The Perfect March Madness Bracket: Long Odds

It’s that time of year again, so all the basketball fans and those with gambling in their blood are talking about the perfect March Madness bracket. The program includes 64 college basketball teams duking it out in a single-elimination tournament to figure out who takes the title. The “bracket” is a chart of all 63 matchups that cascades the winner of the first round into succeeding round matchups. Technically, 68 teams start if you count the “First Four” games, but most brackets only include the ultimate 64 teams. In the end, two teams remain and play for the championship. The real fun, besides watching some great basketball, is pondering the odds of picking a perfect March Madness bracket—choosing in advance the outcome of each one of the 63 matchups. As we’ll see, the odds are, well, astronomical, which explains why no one has yet succeeded, and it’s a safe bet to say no one ever will.

Perfect March Madness Bracket Odds Math

We’re gonna keep the math simple, but as you’ll see, the numbers get really big, really fast. Each game has two outcomes, so if we assume we’re choosing the outcome of each game by a random coin toss, kind of like playing roulette, we determine the odds of success by using simple exponents—two to the n-th power, where “n” equals the number of contests.

Keeping with the standard bracket design, there are 63 games, each having two possible outcomes. So the odds are 2 to the 63rd power. The resulting number will melt your calculator.


Got that? I’ll translate it for you. It’s 9.2 quintillion.

Just for kicks, if you were to expand the bracket to all 68 initial teams, your odds of perfection work out to…


That’s 147 quintillion.

What’s a Quintillion?

A quintillion is a lot, more than Congress can spend on ridiculous things in a six-year Senatorial cycle. Put into more understandable terms, a quintillion is one billion billion.

Ask any Swifty worth their Spotify playlist, and they’ll tell you Taylor Swift is worth about 1.1 billion dollars, but let’s call it an even billion. Now imagine she lays out each of her dollars in a line. Now imagine the recording industry clones another 999,999,999 Taylors, and they do the same. So we have one quintillion dollars all lined up end to end.

That line of dollar bills would be 6.14 quintillion inches long, or about 96,800,000,000,000,000 miles. Given that a light year represents only about 5,880,000,000,000 miles, we’re figuring it would take 16,486.49 years, traveling at the speed of light, to zoom by those one quintillion dollar bills lined up so neatly. Heck, we could get to the nearest star with planets in just 4.24 light years, so we’re talking really large numbers.

Quintillions Sands in the Hourglass

Sticking with our random bracket picking strategy for a standard bracket, and the 9.2 quintillion chance of getting it all right, we can bring the visualization a little closer to home.

Some geologist slash mathematician with way too much time on his hands tried to estimate how many grains of sand exist on planet Earth. We’ll spare you the method and say it was an estimate based on the total volume of sand on the coasts, under the sea, and elsewhere, with some ballpark math counting how many grains of sand are in a cubic yard of the stuff. The result? About 7.5 quintillion grains of sand.

So, if I choose one specific grain of sand somewhere on planet Earth and ask you to guess which one it was, the odds of you getting it right are about the same as picking a perfect March Madness bracket. Yeah, I know, we’re about 1.7 quintillion off, but what’s a billion billion or two among friends?

Perfect March Madness Bracket Gurus

Thus far, we’ve been assuming you’re randomly guessing at the outcome of all the bracket matchups. In reality, lots of sports fans out there have some knowledge of the teams involved and can make more educated guesses about who is more likely to win specific games. This knowledge increases your odds of a perfect March Madness bracket—a lot.

While subjective, many agree that history and statistics can do a pretty good job of picking winners in advance. To put a number on the success rate, the “knowledge” strategy works about 75% of the time. That means 25% of the matchups, give or take, are unpredictable upsets.

Odds of Sports Fans’ Perfect Brackets

If you subscribe to the intelligent picks model and have to account for a 25% upset rate, your odds improve to somewhere between 1 in 10 billion and 1 in 50 billion.

Let’s split the difference and say we’re looking at a 1 in 30 billion chance of success. While not guaranteed because random chance is, well, random, you might say we have a reasonably good chance of someone getting this right if we run 30 billion March Madness Tournament bracket selections. That’s 30 billion years if just one person plays. By then, a semester of college will cost a quintillion dollars, so those basketball scholarships will be sought after big time. If more participate and choose their own brackets, you can do that math.

Warren Buffett Believes

Warren Buffett is the sixth richest person in the world (depending on the day), yet he’s known for his shockingly frugal lifestyle. He still lives in a house he bought for $31,500 back in 1958. He still drives a 2014 Cadillac XTS and has been known to purchase cars with slight damage and cosmetic blemishes to save a few bucks. The point is, he’s loathe to part with a dime.

Yet he’s so convinced of the practical impossibility of picking the perfect bracket that he’s put up big money over the years for the person who can get it right.

Back in 2014, Buffett offered a $1 billion prize to any Berkshire Hathaway employee who picked a perfect bracket. Later, he amended to program to $1 million per year for life and added lower-level prizes for coming close.

Sorry, employees only, so if you’re feeling lucky, apply for a job there. Just don’t start spending your winnings in advance.

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