Home Strategy Real life tactics: The man with Golden Balls

You’ve heard of the Prisoners’ Dilemma, haven’t you?

Two men are arrested and given the option to either cooperate with the pigs or stay silent. If both keep their mouths shut, they both get short jail sentences in a swanky resort-style jail. If one yaps and the other doesn’t, the stool pigeon walks while Mr. Honorable goes to maximum security prison. If they both squeal, they both do hard time.

Well, apparently Binerexis someone in England made a television show out of it. They named it Golden Balls.

Of course, there’s a lot of foreplay where the players build up a gigantic jackpot, but the final challenge is not unlike the famous scenario described above. Each contestant has the option to either split the prize 50/50, or attempt to steal it from his or her partner. If both choose split, that’s what happens. If one decides to be a dick and steal, the thief takes everything. And if both steal, both lose it all.

The big difference between the Prisoners’ Dilemma and Golden Balls (other than the disparity in innuendo) is that the latter’s participants are allowed to speak to each other. During most episodes, this conversation usually involves both players promising to split the money, then one of them reneging on the deal and lapping up the loser’s tears. In some instances, both players go for greed and get to share public shame instead of cash.

But one man decided to take a different route altogether. The stunt he pulls is a masterstroke of metagame strategy, something that can probably never be duplicated. He’s a genius.

I won’t spoil what happens, but I encourage you to watch this video to the end. The weird sound near the finale is your mind being blown.

Things like this confirm my bias for convoluted metagaming over straightforward approaches. Why attempt to win a game where losing is quite probable when you can instead change the rules in your opponent’s mind to guarantee victory?

20 replies to this post
  1. I always wondered if anyone actually had done this, and was thinking along the same lines of offering money after the show was over. Quite surprised it didn’t backfire either.

  2. Nick (guy on the right, forgive me if i got the name wrong) was actually being very intelligent on multiple levels. Stealing is the dominant strategy in this game. If you split you get half (opponent also split) or none (opponent stole) of the money. With steal, you get either all (opponent split) or none (opponent stole) of the money; steal is clearly the better option. What’s interesting is how Nick completely baffled the opponent into ignoring or missing that insight, he was clearly appalled at the idea of losing all of the money, and played right into Nick’s gambit. Devious and entertaining, it’s no spy video, but it’ll do.

  3. I agree with wonder but if you delve even deeper, you realize that Nick won this gambit even further by not attempting to still the whole amount. The win amount in Nick’s mind was half of the money. That was his goal. Not the whole game. Which is why sometimes teammates are still walking to the fourth cap on Badwater, or your pressing E, until it on longer resembles an E, in vain. Hit tab damn you, there is no medic. People want to win the game, not bring a team effort. (Not everyone but the individual players are the one I’m talking to, usually the soldier one up from the bottom telling someone to medic). Nick made the other guy by misdirection his teammate.

  4. By declaring his intention to steal regardless of what the other guy chooses Nick effectively has gained all of the power in the situation; he’s laid it all on the table, and now it’s up to his partner to decide if he wants to split the money in a potential situation where Nick doesn’t have to give him anything, or if he just wants to be bitter and deny them both.

    Nick’s choice seems irrational, but on the other hand his declaration of it seems so honest and is delivered with such conviction that Abe seemingly has no choice but to believe him. After all, why would anyone simply say that they are going to choose the opinion that will screw the one partner or screw them both? In the end he guaranteed that at least one person would get the money, and also tipped the scales in favour of them both walking away with cash. Excellent work.

    P.S. Did you know that there was an American version of this show on for a brief amount of time (might not have been the same, but it had the same test of trust at the end) called Friend or Foe? I don’t think anyone ever used anything this clever on that version of it though.

  5. It’s funny. If he has said he would split (like everyone does) it seems natural to assume he’s lying. But if he says he’s stealing, it seems natural to believe it’s the truth. Why would someone lie about doing something “evil,” right?

    And yet ultimately he was lying. But why? Why would he risk it, and not just steal like he said he would? Ultimately it turned out fine because Ibrahim isn’t a spiteful man, but still!

    You could imagine the chaos if BOTH players announced they would be stealing, though.

    • If one announced he will steal, just after his partner already announced it, they’d probably both end up choosing split in the end anyway. If you have that amount of wealth that you don’t need to care about that money you wouldn’t be sitting there in the first place, and while you could be a total dick and take steal and deny him the money, 99% of us would probably say I rather have this guy take it all and get a 50/50 chance of him splitting with them regardless, then just eliminating the chance for any of them to walk out with something in their pockets.

      So if both follow that train of thought they will, ultimately, both choose split as well, because they are convinced the other party is going through with /his/her plan.

      [*Why would someone lie about doing something “evil,” right?*] Exactly! Us humans have been conditioned by one another to build up trust to a certain degree with people we know (now I’m assuming these guy’s didn’t know each other before the show?!), but people we don’t know we usually tend more to distrust, especially if they sugercoat everything with their words. Really, the ultimate strategy for life, is to be honest to people you don’t know and tell them everything that could go wrong in any scenario. You could argue that one rather takes the “evil” he can anticipate over the unknown:

      If I put 2 prize boxes in front of you and tell you: “one contains a boxing champion that will jump out and punch you in the face, and in the second there could be anything in there, from a giant ice cream cup in a bowl made of money or some psychopath with a chainsaw that’ll cut off pieces of you”
      What do you choose [Wow, looking back I kinda went overboard with that last one ^^]

    • Apparently he meant to keep his word that he would give the opponent half his money if he won it all .

