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Checkmate: Exploring Backward Induction Among Chess Players

  • Steven D. Levitt
  • John A. List
  • Sally E. Sadoff

Although backward induction is a cornerstone of game theory, most laboratory experiments have found that agents are not able to successfully backward induct. Much of this evidence, however, is generated using the Centipede game, which is ill-suited for testing the theory. In this study, we analyze the play of world class chess players both in the centipede game and in another class of games - Race to 100 games - that are pure tests of backward induction. We find that world class chess players behave like student subjects in the centipede game, virtually never playing the backward induction equilibrium In the race to 100 games, in contrast, we find that many chess players properly backward induct. Consistent with our claim that the Centipede game is not a useful test of backward induction, we find no systematic within-subject relationship between choices in the centipede game and performance in pure backward induction games.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15610.

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Date of creation: Dec 2009
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Publication status: published as Steven D. Levitt & John A. List & Sally E. Sadoff, 2011. "Checkmate: Exploring Backward Induction among Chess Players," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 975-90, April.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15610
Note: IO LS
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  1. Gary Bornstein & Tamar Kugler & Anthony Ziegelmeyer, 2002. "Individual and Group Decisions in the Centipede Game: Are Groups More “Rational” Players?," Discussion Paper Series dp298, The Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
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  13. Rapoport, Amnon & Stein, William E. & Parco, James E. & Nicholas, Thomas E., 2003. "Equilibrium play and adaptive learning in a three-person centipede game," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 239-265, May.
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