ze·​ro-sum | \ ˈzir-(ˌ)ō-ˈsəm How to pronounce zero-sum (audio) , ˈzē-(ˌ)rō- \

Definition of zero-sum

: of, relating to, or being a situation (such as a game or relationship) in which a gain for one side entails a corresponding loss for the other side dividing up the budget is a zero-sum game

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Does game theory sound like fun? It can be—if you are a mathematician or economist who needs to analyze a competitive situation in which the outcome is determined by the choices of the players and chance. Game theory was introduced by mathematician John von Neumann and economist Oskar Morgenstern in their 1944 book The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. In game theory, a zero-sum game is one, such as chess or checkers, where each player has a clear purpose that is completely opposed to that of the opponent. In economics, a situation is zero-sum if the gains of one party are exactly balanced by the losses of another and no net gain or loss is created. (Such situations are rare.)

First Known Use of zero-sum

1944, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of zero-sum was in 1944

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zero potential


zero-sum game

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Last Updated

14 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Zero-sum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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