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Game theory and the 2012 badminton London Olympics championship

In the 2012 Olympics games, 8 badminton players were disqualified for not using their best effort. For the game between China and Korea, the winner would meet a very strong opponent in the knockout round, but the runnerup would meet a significantly weaker opponent in the knockout round. Therefore, the dominant strategy for both teams was to lose the match. Each team has the two options of either playing their true strength or purposely trying to lose. The Nash equilibrium lies in the space where both teams choose to play to lose because no matter what the opponent’s choice is, choosing to lose is the better strategy.

However, this Nash equilibrium of choosing to lose also comes at a price on the sportsmanship and social level. If they are not well at “fake losing”, then the audience and umpire can tell clearly that they are not trying their best, which would result in a disqualification from the game. But if they mix their performance up, they might just win the match, which puts them in a weaker position. In short, each team has an overarching goal to lose the match, but for each point, they also must make their rallies look authentic, which could come at a price of defeating their overarching goal.

In real life, both teams were disqualified from the game because the umpire decided that they are not playing the best of their potential. This is very interesting because when both teams chose the “dominant strategy”, they actually had the most negative impact. Nash equilibrium is supposed to be the set of choices that would yield the most return for both parties, but it certainly did not in this case. This is a very interesting counterexample for the Nash equilibrium, it seems like there needs to be a more complex model to analyze the payoffs in this case.



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