Chances are you have a co-worker or friend who is walking around the office with a strange-looking, 10 x 10 grid piece of paper this week. It says something about the Patriots and the Giants. While many people are readily plunking down cash, others are just trying to figure out what it all means.
For the most part, the Super Bowl grid pool is a simple game of luck. There are 100 total squares on the grid. Each participant selects one or more random squares and usually claims ownership by writing in a name, initials or something funny. After all of the squares have been accounted for, the pool organizer typically holds a random drawing to select the final digits (0-9) in the score for the AFC champion and the NFC champion and positions them over each column and row. respectively.
These numbers are then communicated out to the group. Everyone who participated instantly has a real stake in the game and a specific outcome needed for victory.
It's a formula for success when trying to attract the casual fan. But, over time it can grow a little stale, or if you've been a steady loser can discourage repeat play.
To help breathe some life into your office pool, here are five new rules worth experimenting with. Some are intended to add an exotic supplemental payout, while others seek to add a wrinkle of strategy to the process.
1) Winning Via Reverse Score
Most pools award prizes at the end of each quarter based on the final digits for each team's score. Often the prize is biggest for the square that matches up to the final score. The suggestion here is to add a prize payout at the end of the game for the score in reverse.
For example, the score for Super Bowl XLV was Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25. Traditionally, that would mean the winner would be the square with NFC-1 and AFC-5. Adding a supplemental reverse score prize would have also made a winner for the AFC-1 and NFC-5 square. This also helps spread out the money in a year when the Super Bowl tends to hold scores across quarters.
2) Allow for Squares to be Traded
This one is probably more appealing to the hardcore gambling or fantasy-sports crowd. After all of the numbers are drawn, why not allow participants to broker deals before the game starts to trade squares. If you drew the AFC-7, NFC-7 square you probably feel like your chances are pretty decent to cash in. But, what if another pool player offered you a sizable sum of cash and one or more of their squares in exchange? Would you pull the trigger? Or if that’s just too much to think about, you always have the option of staying put with what you have and keeping it simple.
Bringing in this level of strategy might be the kind of spark to have those who draw poor numbers increase their likelihood of winning, or for a participant with more common football numbers (0,3,4,7) to acquire additional squares or take a pregame cash payout.
3) Add Both Digits of Each Team's Score
To help alleviate the uncommon digit-drawing effect, an easy rule change worth adding is to take a sum of both digits in each team's score to arrive at the winning square. If the final score of the game ended up like Super Bowl XLIV did — New Orleans 31 Indianapolis 17 — under this new rule you would have a very happy person owning the square for NFC-4 (New Orleans 3 plus 1) and AFC-8 (Indianapolis 1 plus 7). If combining both digits ended up with a sum greater than nine (for example one team scored 38 points — 3 plus 8), you would just take the last digit of the sum (1) for payout purposes.
4) Go With the Spread Option
Adding this small wrinkle of handicapping can lead to the "final round of the game show" effect. Ask each entrant to also predict the winning team against the betting-line spread. For example, online sportsbook Bovada lists the Patriots as a favorite to defeat the Giants by three points. Whether a person buys one square or 20 squares, the player would only get one pick against the spread (Giants or Patriots) for all of their squares.
After the game is completed, all of the grid winners — from the first quarter to the final score — would additionally compete in a bonus pool. If those winners also picked correctly against the spread (Giants or Patriots), they would be entitled to a share of the bonus pool. If the pick was wrong, then they would miss out on the bonus entirely. If none of the grid winners picked correctly, the bonus pool could be split up between all of the losing square participants who were smart enough to pick the spread winner, but came up empty with the way the grid shook out.
5) Roulette Effect
Another common complaint with Super Bowl pools of the past is that too many people walk away as losers. To help alleviate this, you may want to add the "roulette effect." In addition to the winning square (let's say AFC-3, NFC-7), you can also create a reward for neighboring squares — those that physically share a grid border — with the winner. All the squares that meet this criteria can split up a prize.
The interesting thing is that some squares on the grid have more neighbors than others, so while that increases the likelihood of hitting, it would also dilute the share of winnings compared to a winning number near the corners of the big board where there are fewer neighbors. All of a sudden, picking your squares in advance of the drawing becomes a bit more tactical.
Follow Brian Beers on Twitter: @brian_beers