Kuhn poker

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Kuhn poker is a simplified form of poker developed by Harold W. Kuhn as a simple model zero-sum two-player imperfect-information game, amenable to a complete game-theoretic analysis. In Kuhn poker, the deck includes only three playing cards, for example a King, Queen, and Jack. One card is dealt to each player, which may place bets similarly to a standard poker. If both players bet or both players pass, the player with the higher card wins, otherwise, the betting player wins.

Game description[edit]

In conventional poker terms, a game of Kuhn poker proceeds as follows:

  • Each player antes 1.
  • Each player is dealt one of the three cards, and the third is put aside unseen.
  • Player one can check or bet 1.
    • If player one checks then player two can check or bet 1.
      • If player two checks there is a showdown for the pot of 2 (i.e. the higher card wins 1 from the other player).
      • If player two bets then player one can fold or call.
        • If player one folds then player two takes the pot of 3 (i.e. winning 1 from player 1).
        • If player one calls there is a showdown for the pot of 4 (i.e. the higher card wins 2 from the other player).
    • If player one bets then player two can fold or call.
      • If player two folds then player one takes the pot of 3 (i.e. winning 1 from player 2).
      • If player two calls there is a showdown for the pot of 4 (i.e. the higher card wins 2 from the other player).

Optimal strategy[edit]

The game has a mixed-strategy Nash equilibrium; when both players play equilibrium strategies, the first player should expect to lose at a rate of −1/18 per hand (as the game is zero-sum, the second player should expect to win at a rate of +1/18). There is no pure-strategy equilibrium.

Kuhn demonstrated there are infinitely many equilibrium strategies for the first player, forming a continuum governed by a single parameter. In one possible formulation, player one freely chooses the probability with which he will bet when having a Jack (otherwise he checks; if the other player bets, he should always fold). When having a King, he should bet with the probability of (otherwise he checks; if the other player bets, he should always call). He should always check when having a Queen, and if the other player bets after this check, he should call with the probability of .

The second player has a single equilibrium strategy: Always betting or calling when having a King; when having a Queen, checking if possible, otherwise calling with the probability of 1/3; when having a Jack, never calling and betting with the probability of 1/3.

Complete tree of Kuhn poker including probabilities for mixed-strategy Nash equilibrium. Dotted lines mark subtrees for dominated strategies.

Generalized versions[edit]

In addition to the basic version invented by Kuhn, other versions appeared adding bigger deck, more players, betting rounds, etc., increasing the complexity of the game.

3-player Kuhn Poker[edit]

A variant for three players was introduced in 2010 by Nick Abou Risk and Duane Szafron. In this version, the deck includes four cards (adding a ten card), from which three are dealt to the players; otherwise, the basic structure is the same: while there is no outstanding bet, a player can check or bet, with an outstanding bet, a player can call or fold. If all players checked or at least one player called, the game proceeds to showdown, otherwise, the betting player wins.

A family of Nash equilibria for 3-player Kuhn poker is known analytically, which makes it the largest game with more than two players with analytic solution.[1] The family is parameterized using 4–6 parameters (depending on the chosen equilibrium). In all equilibria, player 1 has a fixed strategy, and he always checks as the first action; player 2's utility is constant, equal to –1/48 per hand. The discovered equilibrium profiles show an interesting feature: by adjusting a strategy parameter (between 0 and 1), player 2 can freely shift utility between the other two players while still remaining in equilibrium; player 1's utility is equal to (which is always worse than player 2's utility), player 3's utility is .

It is not known if this equilibrium family covers all Nash equilibria for the game.


  • Kuhn, H. W. (1950). "Simplified Two-Person Poker". In Kuhn, H. W.; Tucker, A. W. (eds.). Contributions to the Theory of Games. Vol. 1. Princeton University Press. pp. 97–103.
  • James Peck. "Perfect Bayesian Equilibrium" (PDF). Ohio State University. Retrieved 2 September 2016.: 19–29 
  1. ^ Szafron, Duane; Gibson, Richard; Sturtevant, Nathan (May 2013). "A Parameterized Family of Equilibrium Profiles forThree-Player Kuhn Poker" (PDF). In Ito; Jonker; Gini; Shehory (eds.). Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS 2013). Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA.

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