To Win Rock, Paper, Scissors: Never Start with Paper

Question: What does it take to win rock, paper, scissors?

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Annie Duke: I think I’m terrible at rock, paper, scissors. Now, at that the time, I was really working on the game. I had this period where I decided that I wanted to become a really good rock, paper, scissors player. I have my champions t-shirt. It’s very similar to what you have to do in poker, which is to understand your opponent’s pattern. You should be able to see your opponent’s patterns very quickly because as much as an opponent might think that they’re behaving randomly, they’re not. Unless they are actually using a random number generator to determine their throws, whether they throw rock paper or scissors, there’s always going to be some pattern to what they are doing, and it really has to do with figuring out what they’re pattern is. For example, in the championship match that I won; my opponent had a very strong tendency to throw whatever I had thrown previously. I recognized that pattern, and obviously that’s very easy to beat because I knew what their throw was going to be. It has to do with understanding what your opponent’s throw is going to be.

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The other little small piece of advice that I would give you is that people tend to throw rock on their first throw. Throwing paper is usually not a good strategy because they might throw scissors. You should throw rock as well.

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The key is, and this is the best piece of advice that I can give you, if you do think that you recognize the pattern from your opponent, it’s good to try to throw a tie as opposed to a win. A tie will very often get you a tie or a win, whereas a win will get you a win or a loss. For example, if you think that someone might throw a rock, it’s good to throw rock back at them. You should be going for ties. That’s actually a really good strategy to win at rock, paper, scissors. There’s my rock, paper, scissors advice for you. I think I’m terrible at the game right now though because I’m not good right now at figuring out other people’s throws. I can’t go for the tie because I just haven’t – I’m so out of practice. I think it’s been like three years since I played it, a lot.

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Recorded on September 30, 2009

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The champion of the 2006 World Series Tournament offers tips on how to recognize patterns behind what your opponent throws out.

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