What Is a Zero Sum Game Theory?


Martha Robinson

Zero Sum Game Theory: An Overview

Game theory is a study of mathematical models that analyze the behavior of players in strategic situations. It is used in various fields including economics, political science, psychology, and biology. One of the most popular concepts in game theory is the Zero Sum Game Theory.

Zero Sum Game Theory is a type of game where the gains of one player are exactly balanced by the losses of another player. In other words, it is a game where the total utility is constant and any gain by one player must be offset by an equal loss to another player. It is called a “zero-sum” because in this scenario, one player’s gain results in another player’s loss, and vice versa.

How Zero Sum Games Work:

To better understand zero sum games, let us take an example – poker. In poker, there are two or more players who compete against each other to win money.

The total amount of money in play remains constant throughout the game. If one player wins a hand and earns some money, then another player loses that same amount.

In this scenario, if we add up all the gains and losses of each player in every hand played during the game, we will get zero. This means that for every dollar won by one player, there has been an equal loss by another player.

Types of Zero Sum Games:

There are different types of zero sum games such as:

1) Pure Competition: This type of zero sum game occurs when two or more players compete against each other for scarce resources or rewards. For instance, businesses competing for market share or athletes competing for medals.

2) Pure Conflict: This type of zero sum game occurs when two or more players engage in direct conflict with each other. For instance, war between countries or sports teams competing against each other.

3) Mixed Motives: This type of zero sum game occurs when some players have conflicting interests, and others have aligned interests. For instance, a company with multiple stakeholders where some stakeholders benefit from a decision while others do not.

Strategies for Zero Sum Games:

In zero sum games, every player’s gain is another player’s loss. Therefore, players need to adopt specific strategies to maximize their gains while minimizing their losses. Some of the most common strategies used in zero sum games are:

1) Minimax Strategy: This strategy is used to minimize the maximum possible loss. In other words, players assume that their opponent will make the best possible move, and they try to make a move that minimizes their maximum potential loss.

2) Maximin Strategy: This strategy is used to maximize the minimum possible gain. In other words, players assume that they will make the worst possible move, and they try to make a move that maximizes their minimum potential gain.

3) Nash Equilibrium: This strategy is used when both players are aware of each other’s strategy and choose a combination of moves that results in a stable outcome.

The Pros and Cons of Zero Sum Game Theory:

Zero Sum Game Theory has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of them:


1) It helps in predicting outcomes in situations where there are no cooperative or collaborative efforts between players.

2) It helps in understanding the nature of conflict and competition among individuals or groups.

3) It provides mathematical models for strategic decision making in various fields.


1) It assumes that all players are rational decision-makers who always act in their own self-interest.

2) It does not account for external factors such as luck or chance which may influence outcomes.

3) It can create an environment where players may focus more on defeating opponents rather than achieving positive outcomes.

In conclusion, Zero Sum Game Theory is an essential concept in game theory. It helps us to understand and analyze competitive situations where the gains of one player are balanced by the losses of another player. While it has its limitations, it remains a powerful tool for predicting outcomes and making strategic decisions in various fields.