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I want to self study game theory. Which math-related qualifications should I have? And can you recommend any books? Where do I have to begin?

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don't know if it is the same since there was a question about non-math game theory, but strongly related: math.stackexchange.com/questions/44246/… –  Ilya Oct 26 '11 at 16:31
I studied game theory from a book called "The Compleat Strategyst" by J.D. Williams of the RAND corporation. It was published in 1966, and served as an interesting (but not difficult at all) introduction to what was probably the beginning of Game Theory. It required only linear algebra. It was an easy introduction, but definitely not comprehensive. –  Michael Boratko Oct 26 '11 at 17:16
Some elementary probability theory will be needed too. –  Henning Makholm Oct 26 '11 at 17:26
@process91: It might interest you to know that RAND will let you download that book for free... –  J. M. Oct 26 '11 at 18:04
@J.M. Good to know, thanks! –  Michael Boratko Oct 26 '11 at 20:58
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7 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I've decided to flesh out my small comment into a (hopefully respectable) answer.

The book I read to learn Game Theory is called "The Compleat Strategyst", thanks to J.M. for pointing out that it is now a free download. This was one of the first books on Game Theory, and at this point is probably very dated, but it is a nice easy introduction and, since it is free, you may as well go through it. I read the whole book and did all the examples in a couple of weeks. I said before that Linear Algebra was a prerequisite, however after flipping through it again I see that they explain all the mechanics necessary within the book itself, so unless you are also interested in the theory behind it, you will be fine without any linear algebra background.

Since it sounds like you do want the theory (and almost any aspect of Game Theory beyond the introduction provided by that book will still require Linear Algebra) you may want to grab a Linear Algebra book. I'm partial to Axler's Linear Algebra Done Right, which is (in my opinion) sufficient for self-study.

The Wikipedia page on Game Theory lists many types of games. Aspects of the first five are covered at various lengths in "The Compleat Strategyst", these include:

  • Cooperative or non-cooperative
  • Symmetric and asymmetric
  • Zero-sum and non-zero-sum
  • Simultaneous and sequential
  • Perfect information and imperfect information

The rest of the math you will need to know depends on what sort of games you're interested in exploring after that, and the math required is given away largely by the name:

Also see this (somewhat duplicate) question for video lectures which will give you a better understanding of what game theory is before you shell out any money to buy anything.

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I liked Axler's book as well, I used it as a supplemental text when I took linear. For our course we used this book, which I thought was a great introduction and most of the exercises are done in reals rather than including complex from the git go. Also free and has a solutions manual free so a great deal for self study in my opinion. –  Tristen Nov 15 '13 at 0:54
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Shameless Advertisement: Game Theory proposal on Area 51 that you should totally follow!

It definitely depends on the flavor of game theory you're interested in, but in my experience, no truly introductory text requires anything beyond simple algebra and logical reasoning. Once you get into something advanced, it requires in-depth knowledge of a specific subfield (say research on permutations), but that isn't something I would prepare for, assuming you can learn quickly. Rather, it seems mathematicians and social scientists often collaborate to solve these problems.

My Personal Recommendation: Wikipedia's entry on Game Theory and then also read about each game in the list of games and probably the entry on solution concepts.

No Math:
- Thinking Strategically
- The Evolution of Cooperation
- The Complexity of Cooperation
Minimal Notation
- Behavioral Game Theory
- The Theory of Learning in Games
(Technical) Textbooks
- An Introduction to Game Theory
- Algorithmic Game Theory
- Auction Theory
Reference Books:
- Combinatorial Auctions
- Handbook of Experimental Economics Results
- The Handbook of Experimental Economics
- Games and Economic Behavior

Reading recently-published papers is quite fun; they're usually sufficiently contained such that if you can read a paper (that is, read only its abstract, introduction, and conclusion), you can get a better idea of why concepts found in an undergraduate text are considered central.

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If you can stream content, you can look at the course material offered by Yale on game theory. Also, Stanford is offering a free online course on game theory at game-theory-class.com scheduled to start in January 2012. You can also get innumerable resources at gametheory.net. You can also get simplified stuff on game theory at game theory 101 website and 10 minute talks in the youtube channel.

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Hey, can someone with privilege review my post and put those hyperlinks properly? –  SparrowG Nov 23 '11 at 13:46
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Also, there is a book called "A course in game theory" by Osbourne and Rubinstein; an electronic version is available for free.

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Other online resources include Ferguson's text and the notes of Peres and Wilson. (The Peres-Wilson link goes to a version of August 2010; I think that's the newest version but I'm not totally sure.)

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Secondary-school math is enough to get started. And since game theory is essentially math, along the way you'll learn more math.

Ken Binmore's Playing for Real: A Text on Game Theory is suitable for undergraduates and doesn't get heavily mathematical at all.

  • What is game theory about?
  • How do I apply game theory?
  • Why is game theory right?

There's even a marker in the margin in places where you're allowed to skip some of the math and move on to the next bit.

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