zero-sum game


zero-sum game


  • to be in a situation where the outcomes can either be to win or to lose
  • a situation where one side cannot win unless the other loses
  • to have no stalemate, the outcome will be either winning or losing

Example Sentences

  1. The budget division is a zero-sum game.
  2. “It’s not a zero-sum game in which either youth or pensioners must lose” – Earl W. Foell.
  3. You will have to accept defeat because this is a zero-sum game and I am going to win no matter what.
  4. The end of this war will be a zero-sum game.
  5. I hope you understand that this is a zero-sum game and that we will have to defeat the opponents in order to move ahead in the competition.
  6. The minute she realized that this is a zero-sum game she started behaving far more competitively at work.
  7. She has lost the zero-sum game and now has to set things up from the very beginning.


The words “zero-sum” indicates an equal or neutral emphasis on the outcome of the “game”. That means that the outcome total is zero, which indicates that one side wins and the other loses in exactly that proportion. It has originated in the 1940’s in the field of game theory.

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Your definition of “Zero-sum” game is not precisely the meaning I learned years ago in relation to game theory. A zero-sum game is where there is no net gain by all parties to a game. That is, what one party’s gain is in a game (or business) situation, results in an equal loss to any other parties in the game. Therefore a “win-win” situation cannot be a zero-sum game. Likewise, nuclear warfare cannot be a zero-sum game.

Note: A lottery or a casino operation is not a zero-sum game, because the house ALWAYS extracts its share of the game.

‒ John April 4, 2021

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