Game theory is the science and study of games that involve 2 or more players. The study tries to replicate a model whereby a player can find the most optimal avenue for playing against an opponent who is like-minded and equally as skilled as the former player.
Modern Game Theory was developed in 1920 by a Princeton mathematician, Jon von Neumann. The theory was further developed in the 1950s and 1970s. Although game theory is relevant to skilled game play it has also been expanded into areas that include economics, political science, logic, computer science, biology, and of course poker.
Game Theory Focus
Game theory is not based on one specific strategy that can be used against an opponent. Rather, the strategy revolves around the idea of you facing an opponent that thinks very similarly to the way you do. In fact you could imagine yourself playing against another you and then devising the most optimal way to play a game against an opponent that thinks like you.
A Zero-Sum Game
Poker can be considered as a zero-sum game. A zero-sum game is one in which the score at the end of a round is zero. Simply put, it’s a game where one player’s gains will amount in losses for the other player/s.
A common reference for explaining a zero-sum game is the prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma states the following hypothetical situations:
- Two people commit a crime together (Person A and Person B).
- They both get caught and are held in separate rooms for questioning.
- The prosecutors, however, don’t have enough information to convict both people. The prosecutors then offer Person A and person B a bargaining tool by offering them the option to snitch on the other.
The prisoner’s then have the following probabilities:
- If Person A and Person B both snitch on each other, then they will both serve 2 years in prison.
- If Person A snitches on Person B, but person B remains silent, then Person A will not be convicted on any charges and person B will be sentenced to 3 years in prison (and vice versa).
- If Person A and person B both remain silent and do not snitch on the other at all then they will each only serve 1 year in prison on a lesser criminal charge.
We’ll leave it up to you decide what the best course of action is for each prisoner.