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Losing to win

7:05pm, June 14, 2002

It's a gift to born losers. Researchers have demonstrated that two games of chance, each guaranteed to give a player a predominance of losses in the long term, can add up to a winning outcome if the player alternates randomly between the two games.

This striking new result in game theory is now called Parrondo's paradox, after its discoverer, Juan M.R. Parrondo, a physicist at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain.

Gregory P. Harmer and Derek Abbott of the University of Adelaide in Australia use a combination of two losing gambling games to illustrate this counterintuitive phenomenon in the Dec. 23/30, 1999 Nature.

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