zero-sum game

noun Mathematics.
a game in which the sum of the winnings and losses of the various players is always zero, the losses being counted negatively.

Origin:
1940–45

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Collins
World English Dictionary
zero-sum game
 
n
(in game theory) a contest in which one person's loss is equal to the other person's gain

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
zero-sum game  
A game in which the sum of the winnings by all the players is zero. In a zero-sum game, a gain by one player must be matched by a loss by another player. Poker is a zero-sum game if the house does not take a cut as a charge for playing.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

zero-sum game definition


A game in which the winnings of some players must equal the losses of the others. Zero-sum games are mentioned in a political context when it is believed that resources are limited, and every decision will produce both winners and losers. In such situations, political decisions will be made on the basis of trade-offs between competing interests.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Tourism is not, and must not be, a zero-sum game where one party wins and the
  other loses.
It is a zero-sum game of a project growing at the expense of another.
We have a conflict of interest situation, a zero-sum game where what one wins
  the other loses.
Simply because they interpret political and social life as a zero-sum game: us
  vs them.
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