Winning or Losing in the Game of Nim on Graphs

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This Demonstration presents a random oriented graph that has at least one terminal vertex. Such graphs can represent the terminal game Nim. To play Nim, players alternate in choosing a sequence of connected vertices until a terminal vertex is reached by one of the players; then the other player wins.


It can be shown that in such games all the positions can be divided into two subsets representing winning and losing positions. An algorithm is applied to partition an arbitrary directed graph.

The graph on the left is a random graph with numbered vertices and edges. The graph on the right shows the losing positions in black and the winning positions in white.


Contributed by: Igor Mandric  (May 2011)
(Moldova State University)
Open content licensed under CC BY-NC-SA



A terminal game with players is defined by:

• a partition of the nonempty set into nonempty sets ;

• a function (i.e. for every , there is a subset of ) such that ;

• a function (i.e. for every element , there is a vector ); is called the payoff function and each player tries to maximize it.

An arbitrary oriented graph with at least one terminal vertex can represent a Nim-like game that is a particular case of a terminal game on graphs with , , and equal to the set of terminal vertices. It can be verified that can be partitioned into subsets and (i.e. and ) with the properties:



The vertices in the set are called the "gain" vertices, and those in are called the "loss" vertices, because the player who chooses a vertex from offers only losing vertices to the opponent (from ), and the player who chooses a vertex from offers only winning vertices (from ). Obviously is the graph's kernel. Define to be the set of terminal vertices.

The algorithm is:

1. Set .

2. For every vertex from , we know if belongs to or to

Let , and

Then, and .

3. Let .

only when .


[1] B. Kummer, Spiele auf Graphen, Berlin 1979.

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