Competition and Bluffing

Direct competition is when a game is decided by how the opponents interact, how well they stop each other from succeeding. Indirect competition is when opponents can’t influence each others’ successes, like in a sprint.

I love the way that poker straddles the line between the two. The contest of who has the best hand is indirect, I can’t take cards out of your hand, you can’t prevent me from drawing, we make our separate choices and win solely by ranking.

But betting is direct competition because players can choose to fold, can drop out rather than risk more resources. It’s a sprint where the players can’t see each others’ positions on the track, only claim “I’m at 40m” or “I’ve lapped you” and the truth of the positions are revealed at the showdown. Betting is a proxy for success, and bluffing is signaling a win when you’re actually losing.

Bluffing uses incomplete information to turn indirect competitions into direct competitions. I only know of Bullshit and Liar’s Dice that could be played without bluffing (and would then be simple luck games, like War).

Because I’ve been thinking so much about bluffing and in/direct competition, I’m tinkering around with a design for a poker variation that includes direct competition. I suspect it won’t be as much fun, indirect competition often leaves a losing player feeling they could’ve done won if they’d played a little differently. Please leave a comment if you know if any that already do or other games that play with similar mechanics.