Game Boy

Shaq speaks — and proves that game theory isn’t a game easily played.


Here’s a game — What great thinker once said, “I’m a student of the game and a student of life”?


Was it:

(a) Mathematician John von Neumann
(b) Game theorist John Nash
(c) Miami Heat center Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal

The answer, of course, is (c) — and therein lies an intellectual power-play. Turns out, a certain 320-pound high school dropout nicknamed “Diesel” has a thing or two to teach those fancy Ph.D’s about the game.

Game Theory Concept Game Theorists Say… Shaq Says…
Practice tit-for-tat “What accounts for tit-for-tat’s robust success is [that] its clarity makes it intelligible to the other player, thereby eliciting long-term co-operation.” 1 “When I was young, I got whuppins … It was a cause-and-effect situation. The cause was I did something wrong; the effect was I got a whuppin.”
Make credible commitments “There must … be a credible commitment on the side of the relational monitor to the prescribed function in each contingency.” 2 “It’s about honesty … I’m like toilet paper, Pampers and toothpaste. I’m definitely proven to be effective.”
Ensure repeated interactions “There is no solution that achieves reciprocal cooperation in a one-time game.” 3 “My personal opinion is, how, if you never hung out with somebody, do you know them so well?”
Employ “mixed” strategies “Apparent irrationality can become good strategic rationality.” 4 “I suggest you don’t get near me / I’m psycho, and I don’t think clearly.” (rapping on his song “Psycho” — 2001)

1 Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation, p. 54
2 Masahiko Aoki, “An Information Theoretic Approach to Comparative Corporate Governance”
3 Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff, Thinking Strategically, p. 100
4 Dixit and Nalebuff, p. 148