Does Experience Teach? Professionals and Minimax Play in the Lab

Does expertise in strategic behavior obtained in the field transfer to the abstract setting of the laboratory? Palacios-Huerta and Volij (2008) argue that the behavior of professional soccer players in mixed-strategy games conforms closely to minimax play while the behavior of students (who are presumably novices in strategic situations requiring unpredictability) does not. We reexamine their data, showing that the play of professionals is inconsistent with the minimax hypothesis in several respects: (i) professionals follow non-stationary mixtures, with action frequencies that are negatively correlated between the first and the second half of the experiment; (ii) professionals tend to switch between under and over playing an action relative to its equilibrium frequency, and (iii) the distribution of action frequencies across professionals is far from the distribution implied by minimax. In each respect the behavior of students conforms more closely to the Minimax Hypothesis.