clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The comprehensive guide to winning rock-paper-scissors

New, comments

Always throw the same thing. Or don’t!

When it comes to America’s greatest sport, everyone’s an expert.

We’re talking about rock-paper-scissors. It’s one of this country’s longest-standing pastimes, and it might be the game with the lowest barriers to entry. It requires a simple series of hand movements and, uh, not much else. If you crave competition, there’s no easier way to get it than saddling up for an RPS duel against a friend.

These are our most critical pieces of advice

Some of these thoughts are contradictory to one another, so you’ll have to decide whose side you take. Sound good? Let’s RPS.

Know your opponent’s personality type.

I’ve won some big rock-paper-scissors matches in my life. I’ve had drinks purchased for me, errands run for me, and gruesome dares carried out on my behalf — all because I know the tricks my friends are going to throw at me when we duel. My best win:

People ask me all the time — actually they don’t, but let’s pretend they do — how I win RPS matches. The most important thing is to know the kind of person you’re dealing with on the other side. The guy I beat for an RPS championship a few years ago is a good man and a patriot. He’s also a military man and has a rugged persona.

But because he’s a military guy, I knew he wasn’t going to back down. We both threw rock on our first go-around, and I knew that there was nothing he’d enjoy more than winning with the exact same thing. It’d make him feel tougher and somehow more pure to win without changing his ways. So I just changed my play to paper, grabbed my RPS championship trophy, and went on home. I don’t feel bad about it.

Here is a bold-faced lie from my brother:

- Alex Kirshner

Force your opponent’s hand (we’re talking mind games)

I consider myself an excellent rock-paper-scissors player, and my success starts with my mentality: You have to be unafraid to die in the arena. Those who play RPS scared — afraid of throwing the wrong thing — aren’t thinking enough about their opponent. You need to take in every tell on their person: things like their facial expression, perspiration levels, general state of anxiety and/or drunkenness, etc. You won’t do that if you’re also keenly aware that you’re giving off the same tells yourself.

What many don’t realize is that you can force your opponent’s hands. Talk. Be obnoxious. Get in his or her head. If you’re playing best-two-outta-three, comment on their first throw: “Scissors, huh?” Tell them what they’re going to throw next. Tell them what you’re going to throw next (and keep your promise ... or not). Feign like you’re mulling over your next move. Drag out the moment. Peer deep into their eyes.

Do whatever you can to induce a flinch. Your opponent will react, and when they do you will have gained another clue into their soul. RPS isn’t about you — it’s about your opponent and the frailty of human will. - Louis Bien

For me, it’s all about coming from a position of strength, first and foremost. Since we’re civilized people, we’re going best two out of three, so I can afford to lose one. You throw rock first every time to initially assert dominance. Then you’ll often throw it back the next round because they’re shook. They know I’m the alpha and are threatened. Then I mind-game them, because I certainly wouldn’t throw rock again the third round. Would I? — Richard Johnson

Keep using the same move

I can’t give away all of my secrets when it comes to this classic battle, but one I will share is that particular strategy. If a best two out of three is being played, this works nearly every time, unless it is also being deployed against you. It’s even better when used in a best three out of five, or greater. Once your opponent has caught onto your move — let’s say it’s paper — that’s when you deploy the rock. It’s simple and works like a charm. Your opponent will be defeated and annoyed with the malarkey. - Harry Lyles Jr.

Go rock, go rock, go rock again, keep going rock, and then, just when your opponent is getting annoyed, look them in the eye, give them a playful smirk, and ... go rock again.

Btw you will not win if you do this, but you can whine when you lose that in real life a rock would destroy a flimsy piece of paper. - Seth Rosenthal

Just roll with the punches.

Don't listen to my dude co-workers who think they can control the uncontrollable. They can't. Rock-paper-scissors isn't rocket science; all you have to do is go with your gut and throw down what you feel. Will you lose? Yeah, sometimes. But that's how probability and life works. Roll with it. - Charlotte Wilder

Transfer the responsibility

Find a surrogate to RPS for you. If they lose, you can blame them. If they win, you can take the credit. Delegation is the key to good leadership. - Ryan Van Bibber

Know your opponent’s weaknesses.

The art of winning RPS is understanding the personality of your opponent. Are they lazy? They’re going to throw rock. High ego? They’re going to think they’re better than you and go scissors. Paper people are difficult to predict, but typically they’re going to be the more quiet and demure members of your friend circle. Also understand the stakes: If the result of the RPS match is low-impact, then they’re going to lean on their old tricks. But if there’s a lot on the line, then people will overthink their moves and go to the polar opposite of their personality. — James Dator

When playing RPS, you have to remember the one cardinal rule: It’s way more effort to throw scissors than it is to throw rock or paper. Ultimately you just have to decide whether or not your opponent is a rock person or a paper person. If you’re up against Dwight Schrute, just play scissors every time. - Cory Williams

Consistency is key.

Always throw what your opponent just threw. - Justin Bopp


We all know that it’s “rock, paper, scissors, shoot,” and you throw what you know on “shoot.” We all know this! Yet there’s always that one asshole that lets the ritual get started before they break away mid-“scissors” to be all “wait, wait, lol, lol, are we doing scissors or SHOOT?” — meanwhile getting a sneak peek at what you had in store for Round 1. And the worst thing about this strategy is that it works. Listen, I’m not here to tell you to cheat at rock-paper-scissors. But I am here to tell you that if you’re desperate — this might just be your play. — Dayana Sarkisova

Lots of people we asked believe in never changing their play.

And a slight variation to that method:

Some people advocate a hard-line approach.

Here is the most serious advice: