Scientists Reveal A Failproof Strategy To Win Rock-Paper-Scissors

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If you have ever had to decide on an outcome with a friend, chances are you have done it by playing rock-paper-scissors, the fun hand game where players simultaneously form one of the three shapes with an outstretched hand. Like most people, you probably thought that the game is designed for a random outcome, one in which neither player has an advantage. Turns out you were wrong. According to scientists from China's Zhejiang University, there is a method to this madness - one that can be easily mastered so that you never lose a rock-paper-scissors duel again.

The researchers whose study 'Social cycling and conditional responses in the Rock-Paper-Scissors game', was published on April 21st, in Cornell University's e-print repository,, began their investigation by recruiting 360 Zhejiang University students to play the game. The students were split up into 60 groups of six people, with each student playing 300 rounds against the other five group members. To encourage students to try their best, the scientists paid them for every individual victory.

In the beginning stages of each round, rock, paper, and scissors were chosen about the same number of times. However, the randomness of the results began to fade as the tournaments progressed and the scientists started to notice a pattern. Players that had won the previous round, were prone to choosing the winning option in the next round to try continue their winning streak. On the other hand those that had lost, immediately switched to a different option - usually the one that came next in the order of the game's name. That means a player who had lost with rock would likely choose paper next and then move on to scissors, if that did not work. This led the scientists to conclude that if one pays close attention to their opponent's choices, it would be easy to anticipate their next move and ensure a victory. Of course, this trend is only exploitable if the outcome is based on 'best of three' results.

Prior to this study, researchers had believed rock-paper-scissors operated on the "Nash equilibrium," a game theory principle which stipulates that players tend to choose each of the three options equally, over a period of time.

Of course, this revelation may come as no surprise to those high-skilled rock-paper-scissors players that have used this strategy for many years. The good news is that you too can now be amongst those elite few, and ensure that the decision always tilts in your favor. Good luck!

Rock-paper-scissors is an ancient game, the origins of which can be traced all the way back to the Chinese Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). Called shoushiling or hand command, it was soon imported by Japan and by the 20th century, the rest of the world. It became so popular that in 2002, a special body - the World Rock Paper Scissors Society was established to create a set of rules for International play and also oversea the International World Championships. While those have come to a halt since the death of the society's chairman in 2010, many countries have continued the tradition with their own regional championships.


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Reading Comprehension (3 questions)

  1. How did the scientists conduct the experiment? What did they do to motivate the student to try their hardest?
  2. What pattern were the researchers able to reveal?

Critical Thinking Challenge

Now that the winning strategy has been revealed, do you think it will...

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  • HaroldH20Monday, May 5, 2014 at 2:53 pm
    By the way H20 means hydrogen 2 and oxygen. But scientist have said they proven this skill but that's just with people in college. Salutations from Harold Water!
    • Quonk the GreatMonday, May 5, 2014 at 2:46 pm
      I can't believe humans are so predictable!
      • makssenseMonday, May 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm
        • rozeb
          rozebMonday, May 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm
          Huh. Cool.
          • hockeystar
            hockeystarMonday, May 5, 2014 at 2:16 pm
            Those winning tactics sound similar to the one I use
            • rockstaraMonday, May 5, 2014 at 2:08 pm
              • otter
                otterMonday, May 5, 2014 at 1:54 pm
                That is so cool! I'm going to use that! But, uh, "High-skilled rock paper scissors players?"
                • NameMonday, May 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm
                  Wow ! I always lose... but not for long
                  • dantartarsause
                    dantartarsauseMonday, May 5, 2014 at 1:40 pm
                    um i wish there was one for kids :D
                    • devorino_swimha
                      devorino_swimhaMonday, May 5, 2014 at 1:37 pm
                      that is so cool!!!! omg!!!!

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