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Hot Hands

What is ‘Hot Hands’?

Hot Hands is the name given to the supposed phenomenon of a gambler winning a sequence of bets in succession. The phrase is based on the popular concept of a ‘hot-streak‘, where a gambler benefits from a run of luck. The idea of Hot Hands is in fact a fallacy – a gambler is no more likely to win based on successful previous results than unsuccessful ones.

‘Hot Hands’ Explained

The simplest illustration of Hot Hands may be presented as a roulette wheel. If the ball on a fair roulette wheel lands on red twenty times in a row, the probability of it landing on red on its next spin remains the same as if it had been any other combination of results. The past results do not influence future ones.

The idea of Hot Hands is believed for a number of reasons, primarily because a run of luck will be significant and remembered easily – therefore, people believe in the fallacy due to their past experience of witnessing it, even though it is well within the realms of statistical probability.

Hot Hands can also be tied to sport, however, often encouraging people to believe in the fallacy. Since form comes into play in games of skill, the phenomenon can exist in these sports. The same can be true of betting games involving skill, such as Poker – a player in a confident mindset who is concentrating may play well for a period, although it will not mean that they are dealt better cards, or have better luck on flops.

In addition, for the roulette example, if the ball did land on red twenty times in succession in the real world, it may be a reasonable suspicion to believe that the roulette wheel was not fair and in some way biased, therefore making red more likely. However, on a fair wheel, it would have no impact.