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Techly Explains: How to waste your friends in Scissors, Paper, Rock

There are few games more ubiquitous than Scissors, Paper, Rock.

All over the world, people use the game to make critical life decisions such as “Who will take out the garbage?”, “Who will wash the dishes?” and “Who will clean the bathroom?”

If, like me, you loathe chores, maybe you should consider getting really good at Scissors, Paper, Rock (RPS, because some people insist on calling it Rock, Paper, Scissors – ugh).

The advantages of being an RPS demon are a) people are always willing to play, b) people think it’s a fair fight (it isn’t) and c) you will have little competition because people aren’t likely to invest the time and effort it takes to git gud.

I’m here to give you an edge and I only train winners so take a knee and let’s give this 1000%.

Understand RPS Behavior

The science behind winning RPS has been pretty murky until only recently. In 2015, a study by Chinese researchers found that players tend to stick with winning strategies and losers tend to “cycle up” in the RPS sequence.

So how can we apply this to our gameplay? What it amounts to is this: If you win, go to the next one in the sequence and if you lose, jump ahead two in the sequence.

Example: You play Rock and win. You should next play Paper.
Example: You play Rock and lose. Jump ahead two and play Scissors.

According to the official RPS Society – yes, there is one and yes, it is fantastic – you should also be on the lookout for “double runs”. People don’t want you to think they are predictable, so if they choose two of the same moves in a row, they’ll probably switch.

Example: Your opponent plays Scissors twice. You should play Paper next as it will most likely either win or draw.

Get Inside Their Heads

There is an old saying in RPS circles that “Rock is for Rookies”. It turns out that men have a tendency to go with Rock on their first throw. It could be some male macho thing. Apparently, women are statistically more likely to throw Scissors. No comment.

With this in mind, if you come up against a dude, throw out Paper. If you want to play it safer, RPS Society suggests “Scissors on First”.

Trash talking is a part of the game and allowed in tournament play. A common tactic is to say what you are going to throw before you throw, and then actually throw it. Psyche!

Example: On the first throw, say “I’m going to throw Paper” and do it. This should work particularly well against men.

Another thing to look for is physical tells. The Telegraph reports that Monica Martinez, 2008 winner of the World RPS Tournament, credited her victory to reading her opponents faces.

“I didn’t worry about what I was going to do, I just did what I thought they were going to do,” she said.

If their faces don’t help, try their hands. Experts say a “tucked thumb” will often indicate an incoming Rock.

Know the Stats

You would think that Scissors, Paper, Rock would have an even 33.33% split in terms of how often each move is used, but this is not the case. According to the RPS Society, the breakdown is:

Rock 35.4%
Paper 35.0%
Scissors 29.6%

So if all else fails, Paper might give you a slight edge.

Take it to the Next Level

The RPS Society has a Master’s Guide which includes “gambits” of three successive moves made with “strategic intention”.

The names and descriptions of these gambits are worth the price of admission alone so make sure you check them out if you want to take your game to the next level.

“The Avalanche [three successive Rocks] is a subtle, yet aggressive Gambit,” according to the RPS society.

“It was the first of the Triple Gambits developed in the early 1890s.

“The Avalanche is a relentless and devastating offensive manoeuvre, which requires bravado bordering on recklessness to execute.”

At this point, I can’t even tell if they are joking anymore.


Against a man:
Announce Paper and throw it. If you win, play Scissors next. If you lose, play Rock. Repeat following the cycling rule.

Against a woman:
Announce Rock and throw it. If you win, play Paper next. If you lose, play Scissors. Repeat following the cycling rule.

If in doubt…

Wear a blindfold. Other research suggests you can up your win rate by being truly random and playing blindfolded. Which kind of negates everything you just read. Sorry.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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