Solving Extensive Form Games

Thus far we have considered strategic form games that were presented in the form of two-way tables.  Such representations are awkward for picturing games in which the players move sequentially.  In order to represent sequential games we need to explore extensive form games. There are two graphical representations of extensive form games.  Either representation is known as a game tree.   

In the first panel we have a game tree representing a sequential game.  The starting point of the game or root of the tree is at the left edge of the picture.  Player 1's two moves are a or b and are represented as two branches coming off the root.  At the ends of the branches for Player 1 are the decision points for Player 2.  The relevant decision point for Player 2, in blue, depends on the observed choice made by Player 1Player 2 can also choose between strategy a and strategy b. The payoffs, denoted P(a) and P(b), are at the terminal nodes of the game tree.

When it is her turn to move Player 2 knows what choice has been made by Player 1.  This is denoted by the fact that Player 2's branches are explicitly attached to the nodes of Player 1's branches.


The terminology of this game tree is the same as that for the previous game tree.  There is one important difference.  The branches for Player 2's decisions are not attached directly to the branches for Player 1.  At the time player 2 makes her decision she doesn't know what strategy has been chosen by Player 1.

The ellipse is known as the information set.  Contained in the information set is an enumeration of the strategies available to Player 1 and the payoffs associated with those strategies.  Also ocntained in the information set is an enumeration of the strategies available to Player 2 and the associated payoffs.  In effect the information set contains all of the data necessary for the players to make their decisions simultaneously.

The conditions necessary to represent a game as a tree

  1. A single starting point
  2. No cycles
  3. One way to proceed

Strategies: A player's strategy is a complete conditional plan of action.

Mixed Strategies: A mixed strategy is a probability distribution over the pure strategies, the support, that might be played.

Chance Nodes: A chance node is a way to introduce uncertainty into a game beyond the uncertainty created by the players' use of mixed strategy.  An example might be different states of nature that may or may not be resolved before the players make their choices.