How Do You Read a Game Theory Chart?


Diego Sanchez

Game Theory is a fascinating concept that helps us make strategic decisions in various scenarios. A Game Theory chart, also known as a payoff matrix, is a visual representation of the possible outcomes of a game or decision-making situation. It displays the various choices available to each player and the rewards or penalties associated with each choice.

Reading a Game Theory chart might seem intimidating at first, but it’s actually quite simple once you understand its components and how they relate to each other. In this article, we’ll break down the different elements of a Game Theory chart and explain how to read it effectively.

The Players and Their Strategies

The first step in understanding a Game Theory chart is to identify the players involved and their strategies. Typically, there are two players in any game scenario, although there can be more in some cases. Each player has a set of strategies they can choose from – for example, in a game of rock-paper-scissors, the strategies for each player would be rock, paper, or scissors.

The players and their strategies are represented on the vertical and horizontal axes of the chart. The vertical axis represents Player 1’s choices while the horizontal axis represents Player 2’s choices.

The Payoffs

The next element of a Game Theory chart is the payoffs associated with each combination of choices made by the players. Payoffs refer to the rewards or penalties that each player receives based on their chosen strategy and their opponent’s strategy.

Payoffs are usually represented using numbers or symbols – for example, +1 might represent a win for Player 1 while -1 might represent a loss. In some cases, payoffs can also be represented using colors or shading.

  • Zero-Sum Games: In zero-sum games, one player’s gain is always equal to the other player’s loss. This means that if one player receives a payoff of +1, the other player must receive a payoff of -1.

    Zero-sum games are represented using a single number or symbol for each combination of strategies.

  • Non-Zero-Sum Games: In non-zero-sum games, the payoffs for each player can be different. This means that both players can receive positive payoffs or negative payoffs at the same time. Non-zero-sum games are represented using two numbers or symbols for each combination of strategies – one for Player 1’s payoff and one for Player 2’s payoff.

An Example Game Theory Chart

Let’s take a look at an example Game Theory chart to see how all these elements come together:

Strategy A Strategy B
Strategy X +3, -2 -1, +1
Strategy Y -2, +3 +1, -1

In this example, there are two players – Player 1 and Player 2 – and two strategies available to each player – Strategy X and Strategy Y for Player 1 and Strategy A and Strategy B for Player 2.

The payoffs are represented using two numbers or symbols separated by a comma – the first number represents Player 1’s payoff while the second number represents Player 2’s payoff. For example, if Player 1 chooses Strategy X and Player 2 chooses Strategy A, then the payoffs would be +3 for Player 1 and -2 for Player 2.

Reading the Chart

To read the chart effectively, you need to consider the payoffs associated with each combination of strategies and how they relate to each other. The goal is to identify the best strategy for each player based on their opponent’s strategy.

For example, in the chart above, if Player 1 chooses Strategy X and Player 2 chooses Strategy A, then Player 1 gets a payoff of +3 and Player 2 gets a payoff of -2. However, if Player 1 chooses Strategy Y instead while Player 2 still chooses Strategy A, then Player 1 gets a payoff of -2 and Player 2 gets a payoff of +3. This means that Strategy Y is actually better for Player 1 in this scenario.

By considering all the possible combinations of strategies and payoffs, you can determine the optimal strategy for each player in any game scenario.


Game Theory charts are an essential tool for making strategic decisions in various scenarios – from business negotiations to political campaigns. By understanding how to read these charts effectively, you can make informed decisions that lead to the best possible outcomes for yourself or your organization. Remember to consider all the elements of the chart – the players, their strategies, and the payoffs – and how they relate to each other when making your decisions.