An overview of Gambit

What is Gambit?

Gambit is a set of software tools for doing computation on finite, noncooperative games. These comprise a graphical interface for interactively building and analyzing general games in extensive or strategy form; a number of command-line tools for computing Nash equilibria and other solution concepts in games; and, a set of file formats for storing and communicating games to external tools.

A brief history of Gambit

The Gambit Project was founded in the mid-1980s by Richard McKelvey at the California Institute of Technology. The original implementation was written in BASIC, with a simple graphical interface. This code was ported to C around 1990 with the help of Bruce Bell, and was distributed publicly as version 0.13 in 1991 and 1992.

A major step in the evolution of Gambit took place with the awarding of the NSF grants in 1994, with McKelvey and Andrew McLennan as principal investigators, and Theodore Turocy as the head programmer. The grants sponsored a complete rewrite of Gambit in C++. The graphical interface was made portable across platforms through the use of the wxWidgets library ( Version 0.94 of Gambit was released in the late summer of 1994, version 0.96 followed in 1999, and version 0.97 in 2002. During this time, many students at Caltech and Minnesota contributed to the effort by programming, testing, and/or documenting. These include, alphabetically, Bruce Bell, Anand Chelian, Matthew Derer, Nelson Escobar, Ben Freeman, Eugene Grayver, Todd Kaplan, Geoff Matters, Brian Trotter, Michael Vanier, Roberto Weber, and Gary Wu.

Over the same period, Bernhard von Stengel, of the London School of Economics, made significant contributions in the implementation of the sequence form methods for two-player extensive games, and for contributing his “clique” code for identification of equilibrium components in two-player strategic games, as well as other advice regarding Gambit’s implementation and architecture.

Development since the mid-2000s has focused on two objectives. First, the graphical interface was reimplemented and modernized, with the goal of following good interaction design principles, especially in regards to easing the learning curve for users new to Gambit and new to game theory. Second, the internal architecture of Gambit was refactored to increase interoperability between the tools provided by Gambit and those written independently.

Gambit is proud to have participated in the Google Summer of Code program in the summers of 2011 and 2012 as a mentoring organization. The Python API, which became part of Gambit from Gambit 13, was developed during these summers, thanks in particular to the work of Stephen Kunath and Alessandro Andrioni.

Key features of Gambit

Gambit has a number of features useful both for the researcher and the instructor:

Interactive, cross-platform graphical interface. All Gambit features are available through the use of a graphical interface, which runs under multiple operating systems: Windows, various flavors of Un*x (including Linux), and Mac OS X. The interface offers flexible methods for creating extensive and strategic games. It offers an interface for running algorithms to compute Nash equilibria, and for visualizing the resulting profiles on the game tree or table, as well as an interactive tool for analyzing the dominance structure of actions or strategies in the game. The interface is useful for the advanced researcher, but is intended to be accessible for students taking a first course in game theory as well.

Command-line tools for computing equilibria. More advanced applications often require extensive computing time and/or the ability to script computations. All algorithms in Gambit are packaged as individual, command-line programs, whose operation and output are configurable.

Extensibility and interoperability. The Gambit tools read and write file formats which are textual and documented, making them portable across systems and able to interact with external tools. It is therefore straightforward to extend the capabilities of Gambit by, for example, implementing a new method for computing equilibria, reimplementing an existing one more efficiently, or creating tools to programmatically create, manipulate, and transform games, or for econometric analysis on games.

Limitations of Gambit

Gambit has a few limitations that may be important in some applications. We outline them here.

Gambit is for finite games only. Because of the mathematical structure of finite games, it is possible to write many general- purpose routines for analyzing these games. Thus, Gambit can be used in a wide variety of applications of game theory. However, games that are not finite, that is, games in which players may choose from a continuum of actions, or in which players may have a continuum of types, do not admit the same general-purpose methods.

Gambit is for noncooperative game theory only. Gambit focuses on the branch of game theory in which the rules of the game are written down explicitly, and in which players choose their actions independently. Gambit’s analytical tools center primarily around Nash equilibrium, and related concepts of bounded rationality such as quantal response equilibrium. Gambit does not at this time provide any representations of, or methods for, analyzing games written in cooperative form. (It should be noted that some problems in cooperative game theory do not suffer from the computational complexity that the Nash equilibrium problem does, and thus cooperative concepts could be an interesting future direction of development.)

Analyzing large games may become infeasible surprisingly quickly. While the specific formal complexity classes of computing Nash equilibria and related concepts are still an area of active research, it is clear that, in the typical case, the amount of time required to compute equilibria increases rapidly in the size of the game. In other words, it is quite easy to write down games which will take Gambit an unacceptably long amount time to compute the equilibria of. There are two ways to deal with this problem in practice. One way is to better identify good heuristic approaches for guiding the equilibrium computation process. Another way is to take advantage of known features of the game to guide the process. Both of these approaches are now becoming areas of active interest. While it will certainly not be possible to analyze every game that one would like to, it is hoped that Gambit will both contribute to these two areas of research, as well as make the resulting methods available to both students and practitioners.


The principal developers of Gambit are:

  • Theodore Turocy, University of East Anglia: director.
  • Richard D. McKelvey, California Institute of Technology: project founder.
  • Andrew McLennan, University of Queensland: co-PI during main development, developer and maintainer of polynomial-based algorithms for equilibrium computation.

Much of the development of the main Gambit codebase took place in 1994-1996, under a grant from the National Science Foundation to the California Institute of Technology and the University of Minnesota (McKelvey and McLennan, principal investigators).

Others contributing to the development and distribution of Gambit include:

  • Bernhard von Stengel provided advice on implementation of sequence form code, and contributed clique code
  • Eugene Grayver developed the first version of the graphical user interface.
  • Gary Wu implemented an early scripting language interface for Gambit (since superseded by the Python API).
  • Stephen Kunath and Alessandro Andrioni did extensive work to create the first release of the Python API.
  • From Gambit 14, Gambit contains support for Action Graph Games [Jiang11]. This has been contributed by Navin Bhat, Albert Jiang, Kevin Leyton-Brown, and David Thompson, with funding support provided by a University Graduate Fellowship of the University of British Columbia, the NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship, and a Google Research Award to Leyton-Brown.

Downloading Gambit

Gambit operates on an annual release cycle roughly mirroring the (northern hemisphere) academic year. A new version is promoted to stable/teaching each August; the major version number is equal to the last two digits of the year in which the version becomes stable.

This document covers Gambit 16.0.1. You can download it from Sourceforge. Full source code is available, as are precompiled binaries for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X 10.8.

Older versions of Gambit can be downloaded from Support for older versions is limited.


The following mailing lists are available for those interested in the use and further development of Gambit:
Announcement-only mailing list for notifications of new releases of Gambit.
General discussion forum for teaching and research users of Gambit.
Discussion for those interested in devleoping or extending Gambit, or using Gambit source code in other applications.

Bug reports

In the first instance, bug reports or feature requests should be posted to the Gambit issue tracker, located at

When reporting a bug, please be sure to include the following:

  • The version(s) of Gambit you are using. (If possible, it is helpful to know whether a bug exists in both the current stable/teaching and the current development/research versions.)
  • The operating system(s) on which you encountered the bug.
  • A detailed list of steps to reproduce the bug. Be sure to include a sample game file or files if appropriate; it is often helpful to simplify the game if possible.