How to Win at Rock, Paper, Scissors

November 7, 2017

Here are some theories on how to be the best at the only game that matters.

Psychological Factors

Professor Zhijian Wang of Zhejiang University in China led a study that revealed psychological factors in how people play Rock, Paper, Scissors—which a competitor in the know could use to their advantage. The Zhejiang group discovered that people don’t randomly throw out a rock, paper, or scissors during a game, even if they aren’t aware that they do.

The Study

360 test subjects were split up into groups of six and each played 300 rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors in random pair-ups. While winning is glorious and good, the stakes were raised and test subjects were further motivated by a small cash prize offered for each game won. As they played, subjects were observed as to how they rotated through which option they chose, especially as they won or lost multiple games in a row. The findings: If a player won with one option, they were much more likely to use that same choice in the following game. For example, John’s rock beats Jay’s paper. In the next game, John would probably go for a rock again, as it had served him well.
Conversely, if a player loses two or more times in a row, that is when they are most likely to switch up what they throw. And when they do, they’ll go for the choice that just beat them. Say that Jay loses to John, who once again used his rock to beat Jay’s scissors. If that happened several times in a row, Jay is highly likely to switch to rock. This is all falls under a bit of game theory called the “win-stay, lose-shift strategy.”

Real World Applications

So how can you use all this information in a real-world Rock, Paper, Scissors game? Well, say you lose the first round to your friend. On the next round, switch to the option they used that just beat you. And then, if you won, experts say, you can get a jump on your opponent by immediately switching to the thing that would beat the choice you just played—in other words, your opponent’s losing hand. For example, your rock beat their scissors. They’re likely to switch to paper, so you should switch to scissors. You win again!

World Rock Paper Scissors Society

The World Rock Paper Scissors Society, which is a thing, offers up another piece of strategy. The organization says that inexperienced or players who aren’t thinking too heavily, will almost always start with a rock. Their research shows that it’s especially true for novice male players, as the rock is thought to be the “strongest” option. That means their opponent should always start with paper, because paper beats rock.