What Is a Zero-Sum Game in Game Theory?


Vincent White

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that studies the behavior of individuals in strategic situations. In game theory, a zero-sum game is a type of game where the gain of one player is equal to the loss of another player. This means that the total sum of gains and losses in a zero-sum game is always zero.

Examples of Zero-Sum Games

One classic example of a zero-sum game is poker. In poker, each player starts with a certain amount of chips, and the objective is to win as many chips as possible from the other players.

If one player wins chips, the other players lose chips, and vice versa. The total sum of chips in play remains constant throughout the game, so it’s considered a zero-sum game.

Another example is chess. In chess, each player starts with an equal number of pieces on the board.

The objective is to capture your opponent’s pieces while protecting your own. If one player captures a piece, they gain an advantage over their opponent, but their opponent loses that same advantage. The total value of the pieces on the board remains constant throughout the game.

The Importance of Zero-Sum Games

Zero-sum games are important in game theory because they help us understand how rational individuals interact in competitive situations. In order to win a zero-sum game, you have to take into account not only your own actions but also your opponent’s actions and reactions.

Zero-sum games are often studied in economics and political science as well. For example, trade negotiations between countries can be seen as zero-sum games because each country wants to maximize its own gains at the expense of its trading partners.

  • Strategies for Zero-Sum Games

In order to succeed in a zero-sum game, you need to use strategies that take into account your opponent’s actions and reactions. One common strategy is to bluff, which means pretending to have a stronger hand than you actually do. This can force your opponent to make a mistake and give up their advantage.

Another strategy is to use game theory to analyze your opponent’s behavior and predict their next move. By understanding your opponent’s preferences and motivations, you can anticipate their actions and react accordingly.


In conclusion, zero-sum games are an important concept in game theory that help us understand how rational individuals interact in competitive situations. By studying zero-sum games, we can develop strategies that take into account our opponent’s actions and reactions, which can help us succeed in a wide range of situations. Whether it’s poker, chess, or trade negotiations between countries, understanding the principles of zero-sum games can give us an edge in any competitive situation.