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How to Win Your White Elephant Gift Exchange Using Game Theory

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The wonks over at the economics blog fivethirtyeight.com have devised a strategy for you to win your white elephant gift exchange using game theory. White elephant, also known as Yankee Swap, is a holiday gift-giving game where participants have the opportunity to steal a gift or to open a new one.

As you might already have figured out, the best way to win is to go last. But alas, order is chosen at random.

So here are three steps to help you walk away a holiday champion. First, as each gift is opened, mentally assign it a value. This can be a dollar value, but giving it a rank from 1 to 5 will be easier. Next, when it’s your turn, average the value of all the opened gifts. Finally, if there is a stealable gift worth at least as much as the average, steal it! Otherwise, open a gift.