Game Theory, Grim Trigger Strategy and Khap Panchayat

“Co-operation leaves everyone better off whereas non-cooperation leaves everyone worse off… there are mechanisms to ensure cooperation…the most famous of these is the “Grim Trigger” strategy, so called because the trigger comes into operation the moment the other person stops “co-operating” and continues forever. The strategy makes sure that such a player gets decimated. To avoid that, everyone co-operates all the time.”

-Business Standard on cooperation between Congress and Communists for survivial of UPA governement

In game theory, for repeated games, cooperation between players is must for success.

A repeated game is one in which there is not necessarily a final move, but rather, there is a sequence of rounds, during which the player may gather information and choose moves.

Another concept related to repeated games is Folk Theorem which states that in repeated games, any outcome is a feasible solution concept, if under that outcome the players’ minimax conditions are satisfied.

The minimax condition states that a player will minimize the maximum possible loss which they could face in the game.

To ensure cooperation and to prevent any deviation one strategy that is used is tit for tat strategy, where a player is punished for deviation and post punishment he continues to cooperate. Other strategy is called as grim trigger strategy. Deviation could be in form of breaking rules, cheating etc.

grim trigger 2


A grim trigger strategy is a strategy which punishes an opponent for any deviation from some certain behaviour. So, all of the players of the game first must have a certain feasible outcome in mind ex. adhere to organisational culture. Then the players adhere to grim trigger strategy under which any deviation from the strategy is punished. Punishment continues forever, even after deviant player offers to cooperate. Thus, there is no advantage to any player for deviating from the course and the game will proceed in exactly the manner to bring about that outcome.

grim trigger

“Khap Panchayat consists of experienced members and they make sensible decisions”

-Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister, Haryana


Khap panchayats in India used this strategy to ensure that members of village follow norms, values and religious practices of their caste. Anyone disobeying rules is thrown out of village, and in some cases punishment is really grim ex. if they violate rules related to marriage esp. intercaste or inter gotra marriage, then punishment is death. There is no question of forgiving this “crime”. This ensure that players stick to minimax conditions.



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