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Total Read Time: 4m
Bolded Only Read Time: 1m

But why even write a blog about rock, paper, scissors, anyways? I get it. Why bother, right? Well–I think RPS is a fun, playful micro example that introduces a very important macro concept for later:

Many people believe RPS is a game of chance. In actuality, people are biased.

People tend to follow predictable patterns even in seemingly random situations. The concept of using data to tilt odds in one’s favor is a great introduction to what’s to come in this blog. Finding and taking advantage of commonalities in behavior and systems can improve performance not only at work, but in everyday life–whether it’s playing poker at the tables or approaching the opposite sex at a bar.

About The Data:

Download Rock, Paper, Scissors data

A super special thanks to the team at roshambo.me for working with me to provide over 120,000 recorded games of rock, paper, scissors (a total of 445k individual throws) for this experiment.

If you’d like to view data yourself, download the .xlsx using this link.

Tip #1: Throw Paper First

What do you think is the most common throw in rock, paper, scissors? The answer: Rock. Especially as a first throw. Did you guess that correctly? It turns out, Rock is thrown 37.7% of the time as a first throw in a game. By contrast, the least commonly thrown option, Scissors, is only thrown first 27.8% of the time. Why do people have these biases to favor rock and avoid scissors? It’s hard to say. What matters more is that although Although you aren’t guaranteed to win over a small sample of games, over many games throwing paper first more likely will beat your opponent’s first throw (Rock) while hedging against the less commonly thrown Scissor.

Tip #2: After A Tie, Throw These

The next question is: what do you do after a tie? Do people tend to repeat their move after a tie? Or change it up? Our data suggests making these responses:

Throw Rock After A Rock-Rock Tie

Paper, at only 28%, is the least common throw after a Rock-Rock tie. Because Rock and Scissors are the most commons throws at 38% and 34%, respectively, a safe bet is to throw Rock after a Rock-Rock tie to hedge against the unlikely paper throw.

Throw Scissors After A Paper-Paper Tie

Rock, at only 30.4%, is the least common throw after a Paper-Paper tie. Because Paper and Scissors are the most commons throws at 34.6% and 34.9%, respectively, a safe bet is to throw Scissors after a Paper-Paper tie to hedge against the unlikely Rock throw.

Throw Paper After A Scissor-Scissor Tie

Scissors, at only 28.7%, is the least common throw after a Scissors-Scissors tie. Because Rock and Paper are the most commons throws at 36.7% and 34.6%, respectively, a safe bet is to throw Paper after a Scissors-Scissors tie to hedge against the unlikely Scissors throw.

Tip #3: Play Clockwise and Counterclockwise

Although the data doesn’t back this 100%, there is a good “rule of thumb” that you can memorize to win more games. The concept states that when When users win a throw, they tend to move clockwise around the rock, paper, scissors flow chart below when deciding their next move. Conversely, users who lose a throw will tend to move counterclockwise when making their decision.

Opponent Next Throw After a Win

Opponent Next Throw After a Lose

What does this mean for you? It means that you can anticipate your opponents next throw by imagining how they are moving through this flow chart. If your opponent beats you with a Rock, there is good data to suggest they will throw a Paper next.

Why The Data Isn't 100%, But It's Good Enough

Data screenshot on most common throws after a win and lose in rock paper scissors

*Please leave a note in the comments sections if you’d like this explained a bit more clearly. If there is interest, I’ll circle back around to this section.

The two rightmost columns in the above screenshot show the most common throws after a win and lose. For example, after someone wins with a Rock throw, they will follow it with a Paper 36.7% of the time. This is in line with our rule of thumb above.

However, there are two instances that don’t follow this prediction:

1) Rock is thrown most commonly (37%) after a Paper winThis isn’t an issue. Play this round using the same clockwise decision tree. Paper is the least common throw after an opponent wins with paper, so stick with Rock.

2) Rock is thrown most commonly (37.3%) after a Rock lose – This is the only exception to memorize. People tend to throw Rock after losing with Rock (double down on their loses, I guess?). So in this one exception, remember to throw Paper.

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