How Do You Analyze the Matrix in Game Theory?


Martha Robinson

Game theory is a fascinating topic that involves analyzing and predicting the behavior of players in strategic situations. One of the key concepts in game theory is the matrix, which is a tool used to represent the possible outcomes of a game.

What is a Matrix?

In game theory, a matrix is a table that shows all possible outcomes of a game based on the choices made by each player. The matrix typically includes two rows and two columns, with each row representing a player and each column representing an action they can take.


Consider the classic example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In this game, two suspects are arrested and held in separate cells. Each suspect is given the option to either confess or remain silent.

If both suspects remain silent, they will each receive a light sentence. However, if one confesses and implicates the other, they will receive a reduced sentence while their accomplice receives a harsher sentence. If both confess, they will both receive moderate sentences.

The matrix for this game would look like:

| | Confess | Remain Silent |
| Confess | -5,-5 | -1,-10 |
| Remain Silent | -10,-1 | -2,-2 |

In this matrix, the first number represents the payoff for Player 1 (the row player) while the second number represents the payoff for Player 2 (the column player).

How Do You Analyze a Matrix?

To analyze a matrix, you need to determine which strategies are dominant for each player. A dominant strategy is one that yields the highest payoff regardless of what the other player does.

Looking at our Prisoner’s Dilemma matrix above, we can see that if Player 1 confesses then Player 2’s best response is also to confess (-5 is better than -10). Similarly, if Player 2 confesses then Player 1’s best response is also to confess (-5 is better than -1). Therefore, confessing is a dominant strategy for both players.

Nash Equilibrium

Once you have identified the dominant strategies, you can determine the Nash equilibrium. The Nash equilibrium is a set of strategies that result in the best possible outcome for both players given their individual decisions.

In the Prisoner’s Dilemma, both players confessing is the Nash equilibrium because neither player has an incentive to deviate from their strategy. If one player switches to remaining silent, they risk receiving a harsher sentence if the other player still confesses.


Analyzing a matrix in game theory involves identifying dominant strategies and determining the Nash equilibrium. By understanding these concepts, you can gain insights into how players will behave in strategic situations. The use of matrices makes it easier to visualize all possible outcomes and can help inform decision-making in real-world scenarios as well.