Public Lecture by: Persi Diaconis (Stanford)

28 Jun 2023, by Kelly Woodcock in Events

Public Lecture by Persi Diaconis (Stanford)

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Part of Random Matrices from Quantum Chaos to the Riemann Zeta Function Conference

School of Mathematics, University of Bristol, UK

The Mathematics of Solitaire

Persi Diaconis, Department of Statistics, Stanford University, USA


One of the embarrassing facts about probability theory: we don’t know the odds of winning at solitaire! I mean ordinary klondike, played on computer screens and cellphones millions of times a day. For example, in Vegas, you can ‘buy a deck for $52 and get $5 for each card turned up on the ace piles. Is this anything like a fair game? I will review what we know (after all, it’s 2023 and the computer is here–surely they know how to play solitaire (nope)). I’ll turn to what we always turn to, Polya’s dictum ‘If there is a hard problem you can’t solve there is an easier problem you can’t solve.” Patience sorting is a simpler form of solitaire and here mathematics can be brought in. The mathematics is hard and interesting (and gives definitive answers involving one main theme of our conference–random matrix theory). Even here, bending the rules back towards Klondike leads to easy to understand and wide open problems.

About the speaker: Professor Persi Diaconis is a world leading statistician working in probability, combinatorics and group theory. He is Professor of Mathematics and Mary Sunseri Professor of Statistics at Stanford University. He is the recipient of many honours and awards, among which are the MacArthur Fellowship, the Rollo Davidson Prize at the University of Cambridge, the Conant Prize and the Euler Prize of the AMS, and the Van Wijngaarden Award, Amsterdam. He gave many prestigious lectures: he was Plenary Speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians, Berlin, 1984; he was AMS Gibbs Lecturer, 1997; LMS Hardy Lecturer, 2021; Von Neumann Lecturer, SIAM; Inaugural Alexanderson Award Lecturer, AIM, Santa Clara University . Persi Diaconis is an exceptional communicator, and his public lectures are famous. He also had a very unusual career path for a mathematician. He was born in New York in 1945. After graduating from High School at 14, he left home to become a professional magician. When he was 24 years old, he went back to New York to study for a BSc in mathematics at City College, where he graduated in 1971. He then went on to obtain a PhD in Statistics in 1974 at Harvard University.


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