Play to Win
February 9, 2021
Who should take out the garbage? Who gets to pick what to watch on TV? To make a decision, some people play rock, paper, scissors. “It is a special sport,” Wyatt Baldwin told TFK. He is president of the World Rock Paper Scissors Association.
Baldwin is skilled at the game. He once had a 43-game winning streak. The secret to his success? “Look for patterns in your opponent’s moves,” Baldwin says.
Ready to Rock
People have been playing rock, paper, scissors for a long time. The game was probably played in China about 2,000 years ago. Today, people play it all over. In Indonesia, it’s known as semut, orang, gajah. This means “ant, person, elephant.” The Japanese version of the game is called janken. People in Singapore play bird, stone, water. Some cultures use different hand symbols. But the idea of the game is the same worldwide. You face off against an opponent. Each player “throws” one of three hand symbols. You win, lose, or tie. (See “Who Wins?”)
Many people think rock, paper, scissors is all luck. Your chances of winning or losing seem the same. But the game is not completely random. All serious rock, paper, scissors players know this. A 2014 study in China found two key patterns in the way people play. Winners tend to repeat their winning hand symbols. But losers tend to go from rock to paper to scissors.
So what’s the best way to win a game of rock, paper, scissors? Expert players think about their next move. They also think about what their opponent’s next move might be. “There are lots of different strategies that are always running through my mind,” Baldwin says.
In order to get good at the game, he recommends practicing. “You can try practicing against yourself in front of a mirror,” Baldwin says. “But for me, that always ended up in a tie.”