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How to Complete Your World Cup Sticker Album?

by Ricardo Pachon
3 minutes read

Every four years, many of us start filling the Panini World Cup sticker album, firmly believing we’ll complete it in time to enjoy it when the tournament begins. Yet, by August, many are still embarrassingly searching for those elusive stickers. To avoid this predicament this year, I’m sharing my strategy to maximize the chances of completing the album.

My approach is straightforward and consists of the following four steps:

  1. Identify the best deal on the market to buy the largest number of five-sticker packs.
  2. On the first day of starting the album, purchase 137 packs, giving you a total of 685 stickers.
  3. Expect about 250 duplicates from these 685 stickers. Use the following weeks to aggressively trade as many as possible.
  4. Order the last 50 missing stickers directly from Panini, which allows purchasing up to that number of individual stickers.

The second step might seem unusual since it suggests buying the total number of album stickers in one go. This differs from the common approach of buying packs gradually and trading duplicates as they appear.

The issue with purchasing sticker packs incrementally is that the value added by each pack decreases significantly the more you buy. From the initial 137 packs, which yield 685 stickers, approximately 250 are likely to be duplicates. Although we inevitably need to purchase this number of stickers and hope to trade the duplicates (step three), continuing to buy additional packs in hopes of finding new stickers is not an efficient strategy.

For instance, if we were to buy another 100 packs after the initial 137, bringing the total to 1,185 stickers, we would likely still be missing around 120 unique stickers. To complete the album solely through purchasing packs, without any trades, would require an average of 968 packs, or about 4,840 stickers. This would mean spending roughly £775 in British pounds or approximately $1,936,000 in Colombian pesos.

Trading duplicates is not only key but also the most fun part of the process, which is why I prefer leaving as much time for it as possible. Trading the 250 duplicates from the initial 137 packs is challenging but feasible over three months. Additionally, you can purchase up to 50 individual stickers directly from Panini, offering a bit more leeway, especially since trades aren’t always one-for-one and sometimes multiple stickers might be needed for one specific sticker.

The challenge of completing the World Cup album is fascinating from a mathematical perspective, with a history dating back to the 18th century (undoubtedly, the great mathematician Abraham de Moivre would have enjoyed completing the album while supporting the French team). I’ve spent hours calculating and running computer simulations to better understand the problem and will share this material in my next post.

I recall a schoolmate arriving with a box of 100 packs his parents bought him—a fantasy to me but almost excessive in my mind. At home, my parents would buy five or ten packs each week, probably thinking more would spoil me. However, the reality is that completing the album requires an initial investment (£108 in England, or $268,000 in Colombia) plus ample time and a wide network of acquaintances for trading.

If you’re considering filling the album with your family this year, perhaps the lesson to impart isn’t about the value of gradually acquiring goods but rather the importance of being sociable, having a strong network, knowing how to negotiate, and having a clear strategy.

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