I played the game of blackjack somewhat competitively for many years. Recently I have started to play Hearthstone. How did playing blackjack prepare me to play Hearthstone somewhat successfully? This post will attempt to answer this question.
Playing blackjack effectively is an exercise in imperfect information. You never know what the dealer’s hole card is, so you have to make decisions based on probabilities and the knowledge of cards that were previously played after the shuffle. In Hearthstone, imperfect information is more like poker. You don’t know what is in your opponent’s hand, but you can assume what they have based on what they have played before and what cards they kept during the mulligan phase. In this respect, Poker is better training for a Hearthstone player, but playing blackjack certainly didn’t hurt me in understanding this concept.
Playing blackjack is an exercise in applied mathematics. Hearthstone is similar, so my understanding of statistics is an important factor towards success. Take for instance the card Imp-losion:
- What is the most likely outcome?
- Actually each damage outcome is equally likely, you have a 1/3 chance to get 2, 3, or 4 damage
- What is the average outcome?
- On average you will get 3 damage
- How likely are you to get 3 or more damage?
- You will get 3 or more damage 2/3 of the time
This basic understanding of probabilities can you help you to make the best choice of which minion to target with this spell.
Obviously there are much more advanced statistical concepts, but for an overview article such as this, the above is a sufficient introduction.
Bad Opening Hands
In blackjack, you will often get a bad opening hand like a ten value card and a 6 versus a dealer ten value card. This is a really bad hand because you are almost certain to lose. Understanding basic game theory, a knowledgable player will know that it is correct to Hit this hand (actually the best option is surrender if it is available on the game you play). This decision will give you the best chance to lose the least money. On average you will lose with this hand, but that shouldn’t stop you from hitting because by hitting you will lose less. Obviously with knowledge of cards played previously you can alter your decision. In Hearthstone, you will also have really bad opening hands. In this case you will need to alter your strategy to try to survive the first few rounds and hope that you have good card draw. Like blackjack, bad opening hands happen and that is just part of the game. You need to learn to deal with it and adjust your strategy when it occurs.
You lose 4 games in a row in blackjack or Hearthstone. Does that mean you are playing terribly? Possibly, but most likely not. 4 games is not enough games to make any conclusions on how you are playing. Hundreds of games are needed to start to make any reasonable conclusion on how you are playing. In both games, you must learn to focus on the long-term and not change your strategy or deck when the occasionally losing streak happens. Keeping good records helps in maintaining this long-term perspective.
Most important is the psychological aspects of both games. In blackjack losing means that you are also losing real money. However, losing in Hearthstone also has the same psychological effects. Dealing with losing is part of the game and learning how to cope with it is important. Having valid strategies to deal with losing so you don’t go on tilt and start playing badly is important. Something as simple as just taking a break and doing something else may give you the time needed to calm down and assure yourself that you are playing well and that you are just having bad luck/variance. I think that the psychology of gaming is the most important lesson I learned from playing blackjack. I can recall instances were I lost $500 in 30 minutes, but I can also recall times were I won $600 in 30 minutes. In the moment, the loss obviously had more of a psychological effect than the winning. As humans, we are more susceptible to remember the losses than the wins. Keeping good records can help with reviewing your play after the session/day.
I hope you enjoyed this article on how playing blackjack prepared me for playing Hearthstone. There are many common factors that are needed to be successful in both games.