Warren Buffett’s March Madness Bracket Challenge: What Are the Odds?

Every year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament whips fans into a frenzy, earning the event the nickname “March Madness.” Much of the interest stems from the ever-popular bracket challenge, where groups of individuals pay into a pool and attempt to pick the most winners. The most accurate prognosticators stand to pocket significant cash.

Approximately 45 million people in the United States filled out some type of pool bracket in 2022, even though correctly predicting the winners of all 63 individual contests is extraordinarily unlikely.

In 2014, Warren Buffett launched his own bracket challenge for Berkshire Hathaway employees, awarding $1 billion to anyone who could predict each of the 63 games in the tournament. The odds of accurately guessing each game amounts to about one in 9.2 quintillion.

Key Takeaways

  • Every year, sports fans participate in March Madness bracket challenges, where they attempt to outguess their peers in predicting the winning teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
  • In 2014, investment guru Warren Buffett initiated a bracket challenge for the employees of his investment firm, Berkshire Hathaway, promising $1 billion dollars to anyone who could accurately guess each of the 63 games in the tournament.
  • This offer has since been modified to $1 million for life for the winner.
  • Correctly choosing the winners of all 63 games is nearly statistically impossible, with the odds running at about one in 9.2 quintillion.
  • Still, the Berkshire Hathaway employee with the best bracket earns $100,000.

What Is Warren Buffett’s Bracket Challenge?

In 2014, legendary value investment guru Warren Buffett got in on the action when his investment company, Berkshire Hathaway, instituted its own bracket challenge, dangling the prospect of paying perfect-scoring employees $1 billion. Over time, this was modified to $1 million, every year, for life. The challenge promised smaller payouts for participants who came close.

In 2018, Berkshire Hathaway’s March Madness contest resulted in eight high-but-not-perfect scorers, who divided a $100,000 consolation prize, to each pocket $12,500. Berkshire Hathaway offered the challenge again in 2021.

What Are the Odds of Winning Buffett’s Bracket Challenge?

Correctly picking all 63 winners is statistically overwhelmingly unlikely. Consider the following mathematical facts:

  • Each game has two possible incomes: either Team A wins, and Team B loses, or vice versa.
  • To calculate the total number of ways that a player may fill out a bracket, simply take the total number of possible outcomes for each game (two) and multiply it out 63 times: (2 × 2 × 2…× 2, or 2^63)
  • The odds of projecting all 63 winners is one in more than nine quintillion.

Given how aggressively the odds are stacked against bettors, most bracket challenge participants don’t realistically expect to achieve 100% correctness. But many believe that they have a viable chance of predicting the teams that become known as the Sweet 16, which refers to the clubs that linger long enough to participate in the regional semifinal round.

In the NCAA tournament, the teams of each region are assigned a seed number, ranging from one to 16, where the best team is given the first seed and the worst team receives the 16th seed. The opening games pit seeds against their numerical opposites. For example, the first-seeded team plays the 16th seed; the second seed plays the 15th seed; and so forth.

But this expectation is also fanciful, because the odds of correctly calling the Sweet 16 teams are a highly implausible one in 282 trillion, according to a Sept. 2021 article from Action Network.

What Is Warren Buffett’s Bracket Challenge?

For several years, Warren Buffett’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway, has offered to pay any employee who correctly calls the entire March Madness tournament $1 million a year for life. The tournament takes place over 63 games.

What Are the Odds of Having a Perfect March Madness Bracket?

The odds of scoring a perfect bracket across 63 games are roughly one in more than nine quintillion. It is overwhelmingly unlikely that anyone will create a perfect bracket.

What Are the Odds of Correctly Guessing the Sweet 16?

While this is more likely than creating a perfect bracket overall, it’s still very unlikely. The odds of correctly guessing all of the Sweet 16 teams are roughly one in 282 trillion.

Has Anyone Ever Scored a Perfect March Madness Bracket?

No one has ever accurately guessed all 63 games in a March Madness Bracket. The closest brackets were in 2019, when one person accurately guessed the first 49 games in a row. Before that, in 2017, one person accurately guessed 39 consecutive games.

Who Has Scored the Best March Madness Bracket Ever?

With 49 games accurately predicted in a row, Gregg Nigl of Columbus, Ohio, scored the best March Madness bracket ever recorded. In 2019, the neuropsychologist was the first person to reach the Sweet 16, eventually breaking the streak in its second game when two-seed Tennessee lost to three-seed Purdue.

The Bottom Line

For millions of ardent sports fans, filling out NCAA March Madness bracket challenge forms is an annual tradition. Although achieving a perfect score is nearly impossible from a statistical standpoint, those who place bets can still collect winnings by besting their friends or office mates in their respective betting pools. This tantalizing prospect of collecting prize money elevates the suspense of watching games, bringing excitement to sports fans, year in and year out.

Correction: April 30, 2023—An earlier version incorrectly stated that seeds are assigned during the Sweet 16 round of the tournament. In fact, seeds are assigned at the beginning of the tournament,

Article Sources
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  2. National Collegiate Athletic Association. “The Absurd Odds of a Perfect NCAA Bracket.”

  3. Best Colleges. "The Elusive Quest for a Perfect March Madness Bracket."

  4. CNBC. “The Winner of Warren Buffett’s March Madness Office Pool Could Get $1 Million a Year for Life.”

  5. American Betting Experts. "What Are the Odds of Picking a Perfect March Madness Bracket?"

  6. Omaha World-Herald. “8 Winners Will Split $100,000 in Warren Buffett’s NCAA Bracket Challenge.”

  7. New York Post. “Warren Buffett’s $1 Million March Madness Bracket Challenge Is Back.”

  8. Action Network. "A Perfect Sweet 16 Bracket Hits: What Are the Odds?"

  9. National Collegiate Athletic Association. “What Is March Madness: The NCAA Tournament Explained.”

  10. National College Athletic Association. "The Longest an NCAA Bracket Has Ever Stayed Perfect."

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