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the history of dice


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Dice: Man's oldest gambling device

Mankind's earliest written records not only mention dice and dice games but crooked dice as well. Dice of one sort or another have been found in the tombs of ancient Egypt and the Orient, and in the prehistoric graves of both North and South America. The earliest gamblers thought that the fall of the dice was controlled by the gods, and although a few of them tried to outwit divinity by loading the cubes, most of them probably considered that any prying into the matter was sacrilegious.

In the 16th century at least one gambler began to wonder if the scientists who were beginning to make valid predictions about other matters might not also be able to foretell how the dice would fall. An Italian noble asked Galileo why the combination 10 showed up more often than 9 when three dice were throw. The great astronomer became interested in dice problems and wrote a short treatise which set forth some of the first probability theorems. His reply to the gambler was the 6 X 6 X 6 for a total of 216 combinations can be made with three dice, of which twenty-seven form the 10 and twenty-five form the number 9. In France, in 1654, the philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal was asked a similar dice question by one the first gambler-hustlers on record. The Chevalier de Mere had been winning consistently by betting even money that a six would come up at least once in four rolls with a single die. He reasoned from this that he would also have an advantage when he bet even money that a double-six would come up at least once in 24 rolls with two dice. But he had been losing money on this proposition, and he wanted to know why. Pascal worked on the problem and found that the Chevalier had the best of it by 3.549% with this one-die proposition. Throwing a double-six would come up at least once in 24 rolls with two dice, however, would theoretically require 24.6+ rolls to make it and even-money proposition. In practice it can't ever be even money bet, because you can't roll a pair of dice a fractional number of times, it has to be either 24 or 25 rolls.

Pascal corresponded with mathematician Pierre Fermat about this and similar gambling problems, and these two men formulated much of the basic mathematics on the theory of probability.

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