Game theory


  • World rankings in tennis

    Despite an abbreviated schedule, Roger Federer rules the roost

    by J.S.

    THE men’s tennis season is one of the most arduous slogs in professional sports. Most players kick off their season the first week of each new year in Australia, then travel the globe to compete multiple times a month in an attempt to qualify for the year-end championships, held in London in mid-November. The off-season is barely worthy of the name, and is often insufficient for competitors to recover from a year’s worth of nagging injuries, not to mention developing new skills and tactics for a fresh campaign.

  • Upsets in college basketball

    The maddest March: at last, a 16-seed upsets a number one

    by D.R.

    THE line separating the improbable from the impossible is hard to pin down. The annual single-elimination tournament to crown the champion of North America’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in men’s basketball is known as “March Madness”, thanks to the steady diet of upsets it produces. Every year, a few ragtag gangs of fresh-faced students from little-known universities, likely destined for mundane careers in accounting, sales or the like, somehow manage to topple a heavily favoured juggernaut packed with future National Basketball Association stars.

  • A screening test

    How to solve football’s video-refereeing problems

    by J.T.

    ADDING a video-assistant referee (VAR) to the officiating staff at football matches was supposed to drag the game into the 21st century. The sport’s rulebook was first codified in 1863, making it one of the oldest of all. But the version used today makes no mention of video replays, which have aided referees in most other team sports for decades. That might change on March 3rd at the 132nd annual general meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB). IFAB is recognised as the guardian of the rulebook by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

  • Baseball economics

    Savvy or collusion? Why baseball’s free-agent market has turned ice-cold

    by J.S.

    BACK in 1987, Andre Dawson, a star outfielder in Major League Baseball (MLB), was looking for a change of scenery. After spending a full decade with the Montreal Expos, he was at last a free agent, able to sign with any team he chose. The Expos had finished third-to-last in attendance during the previous season, and their stadium featured an artificial-turf playing surface that aggravated his balky knees. At 31 years old, Mr Dawson surely had at least a few more productive years in him. Nonetheless, not a single club save for his previous employer made him an offer.

  • Ice hockey at the Olympics

    By abandoning the Olympics, the NHL has done Russia a favour

    by J.S. | GANGNEUNG

    EVER since 1998, when North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) began putting its season on hold to allow its players to participate in the Olympics, men’s ice hockey has been a signature sport at the winter games. Elite squads from Canada, the home country of nearly half of the players in the NHL, took gold medals in 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi. And from 1998 to 2014, every men’s ice-hockey medal has gone to Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, or the United States—not coincidentally, the six countries best represented on NHL rosters.

  • No movement in the channels

    Domestic demand to televise the Premier League might have peaked

    by T.A.W.

    THE English Premier League (EPL), football’s wealthiest division, has long seemed like an ever-quickening fountain of riches. Between 2010 and 2017 the EPL’s annual income doubled to roughly £4.4bn ($6.2bn) according to Deloitte, a consultancy. The fastest growth in that period came from domestic broadcasting revenues for live matches, which almost trebled, from £594m a year to £1.71bn. This year’s auction for the right to show games on British television between 2019 and 2022 was expected to deliver yet another rise, thanks to an increase in games on sale from 168 to 200 and rumoured interest from online giants like Amazon and Facebook.

  • Halfpipe dreams

    How to predict winners at the winter Olympics

    by J.T.

    FANS of winter sports are used to paying close attention to forecasts. Few would fancy taking to the slopes in howling gusts of 50mph (80kph) or temperatures that have fallen to -26˚C (-14˚F) with wind chill. Such conditions have caused the postponement of several events at the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which opened on February 9th. Increasingly warm winters are threatening the futures of many ski resorts around the world, but in Pyeongchang the artificial snow cannons are firing for the opposite reason. The air is so cold and dry that snowfall is scarce, with just seven days of it in February last year.

  • Unrequited glove

    Why football’s goalkeepers are cheap and unheralded

    by T.A.W.

    FOOTBALL fans have become used to seeing transfer records broken, as Europe’s top clubs have enjoyed a decade of rapid growth in revenues. The latest transfer window, a month-long mid-season affair which closed on February 3rd, offered further proof of a bull market. The teams in Europe’s “big five” leagues, in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy, spent an unprecedented £815m ($1.15bn) on acquiring new players. The three most expensive transfers ever have all been completed in the last six months. Yet despite this prolonged spree, one long-standing milestone has yet to be passed. The record for the most expensive goalkeeper is still unmoved after 16 years.

