Have you filled out your bracket for the NCAA men's basketball tournament yet?
Maybe you're a seasoned pro and you already know all the tricks to filling out a winning bracket, but if you're new to the game or sick of coming up short of the prize money, below are some creative ways to stay ahead of the competition.
There is extra incentive to do well this year: Billionaire Warren Buffet and Quicken Loans are offering anyone who picks a perfect bracket $1 billion. (They are also awarding each of the top 20 finishers $100,000.)
Picking a perfect bracket has never been done. You'd have a much better chance of being struck by lightning or winning the Powerball. According to the New York Times, mathematicians estimate the odds of picking a perfect bracket are 1 in 9 quintillion.
That's this number: 9,000,000,000,000,000,000.
If that isn't daunting enough, here's how Slate.com puts it.
If all 317 million people in the U.S. filled out a bracket at random, you could run the contest for 290 million years, and there’d still be a 99 percent chance that no one had ever won.
Tips for picking winners
It is conceivable, though, that you could win an office pool. Among those offering advice is Dr. Tim Chartier, a Davidson College professor, who considers himself a bit of an expert when it comes to the NCAA tournament. He heads up "March Mathness," a workshop in New York City that teaches people how to apply math to their bracket selections.
Chartier isn't obsessed with teams' winning percentages. He really focuses on how teams play away from their home arenas, how they fared against good teams and how they finished the regular season.
"The teams with the highest winning percentages aren't always in the tournament, so you have to be really careful in thinking winning percentage is the most impotent thing," Chartier said, via DealNews.com. "It isn't the fact that you can go in and win, but whether you can win against hard teams. That's what gives you the huge bump."
Bleacher Report recommends that you pick at least 10 upsets in the first round, never pick a 16-seed to win (it's never happened) and never pick a winner because it's your favorite team (ahem... North Dakota State).
One more tip: If you pick the overall champ right, you'll have a good chance to win your pool.
Which team is it going to be this year? You could take the consensus opinion of ESPN's college basketball experts. Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams all picked Michigan State to win the title this year.
If you're not sure how to set up your own tournament pool, here are seven simple steps to make sure you do it the right way, courtesy of About.com.