It's that time of year - the NCAA tournament, called "March Madness", when office pools all across the United States have people researching teams and reading predictions to try and optimize their chances of winning money by predicting basketball games.

They are, sadly, doomed to fail.

Last year, Warren Buffett offered $1 billion for a perfect winning bracket, but the highest scoring bracket among subscribers was still 18 games off - and those people pay to know sports.

Yet each year people will try again. Like with the lottery, people try even when there is no realistic chance of success. Some of it is social, of course, the money is irrelevant, but some people genuinely think they can pick winners.  They are better off flipping a coin, says Dae Hee Kwak, assistant professor of sport management at the University of Michigan. 

Kwak wanted to know why so many people come back when the odds are insanely against them -  the 1 in 128 billion chance of getting 63 perfect game predictions is far below that of a winning lottery ticket. The easy answer is that people don't need to be right 63 times, they just need to be more right than people in their betting pool, who are probably all making the same mistakes.

It's why on so many occasions a nice elderly fellow who made his selections based on which team nicknames he liked best takes home the pot. Knowledge of the game makes any difference at all in bracket performance but people think it does - they suffer from the illusion of control and overestimation.

During 2012 March Madness, Kwak conducted two studies of mock tournaments. They controlled for age, game knowledge, bracket experience and gender. The first study showed that players who selected their own brackets showed more confidence in winning than those who didn't.  The second showed that players with high confidence were willing to bet up to 2.6 times as much as players with low confidence, but that high confidence didn't translate into winning performance. In other words, they bet more and if they lost, they lost more. 

But, those high-confidence, high-betting (and high-losing) people are the same people most likely to keep playing year after year because high confidence drives winning expectations, which drives the greatest enjoyment.  "This is why it makes so much sense for each company to brand their own bracket and allow people to do their own selections and market these very heavily. That's what makes March Madness so much fun. 

"The person who knows absolutely nothing about the game and doesn't care enough to even make their own selections has the same chance of winning as the basketball fanatic who spends hours on research."

Article: The Overestimation Phenomenon in a Skill-Based Gaming Context: The Case of March Madness Pools, Journal of Gambling Studies