How I used Game Theory to Crush my 3rd Grade Teacher

I know my life trajectory is different than most people, and I think a lot of this can be summed up by what happened when I went to battle with my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Sklar.

One day Ms. Sklar taught us about this game called 15 circles. Basically you start with 15 circles on the blackboard and you have to decide whether to erase 1, 2 or 3 circles on your turn. The next player then does the same and you alternate back and forth. Whoever is forced to remove the last circle loses the game.

During the class where Ms. Sklar explained the rules of this game, she played one or two kids and managed to beat them. She said she would call on more of us to play throughout the rest of the week and that if anyone beat her they would win a prize.

At this time in my life I thought nothing of it. I thought “whatever it’s just a game, it doesn’t matter so much to me whether I win or lose”. However this is when my whole life changed.

I mentioned the game to my mom and dad, and while 99.9% of parents would be like “oh that sounds like fun”, my family is different. Their ears lit up and they started getting very excited. They immediately got out a pen and paper and decided to “solve” the game.

I had no clue what the hell they were doing but basically they broke it down to me and showed me that if I went first, and erased 2 circles, that I would always win. The key was that whenever it was my turn, I would win if I left my opponent with 5 circles, 9 circles or 13 circles. Within ten minutes I was a perfect 15 circles playing machine.

The next day I came to school desperate to play, because Ms. Sklar always let us go first and therefore I knew for sure that I would win if chosen. I raised my hand as high as possible when she asked for challengers and lo and behold she called on me. I played her, and of course I won because it’s impossible not to win when you go first. I was so excited to win and even won a book about how to solve the Rubik’s Cube as a prize.

Not only was I now a triumphant champion, but other students in the class got to play against me and try to take my throne. They were always allowed to go first since they were the challengers, but anytime they didn’t make the game theory optimal play I would automatically win. Throughout the entire school year, not a single kid was able to play exactly correct, and I won every single game.

What an amazing feeling for a kid! First I got called up to the chalkboard to defeat the teacher in front of the entire class, and then I’m just crushing every other child and they have literally no idea why they are losing. I honestly couldn’t believe that my teacher never asked me why I was winning every single time, did she think I was just getting lucky? Was she not impressed that I solved the freaking game? Did she even know?

It was at this point that I realized how smart my parents were, because with their help, I was able to publicly outwit my teacher and all of my classmates throughout the year without ever being defeated. Obviously none of the other kids had parents who showed them this type of thing.

I realized that even though I was just 8 years old, I could sometimes be smarter than my teachers. I think that this is an exceptionally early age to get this feeling.

I also realized just how good it felt to win. It was a big ego rush to beat every child one after another. And most importantly I learned the type of logical process that it takes to win at games and I have obviously used this process many times during my life.

It’s no accident that I became a professional chess player and then a professional poker player. Everything that happened from the time I was born, until I graduated high school, laid the foundation for this path, and as hard as my sister tried to avoid it by going to college and getting a degree like a normal person, she ended up on the same path as well. Most kids just don’t have parents like mine.

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