Think “Outside the Box” Case Study–Challenge Yourself

This case study problem is not about investing but has everything to do with investing.

This is based on a true story, and the answer will be revealed after readers here have attempted to solve the problem.

Jimmy the Greek has bet five to one that you will not beat the winner of this match: in a two out of three match.  When word gets out that you have taken the challenge, action gets heated and $1 million is placed. You lose, you pay $1 million; you win, you receive $5 million.

On what one (1) condition would you accept to take on a champion table tennis player considering you have only played recreationally a few times. You have one month to prepare.  No matter what condition you impose, both you and your opponent face the same condition.  For example, you can not say that your opponent must play with his feet tied together while your feet are free. Both of you would play with feet bound together.

How would you have a prayer of winning this bet? Obviously, the gamblers have you as a pathetic longshot.

Give your answer in a sentence or two–no more than thirty words.

Good luck because $5 million would be sweet!

20 responses to “Think “Outside the Box” Case Study–Challenge Yourself

  1. You don’t say whether you have to announce the conditions one month in advance, or are able to surprise your opponent with the conditions at the time of the match. If the latter, then you might try stuff like play the match blindfolded – but I think that strategy is too risky. Another wacky idea is that you both agree to wear those trick glasses where everything appears upside down. The point being is that you’re only trying to get the serve right, not much else. With the upside-down glasses, you could probably manage to serve, and even return the ball within a month. Your opponent would stand no chance.

    Another one, but I don’t know if what you had in mind, is to agree to share your winnings. I’d settle for $2.5m, no problemo.

    Maybe it’s even a trick question, and I could challenge him to a game of “who can stand the tallest, bare feet, on tiptoes” instead of ping pong.

  2. Dear Mark:

    Thanks for your question since I do need to clarify.

    You can set the condition and then practice for one month. Your opponent will be aware of the general condition (hint) one month before the match. However, the day of the match you can reveal the specifics of the general condition that you have set beforehand (hint).

    I promise that this is not a trick question. And no, you can not split the pot with your opponent especially since in this real-life story, your oppoenents think you will get destroyed. Hence the 5 to 1 odds against you.

    Hey, it ain’t easy thinking outside the box, but then making $5 million isn’t easy in anything. Since I have given two hints, how about sharing 1/3 of the prize with me?

  3. Very interesting. I need to think about it. One interesting idea is when you say “you will not beat the winner of this match” – possibly referring to that man specifically.

    BTW, do I win by default if my opponent refuses to play or is a no-show? Maybe it has some wacky solution like specifying the place where the match is held; where I could force an outcome by politics rather than skill.

    Very interesting to ponder indeed.

  4. The guy’s name is Chen Xinhua – but I haven’t been able to see how that’s of any use.

    Your hints of general conditions now and specific conditions later are interesting – kinda like you’re suggesting some kind of arbitrage. Can’t quite see how that helps; I’m just doing stream-of-consciuosness stuff at the moment.

    I’m assuming that daft modifications to the rules like playing with both hands behind our backs or not using bats is out of the question.

    There seem to be two angles of attack on this problem: trying to figure out a way where you know, with certainty, that you will beat a clearly superior opponent. This will require some specific knowledge of the some critical weakness in the opponent. Another angle of attack is to try to reduce a game of skill to a game of chance. I still wouldn’t like to play a game in which there’s even a 50:50 chance that I’m down a mill, though.


  5. I will post the answer in a day or so. By the way, the winner of this bet did it again–won more money from the same bettors–in another contest AFTER he won this bet. Amazing.

    As Buffett says, “If you don’t know who the patsy is at the poker table, you are it.

    A famous gambler once said, “The easiest hustle is another hustler.”

  6. My best idea so far is to change the height of the table. Assuming that I’m considerably taller than him, I’d move the table up to 6ft or perhaps higher, trying to find somewhere where I could manage some sort of limited game, but he would struggle.

    • This is not THE answer, but you have the right idea. The only way to beat Michael Jordan is don’t play him in basketball. Just remember that your opponent would need to be given the height of the table one month before the match so he could practice too. You are trying to obtain a knowledgeable edge against your opponent. Perhaps you could win? But would you bet $500,000 of your own money or borrowed from backers to find out? Remember, never gamble.

  7. I ruled out wearing an eye patch, because he would have to have two good eyes to be a good ping-pong player. Get him drunk was another goofy idea. I think, if it was the real world, then maybe it’s something straightforward like the winner has to pass a drug test. AFAIK he’s never taken drugs, so even that one’s ruled out. Wasn’t there a case when female althlete Fatima Whitbread was almost disqualified on accusations of being a man? Maybe our man Chen keeps a spare pair of socks in his shorts.

    But yeah, I’m just guessing at this stage. Difficult to imagine what his one form of weakness might be.

  8. Could it be that you play against an impostor?

  9. Or is it that you use misdirection and play him at ACTUAL tennis, rather than TABLE tennis?

    Or table tennis, but with much bigger nets?

  10. Not sure if my last comment went through … how about with bigger nets.

  11. I’ve thought of all sorts of things, from playing underwater to trying to find advantages at setting the timing of the match – all ideas without conviction.

    Maybe it’s got something to do where one can make a successful serve, but the opponent can never return. If there was a way of guaranteeing that you had the first serve, then the outcome would be that you would win two-to-one.

  12. Well, I guess one knowledgeable edge that we would have that he doesn’t is that we can speak English. I can’t see how that would translate into an advantage in playing pingpong though.

    It’s difficult to see how any physiological difference could be turned into an almost certain advantage.

  13. Dear Mark:

    I will post the answer tonight. You get an A+ for effort.

  14. Thanks 🙂 I look forward to seeing the answer.

    “You get an A+ for effort.” Lol, that feels a bit like saying “second place is for the first loser”.

    No doubt I’m going to kick myself when I hear the answer. “Jimmy the Greek” doesn’t sound like the type of guy who will take kindly to being played like a flute, though.

  15. haven’t peaked to see what solution you posted, but based on your other posts the strategy must have something to do with bringing the game into a domain where i have an edge.

    growing up in the US, and having studied abroad in Germany, i understand english and german much better than a typical person from china.

    so my one condition is, each time one of us hits the ball, an announcer from is going to read out random words from a german dictionary. if we don’t translate the word to english by the time the ball comes back to us, the other guy gets a point.

    ideally i’d like to require the announcer be from rural Alabama since i grew up in the south and understand the accent, but that sounds like more than one condition.

  16. Pingback: Brain Crusher Answer: Amarillo Slim Plays Ping Pong with a Coke Bottle | csinvesting

  17. You have to answer a question correctly and ask a question before you hit the ball with your paddle. specifics: in English, and the question have to be related to (insert a subject you know the most).

  18. You specify that the table is set up so that ends are east and west, that you will play from east end and that both players must face west during entire game.

  19. Both of you must play with your off-hand.

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