MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Hi everybody,

I recently got interested in Game Theory but I don't know where should I start. Can anyone recommend any references and textbooks? And what are the prerequisites of Game Thoery?

Thanks in advance.

share|cite|improve this question
Actually I already did what you said but there were a lot of references and I didn't know which one I should choose. That's why I came here and asked this question. – Axiom Mar 19 '10 at 20:54
Why the downvoting? If Soheil had said he wanted to study, let's say randomly (!) Algebraic Geometry, he would have had 20 upvotes and answers fiercely discussing the relative merits of Shafarevich and Fulton over Hartshorne and Eisenbud-Harris ... – Georges Elencwajg Mar 19 '10 at 21:49
The downvotes are encouragement to study a more popular subject. This has a lot of sense behind it. The users of Math Overflow want Soheil to get a good job at a good university surrounded by other good researchers. Maybe if we all downvoted every question that wasn't close enough - Riemann's hypothesis would be solved by now! – Dror Speiser Mar 19 '10 at 22:19
@Georges: This is funny, your comment is getting more votes than the question itself - while people agree with you, they still really don't care for game theory. – Dror Speiser Mar 19 '10 at 23:30
@Dror: with due respect that's got to be a terrible motivation to get someone to study algebraic geometry. The idea of consecrating one's efforts to Proper Stuff And Not That Other Stuff is, when made dogmatic, quite damaging IMHO. (I mean, why should people in the 70s and 80s have studied the local theory of Banach spaces rather than motivic cohomology?) – Yemon Choi Mar 20 '10 at 3:28
up vote 7 down vote accepted

"A course in game theory" by Martin J. Osborne and Ariel Rubinstein is probably the standard more mathematical starting point. A more concise, more modern, and slightly CS-leaning text is "Essentials of Game Theory -- A Concise, Multidisciplinary Introduction" by Kevin Leyton-Brown and Yoav Shoham.

share|cite|improve this answer
This book is one of the main textbooks used in a recent and free online course of Game Theory from Stanford: – Shamisen Jan 6 '14 at 13:29

I asked this same question about a year ago, so I'm very slightly ahead of you. Here's what I know:

As you probably know, there are two major branches for game theory. There's (for lack of a better term) "economics" game theory dealing with real world situations, economics, politics and the like. I know next to nothing about that. However, I do know a decent amount about combinatorial game theory, which is a little bit more ground in mathematics, and deals with two player games such as Go, Chess, Nim, or Tic-Tac-Toe.

The best introductory text is going to be Conway's Winning Ways, any of the volumes 1-4. These are the books to read to get into any other subset of combinatorial games, in my opinion.

My personal specialization thus far is generalizations of Tic-Tac-Toe called achievement games, which you can read about (along with much more) in Tic-Tac-Toe Theory.

However, if you want to go even further in these studies, you are a little bit out of luck. What's very exciting to me about combinatorial game theory is that it's pretty much a brand new field of mathematics, and right now the best techniques we have to study it are educated guessing/brute-forcing and a little bit of discrete mathematics. Although it's disenchanting sometimes, this also means that there is potentially a world of possible links and connections to other branches of math that we don't know about, and is just out there waiting to be discovered.

share|cite|improve this answer
I second the distinction Ian makes. "Economics" game theory (in the tradition of Nash and von Neumann), and combinatorial game theory (in the tradition of Conway, and applied to semantics of programming languages) are as far as I know pretty much disjoint subjects. – Tom Leinster Mar 20 '10 at 13:49
...and to ask the obvious question to the orginal questioner: do you know which of these two branches of game theory you're interested in? – Tom Leinster Mar 20 '10 at 13:49
Thank you, your answer was very helpful. Upvoated. – Axiom Mar 22 '10 at 20:03
@Axiom, Also see same question at – Pacerier Aug 9 '15 at 15:53

There is a new (well, the English translation is) book that treats both noncooperative and cooperative (but not combinatorial) game theory on a high level, is extremely well written, mathematically rigorous and fairly comprehensive: Game Theory by Michael Maschler, Eilon Solan, and Shmuel Zamir. For someone who knows some undergraduate real analysis and linear algebra, the book should be self contained (with a few exceptions, where reference literature is recommended in the book). The book doesn't contain everything (there is very little on refinements), but it contains enough to get one near the frontier of research fast.

Book cover

share|cite|improve this answer
This is a great book! – Gil Kalai Jan 6 '14 at 15:44


background is basic linear algebra I believe

share|cite|improve this answer

I've found Tom Ferguson's text to be a good introduction. His Linear Programming (pdf) text is a useful supplement. Both are freely available from his website.

share|cite|improve this answer

The Wikipedia article on Game theory is a general introduction to the field. In it I found an a link for Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. Also here are lecture notes from a graduate level course.

share|cite|improve this answer

One area that's really fascinating from a game theory angle is algorithmic game theory, and there's an excellent book out on this topic. While this focuses more on the computational aspects of game theory, it's extremely relevant to a ton of work on the internet and e-commerce, and weaves together game theory, economics and theoretical computer science in a fascinating manner.

The book is: Algorithmic Game Theory

share|cite|improve this answer

I recently had to write a report about this and one of my main sources was I found it to be fairly comprehensive and it included some practice exercises

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.