Card Probability

Suppose that a deck of 52 cards has been shuffled and placed face down. You draw 1 card but do not look at it. You place it face down and off to the side. What is the probability that you drew the Ace of Hearts?

Since there is 1 Ace of Hearts in the deck and 52 cards total, the probability is 1/52.

Now you prepare to draw a second card. What is the probably that the new card is an Ace of Hearts? Is it more likely than before? Less likely? The same? Impossible to know?

To determine the answer, we need to use a probability tree. Here are all the different options that could occur:

pic 1

If we first drew the Ace of Hearts and placed it face down, there is no chance of drawing the Ace of Hearts for our second card. However, if we didn’t draw the Ace of Hearts, then our second card could or could not be the Ace of hearts.

To compute probabilities, we multiply. We want to determine the probability of drawing an Ace of Hearts on the second card. Hence, we multiply the probability of “Not Ace” by the probability of “Ace.”

pic 2

The above fraction reduces to 1/52. This is the same probability as before! We could apply this logic to drawing a third card (assuming we didn’t peak at the second card). We would find that the probability of drawing the Ace of Hearts is still only 1 in 52. No matter how many cards you remove, the probability doesn’t change. Why is this?

One way of understanding this enigma is to consider the information you have. At the beginning, you know that there are 52 cards and 1 specific card you are looking for. Once you start drawing cards, although you keep removing the cards from the deck, you don’t know which cards you are removing. You could be removing the Ace of Hearts, or you could be removing random cards. You don’t gain any new information with each card you remove. So each time you have the same probability as in the beginning.

Or consider another scenario. Suppose I draw a card from the bottom of a full deck. What is the probability that it is an Ace of Hearts? Since the deck is shuffled, the probability should be 1/52. But to get to this card, I could have physically removed all 51 cards above it (without looking at them), placed them in a pile, and then selected the bottom card. Having a pile of unknown cards does not change the probability of the remaining card being an Ace of Hearts.



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2 responses to “Card Probability

  1. Hi jehu, I’m familiar with probability problems but this one has always confused me, I think i get it then i don’t

    I have a question: Is the main point how you “phrase” what you’re asking in the problem?

    for example. If I ask “what is the probability the Nth card is the A♠ ?” then the answer is always 1/52 for any value of N=(1 to 52), but if I ask “after drawing a pile of N cards, what is the probability the A♠ is in the drawn pile?” where N=(1 to 52), then the value of N matters and the probability would be N/52.

    Is my understanding correct?

    thanks for your help

    • Hi Shawn,

      Yes, part of the problem is how the question is asked. Probability can be very sneaky.

      Your reasoning is correct. As you draw more and more cards, the probability that you have drawn the A♠ increases until you have drawn all 52, in which case you are certain that the A♠ is in your drawn pile. Does that help?

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