The Poker Zoo 55: Alvin Moves Up

prisoners' dilemma

Professional and coach Alvin Lau of Overnight Monster returns to tackle big subjects in poker. We start with an update on Alvin’s successful move to much bigger games. With that fun news behind us, we advance the discussion Porter and I had on the somewhat exaggerated worries about Real Time Assistance; discuss the noted Brian Space article and the essential difference between a GTO practitioner and a theorist; we talk poker books and why they so many of them just aren’t very helpful (yes, names are named). We close with a discussion about race and role models in poker – a subject that probably needed more time or maybe less time, but in any case, the door was opened.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma, a book by William Poundstone based on the work of John von Neumann, describes the evolution of the game theory, and the eventual development of the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’ at RAND Corporation. It provides insights on the impact of game theory on war decisions during the period of the Cold War.

The prisoner’s dilemma is a situation wherein the individuals protect their own interests, without cooperating with other colleagues, and hence, prove to be of a disadvantage for themselves and others. Betrayal of trust for individual gain is a common phenomenon, and we face such situations everyday. This theory was developed by scientists Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher of RAND Corporation, and formalized by Princeton mathematician Albert W. Tucker.

‘The prisoner’s dilemma’ is a byproduct of the ‘game theory’ developed by noted scientist John von Neumann. He developed the game theory after being inspired by the ‘bluffing technique’ in poker. Let’s take a brief look at the traditional example that propounds this concept.

Two men are arrested by the police on suspicion of committing the same crime. They are questioned by the police in separate rooms. To convict them, the police need testimony from at least one of them. Both are rational, and value their personal freedom more than the other’s. They have two options―to confess or remain silent. If one confesses and the other remains silent, he (who remained silent) will have to serve the full tenure of punishment. On the other hand, if both confess and accuse the other to be a culprit, they’ll share the sentence of imprisonment, that will be lesser than the full term. However, if both remain silent, due to a lack of evidence, the police will have to sentence both to a much lesser period.

Thus, the best option for both suspects is to remain silent and not testify against the other. However, neither of them know what the other will say, and a lack of trust and confidence in the other accomplice may compel one of them to testify rather than remain silent. They’re faced with this dilemma, since there is a risk of the other partner testifying against if the other one remains mum. If they have mutual trust, it will be easy for them to have a win-win situation by staying mum.

This narrative represents a dilemma faced by all of us in the real world. We all come across such a situation, where we have to make a choice between self-interest and that of the group. Sometimes, choosing self-interest might not be of any value to you, if the others too think of their own profit. On the other hand, if you think of the group interest, and the other members of the group think of their self-interests, you’ll end up bearing all the loss.    -from PsycholoGenie

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