An urn contains k black balls and one red ball. Peter and Paula are going to take turns drawing balls from the urn (without replacement), and whoever draws the red ball wins. Peter offers Paula the option to draw first. Should she take it? There seem to be arguments either way. If she draws first she might get the red ball straightaway, and it seems a shame to give up that opportunity. On the other hand, if she doesn’t succeed immediately then she’s only increased Peter’s chances of drawing the red ball himself. What should she do?
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Imagine that Peter and Paula simply take turns drawing balls, without bothering to inspect their color, until the urn is exhausted. Then afterward they look to see who has the red ball. The winner in this procedure will always be the same as in the original, so each player’s chance of winning will be the same as in the original game.
If k is odd, then the total number of balls is even, and when the urn is empty each player will have the same number of balls, so each of them has a 1/2 chance of winning. But when k is even, then the total number of balls is odd, and the player who draws first will have an extra ball when the drawing is done. So, generally, Paula should accept Peter’s offer to draw first — it may help her, and at worst it leaves her chances unchanged.
(From Wolfgang Schwarz, 40 Puzzles and Problems in Probability and Mathematical Statistics, 2008.)