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Persi Diaconis

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Persi Warren Diaconis (born January 31, 1945) is an American mathematician and former professional magician. He is the Mary V. Sunseri Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at Stanford University. He is particularly known for tackling mathematical problems involving randomness and randomization, such as coin flipping and shuffling playing cards.
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Professor Diaconis achieved brief national fame when he received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1979, and again in 1992 after the publication (with Dave Bayer) of a paper entitled "Trailing the Dovetail Shuffle to Its Lair" (a term coined by magician Charles Jordan in the early 1900s) which established rigorous results on how many times a deck of 52 playing cards must be riffle shuffled before it can be considered "random enough." Diaconis established that the deck gradually increases in randomness until seven shuffles, after which the thus-far experienced increase in randomness stops significantly increasing. At least seven shuffles, for reasons made precise in the paper, is what casinos should use. Contents

Diaconis is a colorful character. He left home at 14 to travel with sleight-of-hand legend Dai Vernon, and dropped out of high school, promising himself that he would return one day so that he could learn all of the math necessary to read William Feller's famous two-volume treatise on probability theory, entitled An Introduction to Probability Theory and Its Applications. He returned to school, learned Feller, and became a great mathematical probabilist.


  • Group representations in probability and statistics, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, Hayward, CA, 1988. vi+198 pp. ISBN 0-940600-14-5.
  • "Theories of data analysis: from magical thinking through classical statistics", in Hoaglin, D.C et al. (eds) (1985). Exploring Data Tables Trends and Shapes. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-09776-4.
  • D. Bayer and P. Diaconis (1992), "Trailing the Dovetail Shuffle to Its Lair", Annals of Applied Probability, volume 2, page 294–313.
  • "Statistical problems in ESP research", Science, 201, p.131-136