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Favoritism in Contests: Head Starts and Handicaps


  • Rene Kirkegaard

    () (Department of Economics, Brock University)


We examine a contest, modelled as an all-pay auction, in which a strong and a weak contestant compete, and where a contestant may suffer from a handicap or benefit from a head start. The former reduces the contestant's score by a fixed percentage; the latter is an additive bonus. The two instruments affect the contest in significantly different ways. In particular, a handicap does not "cancel out" a head start. The effort maximizing combination of head starts and handicaps is then analyzed. In the benchmark model, it is generally profitable to give the weak contestant a head start. However, we identify a trade-off which implies that it may or may not be profitable to handicap the strong contestant. Indeed, the weak contestant may have a head start and a handicap. The trade-off is absent in a perturbed model, but there it is unambiguously the weak contestant who should be handicapped.

Suggested Citation

  • Rene Kirkegaard, 2008. "Favoritism in Contests: Head Starts and Handicaps," Working Papers 0805, Brock University, Department of Economics, revised Nov 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:brk:wpaper:0805

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Baye, Michael R & Kovenock, Dan & de Vries, Casper G, 1993. "Rigging the Lobbying Process: An Application of the All-Pay Auction," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(1), pages 289-294, March.
    2. Eric Maskin & John Riley, 2000. "Asymmetric Auctions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 67(3), pages 413-438.
    3. Bulow, Jeremy & Roberts, John, 1989. "The Simple Economics of Optimal Auctions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(5), pages 1060-1090, October.
    4. Konrad, Kai A., 2002. "Investment in the absence of property rights; the role of incumbency advantages," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(8), pages 1521-1537, September.
    5. E. Feess & Gerd Muehlheusser & M. Walzl, 2008. "Unfair contests," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 93(3), pages 267-291, April.
      • Feess Eberhard & Muehlheusser Gerd & Walzl Markus, 2004. "Unfair Contests," Research Memorandum 050, Maastricht University, Maastricht Research School of Economics of Technology and Organization (METEOR).
    6. Amann, Erwin & Leininger, Wolfgang, 1996. "Asymmetric All-Pay Auctions with Incomplete Information: The Two-Player Case," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 1-18, May.
    7. PARREIRAS, Sérgio O. & RUBINCHIK-PESSACH, Anna, 2006. "Contests with heterogeneous agents," CORE Discussion Papers 2006004, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
    8. Arieh Gavious & Benny Moldovanu & Aner Sela, 2002. "Bid Costs and Endogenous Bid Caps," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 33(4), pages 709-722, Winter.
    9. Athey, Susan, 2001. "Single Crossing Properties and the Existence of Pure Strategy Equilibria in Games of Incomplete Information," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(4), pages 861-889, July.
    10. repec:ebl:ecbull:v:3:y:2006:i:9:p:1-8 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Nicolas Sahuguet, 2006. "Caps in asymmetric all-pay auctions with incomplete information," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 3(9), pages 1-8.
    12. Clark, Derek J. & Riis, Christian, 2000. "Allocation efficiency in a competitive bribery game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 109-124, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Megidish, Reut & Sela, Aner, 2010. "Caps in Sequential Contests," CEPR Discussion Papers 7874, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Berman, Ron & Katona, Zsolt, 2010. "The Role of Search Engine Optimization in Search Rankings," MPRA Paper 20129, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Ella Segev & Aner Sela, 2011. "Sequential All-Pay Auctions with Head Starts and Noisy Outputs," Working Papers 1106, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Department of Economics.
    4. Pradeep Dubey, 2012. "On the Role of Information in Contests," Department of Economics Working Papers 12-11, Stony Brook University, Department of Economics.
    5. Segev, Ella & Sela, Aner, 2011. "Sequential All-Pay Auctions with Head Starts," CEPR Discussion Papers 8183, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item


    All-Pay Auctions; Contests; Favoritism; Handicap; Head Start;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • D44 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Auctions
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design

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