      So if his opponent chose steal he would go home with nothing.

      If his openent chooses split he will split the money regardless of what he himself choses (split, or steal then give his opponent half the money), so he might as well choose split and save his oponent the stress of waiting to see if he pays up.

  6. Mother of…
    I’ve done what math I could, and that is the only way to beat the system in your favor.
    This guy is a genius.

  7. I could totally see it backfiring IF Ibrahim doesn’t trust him though.

    The train of thought would be like this: “Ok he’s gonna steal no matter what, I believe him cos he has no reason to say that if he’s not gonna do it. I can either:

    A) Split and have him take ALL the money. Even though he says he would split it I have no guarantee, so I should assume he wouldn’t split; or:

    B) Make sure he doesn’t beat me out by going Steal.

    I should choose B as it’s more rational than A.”

  8. Another point: If Nick was to play this game ‘correctly’ or ‘rationally’, his final decision should still be to “steal” in order to take the whole sum. I guess it depends on your definition of ‘winning’ but from an economist’s perspective stealing the whole amount that would be the right play given his strategy to force Ibrahim to “split”.

    • It’s true that the game theory would state that the smart money is always on steal, because at best you walk away with everything and at worst it becomes a level playing field with no advantage or disadvantage given to either party.

      I guess where it becomes ruined is the fact that the people are allowed to talk with each other and plead. I found it funny that Ibe (I misspelled his name earlier) mentioned a man being true to his word, because that’s something that everyone seems to mention whether they intend to steal or share.

      I think the most effective part of Nick’s strategy is that it was so ludicrous that it threw his partner completely off his game, something I’m thinking he was betting on from the start. I think that because of this it might be an effective “one time only” strategy, because after seeing it people will be better prepared for it in the future.

      Additionally, I found this paper written about some of the factors behind whether people cooperate or not. It’s about 30 pages, but it’s a good read I thought: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1592456

  9. Pretty sure the host was future Binerexis.

    Also, hot damn. That was… Amazing to watch. Didn’t see that coming, and…this makes me wonder…What else could this guy do if he set his mind to?

  10. It is twists like this that make daytime TV bearable. I an a Brit and have watched this show a few times. Generally it is a case of sexism ( oh, wait of course sexism doesn’t exist in DTV) when two men both steal, two women will use the women’s sixth sense to share the jackpot, and in the case of a man and woman, the young man subtly flirts with the woman to gain her trust ( even if she is 46, married and with 3 children). This surprisingly often works, with the man conning the woman, leaving her on the brink of tears (Cameras continue to roll in hope of catching the poor lady blubbing her heart out). But using WiNG’s court scenario, this was like ” I’m going to tell the judge everything and you must keep quiet, but in return I will use the profits of our crime to send you a plasma HD TV in prison as compensation”. Maybe master criminals could benefit from watching more DTV.

  11. Allow me to shed some light on this strategy. Who’s the real opponent here? Not the other player as you would think. Your real enemy is the studio. And since the only possible way the studio wins is for both players to pick steal, he’s just guaranteed that the studio loses by picking split. And in stating this intention, he’s forced the other player into a “Studio wins, or player 2 wins” scenario. With sufficient time to think, any rationally thinking person would eventually come to the conclusion that it’s preferable for the other player to win, and take the chance of getting your cut, and choose split. Thus, this choice of actions guaranteed a winnings split with a Rational thinker across the table. And yes, I mean Rational in the scientific sense.

  12. To clarify, he’s not “Changing the rules in his opponent’s mind” as Wing put it(no offense Wing). He’s ALREADY changed the rules in his own mind, to where the opponent has shifted from the other player, to the studio. And by putting his teammate against the studio into this position, he’s managed to force him into changing the rules in his mind as well, or risk losing everything. By doing so, he’s guaranteed that the desired outcome is the only outcome available. However, he’s not CHANGED the rules in his head, as this was the true point of the game all along. The point of these types of games is not to beat the other players, it’s to beat the studios. The less money a player walks away with, the more the studio “wins.” So it’s in the best interest of the players to make sure at least SOMEBODY walks away with large sums of money. So all he’s done is put it in his head that the enemy is the studio, start a scenario where it’s impossible for the enemy to win, and forced his opponent into accepting his view as well.

  13. I’ve always said, since I first watched this show, that if I ever found myself in that situation I would do exactly what Nick did and declare to my opponent that I would DEFINITELY pick the steal ball and promise to split after the show (And I would 100% keep my word and split after the show.) If the other player did trust me and went with split we would both end up happy winners after the show, if they were to choose steal out of spite, I would not win anything but I would be happy with my decision as I would think a spiteful person would have been more likely to steal if we had played the game “normally” so I would have ended up with nothing anyway.
    Having said that, I would not have done what Nick did, and actually choose the split ball…
    so hats off to him for this gutsy twist at the end, which proved to everybody he really wanted to split and he would have done that after the show even if he had picked the steal…

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