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Helpful Strategy Hints


Many believe that the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors is completely random and therefore completely childish. If the game were truly random, there would be a 33% chance of any particular throw turning up, and it shouldn’t matter what you throw because every throw can be a winning one with the odds of winning any given round being 33%. In fact, this is exactly what unfolds when both players play the game blindfolded. 


But, that is not what happens in real life when you square against an opponent face-to-face. The game is not random at all and the probabilities of each throw do not settle at 33%. Not only are humans are utterly incapable of acting in a purely random fashion, what we do is shaped by who we are and the environment we are in. Everything we do has some motivation behind it and ultimately there is an inherent pattern to our every action.


At its core, RPS is about making a selection, actually a better selection. Players collect, interpret and ignore information both prior to and during the match. They must then make their choices. Their opponents do likewise, creating a tangled dance of strategy and counterstrategy, one that is difficult for a casual player to appreciate.  To the beginner the choices are few.  To the expert the choices many.


This means that you can give yourself a playing advantage if you successfully figure out what the other player will throw in advance. Rather than being random, the throws are only seemingly so, but remain governed by certain deterministic laws. This distinction is important because a correct understanding of the opponent’s behavior will lead to a better chance of success.


In essence, you don’t play the game, you play the person you’re up against. It all comes down to psychology.


For example, statistically speaking, you’ll find that most guys throw Rock as their first throw. This is likely because of a desire to create an overt display of strength and power, confidence and a complete lack of fear. It is considered to be the most aggressive throw. Girls, on the other hand, tend to throw Scissors as their opening move, perhaps a reflection of an appreciation and knowledge that tools and a delicate hand are usually required to deal with the problem at hand rather than pure, brute force.


Here are a few deeper insights to ponder.



Represented as it is by a closed fist, Rock is commonly perceived as the most aggressive throw. It taps into memories of fistfights, and conjures up images of tall and unmoving mountains, rugged boulders, and the stone axe of cavemen.


Rock is a common throw of individuals who are overbearing and aggressive and whose personality tends towards displays of brute force and power. Players with this mind-set can try to psych out opponents by showing their raw, unbridled strength and try to create an impression that they are stronger than you. This attitude is not only one of supreme confidence, but often borders arrogance, and they often act before thinking. Their adoption of this no-nonsense approach is a testament of their going for the quick win.


Without realizing it, most players think of Rock as a weapon and will fall back on it for protection when other strategies appear to be failing.

On the other hand, the use of Rock when on the offensive is a sign of overconfidence and an obvious attempt to intimidate an opponent. Among beginners in the sport, Rock is by far the most common opening throw.  It is indeed a powerful move that must be handled with finesse in order to avoid overextending oneself.



On the surface, there is nothing aggressive about the limp documents that move across our desks and through our classrooms. It is seen as flimsy, passive, protective and weak, played by, many think, someone who feels threatened. 


Even the gesture used to represent Paper is peaceful – an open palm much like the gesture used in a salute or handshake. Historically, an open palm has been a sign of friendship and peace because an open hand cannot hold a weapon. Some players, who subconsciously perceive Paper as a sign of weakness or surrender, will shy away from using it entirely or will drop it from their game when they are falling behind.


On the other hand, Paper is often considered the subtlest of the three throws because it connects with a player’s perceptions about writing. There is quiet, stealthy power in the printed letter. It contains the ability to declare war against nations, spread scandal, confess love or pass or fail students, Paper, in short, has power over masses. The fate of the entire world is determined by print. As such, some players perceive Paper as a subtle attack, the victory of modern culture over barbarism. Such players may use Paper to assert their superiority and dignity. Paper is the most challenging of the basic opening moves because it requires the manual displacement of all five digits in addition to a full 90-degree wrist rotation. It is therefore generally viewed as the least obvious of opening throws.



Scissors are a tool. As children, we use them to cut construction paper for craft projects. As adults, we may cut cloth for clothing or use scissors to open irritating plastic packages that are impossible to rip. Scissors are associated with industry, craftwork, and construction. There is still a certain amount of aggression associated with scissors: they are, after all, sharp and dangerous implements. Different from the thuglike force of Rock, Scissors represent aggression that is controlled, contained and rechanneled into something constructive.


In RPS, Scissors is often perceived as a clever, craft throw, a well-planned outflanking maneuver. As such, players are more likely to use Scissors when they are confident of winning. Opening with Scissors presumes that the opponent has tight control over their aggressive tendencies and therefore will not open with Rock. One of the main pitfalls of opening with Scissors is the tendency of many to reveal the throw too early, affording an experienced opponent the opportunity to easily counter.




The more one can deduce from an opponent the bigger the potential advantage you may have.


The cornerstone of strategy in RPS is the use of “Sicilian Reasoning”. The concept of Sicilian Reasoning is to try to reason out a move in a game based on an analysis of the opponent's reasoning. The phrase was popularized in the movie The Princess Bride, in which the character Vizzini (a Sicilian) engages in a battle of wits to the death. His opponent, Westley, has poisoned one of two wine goblets and Vizzini attempts to reason out which cup has the poison through a series of “if you know, that I know, that you know…” type of statements. 


The reasoning commences with an assumption and then layers questions regarding the opponent’s awareness and possible reactions to this knowledge. The trick with Sicilian Reasoning is to know when to continue layering questions on the original assumption and when to stop in order to avoid overestimating the opponent’s intelligence.  This is made more difficult since the opponent is also presumably using Sicilian reasoning. But it is not impossible, and can work out with great success especially if a player can inject a degree of chaos or randomness into the game in order to confuse, obfuscate and impede the opponent’s logic matrix.




Given the physical demands of the game, players may want to spend time training for the Tournament, making use of weight training and stretching exercises to keep them in prime form and minimize the risk of injuries which include:

- the all-too-common, repetitive motion injury

- knuckle-dusting (direct fist-to-fist contact)

- hammer hand (pounding your fist into your palm too hard when counting)

- a twisted-wrister (overextending your wrist during a play of paper)

- scrapes and scratches caused by worn rings and bracelets