Being off for a week I’ve experienced the dubious pleasure of watching Golden Balls, the second worst game show on Earth – the worst being Deal or No Deal.

The premise for Golden Balls is similar to Deal or No Deal in so far as much as you don’t have much say in the proceedings.

There’s a large amount of balls, all of which are golden, in a large rotating drum. These have a monetary value attached to them from £10 to £2,5000. They have a Clamshell/catch affair so you can open them and read the value, but they won’t open at by accident. 12 of these balls are released and roll down into another spinning drum into which a lovely assistant puts 4 ‘killer’ balls.  These random balls are then released down chutes to each player. They then position them how they choose on a 2-tiered rack and then open the front tiered balls for the world to see. Only they can see what they have.

So no player interaction so far. Now the contestants get to ‘play’. The idea for the players to discuss what balls they have and bluff about what they have. After the bluffing they decide which person to drop. This bluffing is pointless. You have no way of telling whether they are lying or telling the truth. The only logically way is to total up the values on show and make your choice based on that. Obviously killers override all other values and must be removed.

So now you have 3 players. The remaining balls are returned to the spinning drum. An additional 2 value balls are added as well as a killer ball. So they now each have 5 balls instead of 4. Again they display the front 2 balls and try to bluff about what they have on the back shelf. You have a little more information than before – you know what balls were there before. However you don’t know who has them. The best you can do is save the player with the most and drop the player with the least.

Now you have the head-to-head. This is where the true intelligence of the players shines through. The remaining balls are closed and placed at random on a field. The contestants pick one ball to bin and one ball to win. The balls are opened to reveal what the contestants would of won – like that makes a difference. If you get a killer, the value is divided by 10. So if you have 10,000 on the board and get a killer your prize fund is now 1,000. Another killer would reduce it to 100.  So killers at the start doesn’t make much difference.

But where does the player intelligence (or lack thereof) come into this? The players were going with their feelings whether a ball felt right or not. Eh? It’s a featureless golden ball – it looks like every other ball on the table. How can it feel of anything?

Okay. Now fast forward to the they end game. You have a prize fund. It can be of any amount. You have to decide whether to split (S) or steal (K). Your opponent has the same choice. There are 4 possible patterns SS, SK, KS, KK. What are the outcomes (with you first):

  • SS: You both walk away with 50% of the prize fund.
  • SK: Your opponent walks away with all the prize.
  • KS: You walk away with all the prize.
  • KK: You both get nothing.

Recognise this? It’s a bastardized version of the prisoners dilemma. However, this version of game theory it rewards for stealing.

The correct way of doing this is to tell the opponent you are going to steal and offer them a fixed value of less than 50%. Point out that they have no chance of winning any money unless they accept your offer. Tell them what they can buy with the money. If they point out you’d be getting more, point out that my winning is irrelevant. They will be getting zero or the amount you have offered. Always make it about them. And steal.

Nice guys finish last.