  • Super Bowl LII

    The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions at last

    by W.Z.

    OF ALL the platitudes so often heard about American football, arguably the most prevalent is that “defence wins championships”. Never has that cliché proved less apt than it did on February 4th, when the Philadelphia Eagles won the first Super Bowl title in their history with a 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots. Although the two teams allowed the fourth- and fifth-fewest points among the National Football League’s (NFL) 32 teams in the regular season, neither club’s defence bothered to show up to the marquee event on America’s sporting calendar.

    The game produced so many eye-popping statistics that no single one could do it justice.

  • Anglais-oop?

    Britain could become basketball’s latest global outpost

    by T.A.W.

    FOR ONE night a year the O2 Arena, London’s biggest indoor stadium, belongs to basketball. On January 11th the 20,000-seat venue hosted its eighth regular-season fixture since 2011, between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, the former of whom are genuine championship contenders this season in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The topsy-turvy game, which the 76ers led by 22 points in the second quarter before the Celtics secured a 114-103 comeback win, was far from the only delight for the many fans experiencing their first match.

  • Expansion teams in ice hockey

    The Las Vegas Golden Knights are hitting hockey’s jackpot

    by J.S.

    CALL it the fundamental law of expansion teams: when new franchises join North America’s closed team-sports leagues, they aren’t supposed to be very good. Cobbling together their initial rosters from the detritus incumbent clubs choose to make available, expansion teams typically need several years to develop young talent and acquire appropriate veterans. As the National Hockey League (NHL) has grown from 21 teams in 1990 to its present membership of 31, it has delivered few exceptions. Even the San Jose Sharks, a perennial contender for most of their 26-year history, won less than one-fifth of their games during their first two campaigns.

  • Competitive balance in baseball

    The rich get richer as a home-run champion moves to New York

    by J.S.

    THE PAST decade has been a resounding success for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) efforts to promote competitive balance. Back in 2000, when the New York Yankees, the sport’s richest team, were en route to winning their fourth championship in five years, MLB hired a “blue-ribbon panel” to propose reforms that would help clubs in smaller markets to contend for titles. Since then, the sport has added or fine-tuned a luxury tax on high payrolls, a sharing scheme for teams’ locally generated revenues, limits on payments to young players when they first enter the MLB system and an online streaming-video service whose profits are split equally among all clubs.

  • Shohei me the way

    A Japanese trailblazer is set to transform baseball

    by J.S.

    THE PAST five years have been a golden age for tactical experimentation in Major League Baseball (MLB).  Defensive alignments and bullpen-usage patterns that would have been unthinkable a decade ago have now become commonplace. Yet even the clubs most inclined to think out of the box have never questioned one of the sport’s fundamental truths: pitchers pitch, hitters hit, and never the twain shall meet.

    In 2018, however, this bedrock belief will be put to a long-overdue test. On December 8th Shohei Ohtani—an unprecedented two-way star, who has a strong claim to be both Japan’s best hitter and its best pitcher—announced that he would sign with the Los Angeles Angels.

  • A late penalty

    Russia’s overdue Olympic ban is no cure for anti-doping impotence

    by J.T.

    IT HAS taken seven investigative reports and seven years. But at long last the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided on December 5th to punish Russia for running a state-sponsored doping programme, by banning the country from taking a team to next February’s winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Russian athletes hoping to compete will have to do so carrying the Olympic flag and singing the Olympic anthem—if they can prove that they are clean. Though many countries have been excluded from past games for political reasons, and a couple have been suspended from individual sports for cheating, the exclusion of an entire national team for doping is without precedent.

  • The teary Azzurri

    Italy’s World Cup exit is far from an apocalypse

    by J.T.

    “FINE” (“the end”), howled the front page of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s most popular sporting newspaper. “Apocalisse, disastro” wailed Corriere dello Sport, one of its rivals. Muted supporters, some of them weeping, filed out of bars across the land. An impotent 0-0 draw against Sweden in Milan’s San Siro stadium on November 13th, following a 1-0 defeat in Stockholm three days before, meant that the impossible had happened. Italy’s four World Cup titles have only been surpassed by Brazil. Yet the Azzurri have failed to qualify for next summer’s tournament in Russia—their first absence in 60 years.

About Game theory

The politics, economics, science and statistical analysis of the games we play and watch



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