, I am wondering whether you have been studying mathematics or something similar (cs, physics)? Your understanding about probability theory and logic is far beyond the average joe

  15. 10:18 you can play game b cause 100 is even and then get 103 lose a to 102 then 105 etc it gets higher faster cause you start higher

  16. Imagine any of the Vsauce crew being your teachers. I don’t have words for how awesome it would be I’d want to go to school so bad

  17. 2 wrong situations can make a right? Example! Situation 1: Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend leaves you. You feel bad so the situation is wrong. Situation 2: Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend abuse you. Once again. You are in a wrong situation. But by interacting, once both situations happen, you are in a better situation than before (completely unrelated to my personal life. That is just where my brain went for an example)

  18. Its not really 2 losing games. Its 2 losing games and 1 winning one, or lets just say 1 losing one and 1 winning one because we don't care about the second losing one

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