Rock Paper Scissors: it’s all about strategy

The annual RPS (Rock Paper Scissors) World Championship is truly international, regularly attracting competitors from the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, as well as from countries like Argentina and Norway. They —

“All right, just waittaminnit!” (I can hear you now.) “A ‘world championship’? For Rock Paper Scissors??

That’s right. That little game we learned as kids (rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock) isn’t just for kids any more. And given that this year’s World Championship was the seventh, it apparently hasn’t been a kids’ game for quite some time.

This year’s big event was held in Toronto, as it is every year, taking place this past weekend (October 25) at the Steamwhistle Brewery, a huge, cavernous building perfectly suited to such a tournament. And the place was absolutely packed, with celebrating, hollering players and spectators. While official games went on in all the booths down two sides of the room, everyone who wasn’t playing milled around in the centre.

And in a way, this was where the real fun happened. Everyone who came into the building was given several “dollars” to use in the impromptu “street” games played in the middle. By betting a few dollars in these games, contestants could build up a stash, and whoever collected the most “street dollars” by evening’s end would win $1000 donated by Eye Weekly, one of the sponsors. (This year’s winner was Burlington, Ontario’s Sarah Harris.)

The grand prize, though, was $10,000 from Yahoo! Canada, who came on board this year as the main sponsor. So even though most contestants were there just for the fun, there was still a huge reward for the one person, among about seven hundred entrants, who would become champion. In the end, that person was Monica Martinez, a Toronto jewellery store owner.

But seriously. Can this be an actual tournament, with real strategy and everything?

Some people think so. I stood in line with Jon Perkins, a five-time competitor, who thinks it’s not so much your own pattern of “throws” that’s important, but how well you can throw off your opponent’s strategy. Maybe he’s right; he made it to the quarter-finals last year. Throughout the evening, I also noticed several people wearing glasses with fake eyes, to prevent others from watching their real eyes and guessing their next move.

And one player, standing behind another who was wearing an “Obama ’08” t-shirt, suddenly called, “McCain ’08!” I said, “Trying to throw him off his game, are we?” And he laughed and nodded, sipping his beer.

The sub-plots at the tournament can be as fascinating as the games. Tamara and David Charnowitz of Baltimore, MD, had their second date at the championship a couple of years ago. Now they’re married, with a new baby, and plan to make the trek to Toronto every year as a sort of “anniversary.”

Meanwhile, both the Philadelphia RPS champion of 2007 (called “Baconshark”) and 2008 (Mr. Is) came up for this tournament. Mr. Is (who happens to be female) was planning, if she was eliminated early, to then engage in an audience analysis for the “Myth, Media, and Religion” course she’s taking at the university she attends in Colorado.

Many teams came in costume, while others created special t-shirts. (My favourite: “Running With Scissors”) Of course, they can’t really compete in teams; every game is an individual battle, best two out of three, and an awful lot of players are out in a mere two games in the first round. But fellow team members can cheer their lungs out in support, and defeated players take their loss with good grace, and spend the rest of the evening playing street games.

I couldn’t stay till the end – one referee told me the final could easily take place as late as 1:30 a.m., the tournament having started at 8:30. But from what I saw in a couple of hours, this hilarious subculture seems to consist mostly of people from all over the world having a great evening of cheering and laughter (and yes, drinking), built around a simple little game consisting mostly of luck. And that, in my opinion, is very shrewd strategy.

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6 thoughts on “Rock Paper Scissors: it’s all about strategy

  1. kate says:

    What a fun event! I love that the Philadelphia champs were there. I wonder how many other regional competitions there are.

  2. kashicat says:

    I gather that there are competitions like this all over the place. I just had no idea!

    I’m glad I could get the photos I did. The place was dark, and my camera was slow. But the ones I did get were loads of fun.

    I’m considering entering the competition next year, or at least going again and playing some “street” games. Heehee!

  3. ce9999 says:

    Wait–they only play two out of three?? What a rip!

    Heh.

    After reading this I have a cool idea for a new tournament, too: Coin-flipping! How does that sound? Each challenger flips a coin, and the opponent calls it in the air. If the call matches the flip, then the flipper loses that flip. And, unlike the RPS dweebs, with this tournament you need four out of seven to win a round. 😉

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