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Playing to Win


Wyatt Baldwin has been playing rock, paper, scissors since he was a kid. The game helped him settle disagreements with his three older sisters. "I never got the chance to pick what we watched on TV until I learned the sport of rock, paper, scissors," he told TIME for Kids.

Baldwin is president of the World Rock Paper Scissors Association. He's played in and hosted competitions all around the globe. He once had a 43-game winning streak. The secret to his success? "Look for patterns in either your opponent's moves or behavior," he says. As all serious rock, paper, scissors players know, there's more to the game than luck.

Ready to Rock

People have been playing rock, paper, scissors for about 2,000 years. It's played everywhere. Some cultures use different hand symbols. But the idea is the same. You and an opponent each "throw" one of three hand symbols. You win, lose, or tie (see "Who Wins?").

Many people think the game is all luck. Your probability probability PW probability SDI PRODUCTIONS—GETTY IMAGES the chance that something will happen (noun) There is a high probability that James will do well on the test because he's been studying for weeks. of winning seems about the same as your chances of losing. But the outcome of the game is not random. That's because human behavior isn't random. There are patterns in how people make decisions.

A 2014 study at Zhejiang University, in China, looked at how people play rock, paper, scissors. It followed 360 students in a tournament. Researchers found two key patterns. Winners tended to repeat their winning hand symbols. Losers tended to go from rock to paper to scissors.

Knowing the psychology psychology PW-PSYCHOLOGY DIGITAL VISION—GETTY IMAGES the study of the human mind and behavior (noun) Studying psychology has helped the teacher better understand his students. of the game isn't a sure ticket to winning. But it can help. Ken "Whitey" Watson is one of the world's best rock, paper, scissors players. He says winning takes skill. "You have to size up your opponent." Luck and chance play a part, but "you have to be prepared and have a strategy," he says. "Part of my strategy is being confident."

According to Baldwin, "practice, practice, practice" is the key to success. "You can try practicing against yourself in front of a mirror," he says. "But for me, that always ended up in a tie."