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Jacob Bernoulli and the Mathematics of Tennis

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Jacob Bernoulli’s Lettre à un Amy sur les Parties du Jeu de Paume employs the sorts of mathematical techniques that had been applied to games of chance by Pascal and Huygens to a game, now called Court Tennis or Royal Tennis, the outcomes of which depended, as he thought, not on chance but on athletic skill. He assumed that the players’ relative strengths could be determined a posteriori or by observation. Bernoulli’s work shows an alternate route by which mathematics was applied to the real world in the seventeenth century, one which did not involve Platonic conceptions of the role of mathematics, but rather the techniques of commercial arithmetic and, in particular, of algebra.

Affiliations: 1: North Carolina State University, USA,


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