Friday, July 31, 2009

Prisoner's Dilemma

There is a game, that apparently every Psych 101 student knows, called Prisoner’s Dilemma. I heard it explained on Peter Gzowski’s radio show many years ago and it stayed with me. The version (and there are many) was this:

There are two “players”, you and I. We each hold two aces, red and black. We both play one ace, face up, at the same time. If we both play a red ace, the “bank” gives us each $5. If we both play a back ace, we each give the bank $5. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Play red aces and slowly acquire a pile of money.

There is a hitch. If you play a red ace and I play a black ace, you must give me $100. Now what do you do?

If we trust each other, we continue to play red aces. How much do you trust me? How much do I trust you?

The safest is to continually play black aces and continually pay the bank $5. But no one wins that way, so we negotiate. We come to an agreement not to cheat, to play only red aces. How good is the agreement? Do you trust me? Do I trust you?

This is the dilemma faced by all of us in all aspects of life. Diplomacy. Business relationships. Personal relationships. We all promise to play red aces but there is always the temptation to play a back ace and cash in, quick and dirty.

Isn’t life fun?


  1. No, BF, you'll always play the red ace. You were, after all, an upstanding and trustworthy person in "red" Saskatchewan. Right?

    Uh, BF, you are with me here . . . ?

  2. Computer simulations fail to provide a winning strategy. However the least losing strategy is to play the colour ace that your opponent played last.
    You play a red ace, I'll play a red ace next time.

  3. There is a joke here, something aout having a Red Ace and a black eye.