Delegate Math 101

Presidential hopefuls are on the hunt this Super Tuesday for the 3,156 elusive prey known as delegates. About 42 percent of Democratic delegates and 44 percent of Republican delegates are up for grabs today.

Tracking this particular game can be incredibly complicated and is more like a science than a sport. The stakes are high. The math is complicated and the results are unpredictable.

Here's a breakdown of what everyone's after.

The Democratic and Republican nominees need a simple majority of delegates to be the winner. For Democrats, that's 2,025 delegates and for the Republicans, it's 1,191 delegates.

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How to Grab Them

They may travel in packs, but rounding up these little guys can be tricky.

That's what makes big game like California more attractive than smaller ones like Alaska. This is despite the fact that big game can have higher risk. See Rudy Giuliani and Florida.

Ten states are winner take all. So even if Mitt Romney somehow got close to John McCain in Arizona, Romney would walk away the big loser with no delegates.

For the Democrats, dividing the quarry can be much more complicated. Delegates are divided up proportionally, in direct relation to the percentage of total votes the candidate receives, which means when you have two strong candidates, like Obama and Clinton this year, no clear winner could emerge tonight. Even if one wins, determining the winner can take a long time.

Even then, the rules for dividing delegates can produce odd results, such as when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Nevada, but Barack Obama got one more extra delegate then Clinton did.

Now, the Top 5 states to watch:

1. California. The nation's most populous state also sends the most delegates to both parties' conventions. California is a nation unto itself, with broad racial and ethnic diversity, and this is the one state that could provide the biggest boost of momentum moving forward.

On the Democratic side, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has been surging in polls despite the wide lead New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has long held. The Golden State will test the depth of Clinton's support among Latino voters, and both candidates' appeal to independents, who can vote in the Democratic primary but not the Republican one. It could also give an indication of the value of the Kennedy name in backing Obama; California first lady Maria Shriver joined cousin Caroline and uncle Ted in supporting Obama, and plenty of Kennedys have been working the state hard.

Among the Republicans, this is one of the few states that awards delegates based on congressional districts. Knowing that he can't afford a wipeout in the biggest state to vote, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made California a late priority, and he hopes the Republican-only makeup of the primary electorate will give him a boost over Arizona Sen. John McCain. The latest polls show conflicting results, leaving the state up for grabs.

Democratic primary — open (independents can vote)

Polls open: 10 a.m. ET;

Polls close: 11 p.m. ET

370 delegates at stake, awarded proportionally

Republican primary — closed (independents cannot vote)

Polls open: 10 a.m. ET;

Polls close: 11 p.m. ET;

170 delegates at stake, awarded via congressional district and winner take all

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