What Do You Need to Know to Learn Game Theory?


Martha Robinson

Game theory is a fascinating subject that has applications in a wide range of fields, from economics and politics to biology and psychology. It is a study of mathematical models that aim to understand how rational individuals make decisions when they are aware of the impact their actions will have on others. If you’re interested in learning game theory, there are certain things you need to know.

What is Game Theory?

Game theory is the study of decision-making in situations where two or more individuals or groups have conflicting interests. It is used to analyze strategic interactions between these parties, such as negotiations, auctions, and voting systems. Game theory models can help predict the outcomes of these interactions and guide decision-making.

The Basics of Game Theory

Before delving into the specifics of game theory, it’s important to understand some basic concepts. One such concept is the idea of a game. In game theory, a game refers to any situation where there are two or more players who must make decisions based on their own interests and the actions of others.

Another important concept in game theory is payoffs. Payoffs refer to the rewards or penalties that each player receives based on their actions and the actions of others in the game. The goal for each player is typically to maximize their own payoff while minimizing those of their opponents.

Types of Games

There are several types of games that can be analyzed using game theory. One common type is called a zero-sum game, where one player’s gain is equivalent to another player’s loss. Examples include chess and poker.

Another type of game is called a non-zero-sum game, where there can be mutual gains or losses for all players involved. Examples include bargaining situations and team sports.


In order for players to make decisions in games, they need strategies. Strategies are plans for how to act based on the actions of others and the potential outcomes of the game. In game theory, there are two main types of strategies: pure strategies and mixed strategies.

A pure strategy is a specific course of action that a player takes in every situation. For example, in rock-paper-scissors, always choosing paper would be a pure strategy.

A mixed strategy involves randomizing between different pure strategies. For example, in rock-paper-scissors, randomly choosing between rock, paper, and scissors would be a mixed strategy.

Nash Equilibrium

One of the most important concepts in game theory is Nash equilibrium. A Nash equilibrium occurs when each player’s strategy is optimal given the strategies of all other players. In other words, no player can improve their payoff by changing their strategy if all other players keep their strategies constant.


Learning game theory can be a challenging but rewarding endeavor. By understanding the basics of games, payoffs, strategies, and Nash equilibrium, you’ll be well on your way to analyzing strategic interactions like a pro. With practice and application to real-world scenarios, you can become proficient at understanding how rational individuals make decisions when they are aware of the impact their actions will have on others.