Your Guide to Winning at Rock-Paper-Scissors

May 1, 2014 | Andy Cush

Rock-paper-scissors: game of chance or game of skill?  Conventional wisdom says the former, but a team of researchers from China’s Zhejiang University found it’s possible to apply strategy to the classic schoolyard game.

After studying 300 games of rock-paper-scissors with 360 participants, the team discovered a few truisms about the way the game is ordinarily played. One, that people tend to choose each of the three options one third of the time, as you’d expect. Two, that if a player wins, she’s more likely to choose the same option again. Three, that if a player loses, she’s more likely to shift options clockwise through a rock → paper → scissors trajectory.

How does that translate to an in-game strategy? In the first round, it’s impossible to know what your opponent will play, so it makes sense to choose at random. If you lose, switch to the move that defeats whatever your opponent used against you — if they played rock and won, they’ll probably play rock again, so you should switch to paper. If you win, switch to whatever beats the next clockwise option after what your opponent just played — if they played rock and lost, they’ll probably play paper next, so you should play scissors.

Voila, you win. Of course, if you and your opponent are both aware of this strategy, things get considerably trickier. Happy playing.

(Photo: @timlewisnm)