The 2003 MAA North Central Section Summer Seminar

A Tour of Combinatorial Games

Elwyn Berlekamp

August 4-8, 2003 (Monday 9am - Friday noon)
Gustavus Adolphus College
St Peter, Minnesota


Throughout the twentieth century, games have been used effectively to popularize mathematics thanks to the efforts of authors such as Martin Gardner, John Conway and Raymond Smullyan. Combinatorial game theory is a rich and approachable unified theory, bridging recreational and abstract mathematics, bringing fun to fundamentals.

Unlike classical game theory, the field of combinatorial game theory analyzes two-player games of complete information where players take turns. A complete information game is one such as Chess, where the entire situation is known to both players. This is in contrast with Poker, where cards in opponents' hands are, presumably, hidden. The complexity of combinatorial games comes from the large number of possible sequences of moves rather than from lack of knowledge of an opponent's decisions.

In the early 1970s, John Conway initiated an axiomatic theory of partisan games, many fruitful ramifications and extensions of which have continued to evolve and develop ever since. The pioneering works in this subject include John Conway's On Numbers and Games, Don Knuth's Surreal Numbers and the the playful yet profound treatise, Winning Ways by Elwyn Berlekamp, John Conway and Richard Guy. This latter book uncovered many new games, which they and others have partially or completely analyzed.

This week long seminar will be a hands-on investigation of combinatorial game theory aimed at faculty from all fields of mathematics. Activities will include lectures, problem solving sessions, open problem investigations, tournaments, and computer exercises.

Our Guides

Elwyn Berlekamp started playing Dots and Boxes in grade school, and he never stopped playing. He is a professor in the Departments of Mathematics and of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He is world renowned for his contributions to the fields of game theory and coding theory. A summary of his numerous distinctions in academics, business and public service can be found at

We will recruit a couple other researchers to assist Professor Berlekamp with the seminar activities.

Lodging and cost

All participants are encouraged to stay in campus housing in order to help facilitate the numerous activities we have planned. Prices are $20 per person per night for an air-conditioned double room, and $28 for a single. Sports facility use is included; meals are not included.

The seminar registration is $225 per participant, which includes a copy of Winning Ways and a games kit. You can print out the registration form in postscript or pdf.

David Wolfe
Math/Computer Science Department
Gustavus Adolphus College
800 West College Avenue
St. Peter,   MN 56082-1498

Phone: (507) 933-7469
Fax: (507) 933-7041
Web site:
Please post: flyer in postscript or pdf
Registration form in postscript or pdf
Schedule and directions in postscript or pdf