Problem Statement : Alice and Bob are in Roman times and have 4 gladiators each. The strengths of each of Alice's gladiators are 1−4, while Bob's gladiators have strengths 4,5,9, and 12. The tournament is going to consist of Alice and Bob picking gladiators to fight against one another one-at-a-time. Then, the two gladiators fight to the death with no ties. If the two gladiators are of strengths 𝑥 and 𝑦, respectively, then the probability that the gladiator with strength 𝑥 wins is $\frac{x}{x+y}$. The winning gladiator also inherits the strength of its opponent. This means that if a gladiator of strength 𝑥 wins against a gladiator of strength 𝑦, the winner now has strength 𝑥+𝑦. Alice is going to pick first for each fight among her remaining gladiators. Afterwards, Bob can select his gladiator (assuming he has one) to go against the one Alice selected. The winner of the tournament is the person who has at least one gladiator left at the end. Assuming Bob plays optimally, what is his probability of winning the tournament?

This question is taken from quantguide, original link - https://www.quantguide.io/questions/colosseum-fight

Any insights into how to solve this ? I am completely lost, whenever I dig deep to think about the problem, the number of cases just explodes, there must be some elegant way to figure out its answer

I recently saw a link on stackexchage, maybe here or maybe MathOverflow, to a writeup titled something like "Games no people play" by John Conway that had this but I can't find it now. The key is to realize that they are betting strength in each match and the bet is fair


  • $\begingroup$ thanks for pointing, fixed! $\endgroup$
    – Harsh
    Jan 10 at 17:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Just wanted to add that this problem seems really like those warrior arithmetic games I've been seeing on my phone ads lately... $\endgroup$
    – KaiSqDist
    Jan 11 at 2:35

1 Answer 1


I believe the answer is 4+5+9+12 / (4+5+9+12+1+2+3+4).

Starting with a simple problem of 2 gladiators (strengths A, B) vs 1 gladiator (strength Z). Regardless of the order, the probability of winning is (A+B)/(A+B+Z). This also applies to N vs 1.

Probability of Z winning both rounds:

  • A goes first: Z/(A+Z) * (A+Z)/(A+B+Z)
  • B goes first: Z/(B+Z) * (B+Z)/(A+B+Z)

For any N vs 1 situation, order does not matter so the strategies do not matter. After the first round of a 2 vs 2 situation, it becomes a N vs 1 where strategies do not matter. The choice of the first match in a 2 vs 2 does not matter.

Two players 1 (A, B) and 2 (Y, Z). The probabilities of player 2 winning for each combo of first match:

  • A vs Y: Y/(A+Y) * (A+Y+Z)/(A+Y+Z+B) + A/(A+Y) * (Z)/(A+Y+Z+B) = (A+Y)(Y+Z)/(A+Y)(A+Y+B+Z) = (Y+Z)/(A+Y+B+Z)
  • By swapping labels, the other cases are identical.

This shows that in the 2 vs 2 case the order doesn't matter and the strategies don't matter.

For a 3 vs 2 case, I believe we can show that order of the first match doesn't matter. It shouldn't be too tedious because it will turn into a 3 vs 1 or 2 vs 2 case. Continuing this logic for 3 vs 3 and so on, I think we can show that strategy doesn't matter for 4 vs 4 and so we get the ratio of the sum of individual strengths.


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