Winning on a Level Playing Field

Competitive bowling is an interesting game. Each player throws a ball the same distance to 10 identical pins. A player becomes a professional by knocking over all 10 pins consistently. This level playing field makes bowling one of the few sports where winning is screwing up less.

Watching some back episodes of the Amazing Race, I was reminded of bowling. For the unfamiliar, the Amazing Race pits a dozen teams of 2 against each other in a race around the world. At any moment, a multi-hour lead could vanish as all teams await the same train.

It doesn’t take the Bowling Moms to see the similarities between the two games. In the world of economics and game theory, it feels like complete information.

Seems to me, there’s 3 lessons for winning on a level playing field:

  1. Believe in the strength of your competitors.
    If all the competitors weren’t equally skilled, they wouldn’t be playing and the game wouldn’t be any fun. If Joy’s Law (“the smartest people work for someone else”) applies, then the most talent players aren’t even in the game. I remember a college football coach (though not his name) known for praising the losing team.
  2. Sharing is better than not.
    Bowlers and the Amazing Racers operate in parallel with each other, one player’s progression doesn’t necessarily mean a competitors recession. The next gutter ball or compass mis-read could even things out again. It’s actually in the players’ best interest to share information. The value of information is subjective – so sharing garbage and sharing wisdom costs the same. Sharing puts the focus on the game, not sharing puts the focus on what an ass the non-sharer is.

Tying 1 and 2 together, it’s nice to double check the competitors are trying to win the same game. Rob and Amber were trying to win Survivor a second time. Apple went for simplicity, Microsoft for ubiquity.

I should dust off my game theory books.