Some people use family birthdays, others use lucky numbers, while some players swear by a fail-safe number-picking “system".
But whatever your method, picking the right numbers could change your life although, frustratingly there are almost as many ways of choosing lottery numbers as there are chances of winning it.
The first thing to realise is that the odds are very much stacked against you. The chance of winning the National Lottery jackpot is 1 in 45,057,474, according to the Lotto website, while there is a 1 in 7,509,579 chance of getting five numbers plus the bonus ball. To win the Euromillions jackpot there is a one in 1 in 139,838,160 of all your numbers being drawn.
But is there a way of narrowing these odds? Let's take a look at some of the options.
1. Picking the most commonly drawn numbers
One approach would be to choose the numbers that come up most often.
As of October 2018, the most frequently drawn ball is the number 54. It has been drawn 44 times since October 2015 when the National Lottery ball pool was expanded from 49 numbers to 59, which had the effect of creating more frequent, cumulative rollovers.
The other most common numbers currently are:
- 58 (43 times since October 2015)
- 41 (40 times since October 2015)
- 8 (40 times since October 2015)
- 37 (39 times since October 2015)
- 52 (38 times since October 2015)
However, their frequency of appearance is no indication that they will be drawn together. In fact, the chance of these numbers cropping up in a winning combination is the same as any other set of six.
2. Choosing the birthdays of family or friends
For those who use birthdays, five of the most commonly drawn numbers are more than 37, meaning they are not likely to have picked them.
Sticking to birthdays certainly limits the range of numbers you can choose and this is a common system, so more people are likely to pick those numbers, meaning you may have to share your prize.
2. Picking overdue numbers
Another approach that is commonly used is to look for numbers that have not come up in a while. Human intuition tells us that if something has not happened in a while, then it is probably overdue.
Currently the most overdue number is 24 – it has not been picked in 207 days. Similarly, the numbers 35 and 57 last appeared 112 and 105 days ago respectively.
Other overdue balls include 4, 49 and 43.
Meanwhile, the least often picked numbers are 33, 9, 24, 48, 28 and 53.
However, while the concept that things which are overdue will eventually happen makes sense, it does not mean they will when it comes to the National Lottery.
Dr John Haigh, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Sussex who has written a paper on the statistics underlying the National Lottery, said: “Just because a number has not come up for a while does not mean it will in the next draw. Just as you flip a coin, if you get five heads in a row, it does not mean the next time it is more likely to be tails. The odds are still 50/50.
“So with the lottery, they remain one in 14 million.”
3. Lucky numbers
Like birthdays, this is a common approach, steeped more in superstition than any real logic. But some people are naturally drawn to certain numbers in the same way they may have a favourite colour.
Interestingly the most commonly chosen numbers are those that end in a 7 according to work done by experimental physicist Jonathan Clarke.
The key here is having enough lucky numbers to fill an entire lottery ticket – if you have to borrow numbers from someone else then they are not really lucky any more are they?
And if you win, are you going to share the jackpot with them?
4. Picking previous winning numbers
Analysis of the Swiss lottery revealed a surprising trend – people tend to choose their numbers based on the previous week’s winning numbers.
Others were found to use the jackpot numbers from two weeks before and some further back than that.
Does this make any difference? Sadly, Dr Haigh tells us the odds remain the same. But it does make picking the numbers easier.
5. Pick the best-ever performing ticket
If you had selected the ticket 01 07 22 25 31 47 in every draw since the National Lottery started you would have won £2,537,374 according to analyst Richard Lloyd.
He has found that this ticket has been the best performing in the history of the lottery so far in terms of the number of prize winning matches.
However, the odds of that combination coming up again remain the same.
6. The appliance of science
There is a multitude of reading material giving advice about how win the lottery.
For upwards of £20 of your hard-earned money, you too can learn how to use complicated maths or systems like wheeling to pick your numbers.
Wheeling, which is one of the most popular systems, involves buying multiple tickets and using seven numbers rather six across those, for example.
Prediction software is also widely available on the internet with accompanying claims of great accuracy.
In fact, none of these have ever been proven to be effective and experts say those that with enough people using these systems, simple statistics says some people will win using them.
Indeed, perhaps the only people who really win from these approaches are the people who pocket the cash being paid for the books in the first place.
7. The random selection
Surprisingly, this is seen as the best approach by experts. Not because it increases your chance of winning, but because it increases your chance of winning MORE.
By selecting numbers that use systems employed by others, it is more likely that other people will also have picked those numbers too.
If your numbers were to win the jackpot, then you would have to share more of your prize with those other people.
Randomly plucking numbers means the combination is least likely to have been selected by someone else.
“If you pick the least popular numbers and win, then you will probably share your jackpot with fewer people,” explains Dr Haigh.
8. Try the aesthetic approach
In the ninth ever draw of the National Lottery in 1995, there were a record breaking 133 winners who shared the £16 million jackpot.
Analysis of the numbers revealed an interesting phenomenon – all of the numbers were contained within the three inside columns of the playing slip at the time.
There were also no two numbers on the same row nor adjacent to each other. It appears the numbers were selected randomly for the way they looked on the slip.
Dr Haigh says: “This is a really lazy way of choosing numbers as it is an easy thing to do. People do like to make pretty patterns on their playing slip. Research on the Swiss lottery has also shown that a lot of people select numbers that go diagonally across or down the slip, for example.”
However, Dr Haigh has some final words of wisdom that may help you decide which of these methods to use.
He says: “Whatever method you chose, the chances of your six numbers coming up remain the same. It is ridiculous to think otherwise.”