This article is a serious exercise in literary game theory, exploring literary polemics from a playful perspective based on the work of Huizinga and Caillois. Often regarded as simply a game, polemics does indeed show all the formal characteristics of play Huizinga stresses; it is a free and gratuitous activity taking place in a clearly demarcated space outside ordinary life and according to ... [Show full abstract] strict rules. It shares the essential relation between play and art that Huizinga posits, but also the essential elements of show and competition. Polemics, it is argued here, thus is a form of verbal duelling like courtly flyting and the Black American ritual of sounding. In polemics, however, the rules are not always dear, play space is easily confused with real life and ritual with real insult. The polemicist plays on this ambivalence between play and seriousness, displaying his verbal creativity and confirming his own and his reader’s freedom.