HAND TO HAND COMBAT

In Arts & Life /

By Jamie McLeod

In the second round I dodged some bullets. Across from me at the table stood Lee Rampage, the 2004 world champion, and captain of Team Everyman. Beside him was Captain Morgan (yeah, the guy from the rum bottle) along with an entourage of hot girls in red shirts.

Under the spotlight, I got lucky. I was pitted against a timid-looking lady who put up a good fight but just wasn’t up to snuff.

Rampage was taken out in the first round, and Captain Morgan was beaten by a burly guy in a Metallica t-shirt.

In the next round, I had to take on Metallica for a spot in the final 32. You could have almost touched the pressure with your hands, if they weren’t busy making the sign for scissors.

***

On Saturday night, I descended into the bizarre, unforgiving world of competitive rock paper scissors (RPS), at the 2007 World RPS Championship.

I entered into the tournament as a competitor. I felt I needed to get right into the thick of it, to throw some rocks in some people’s faces, and wrap my head around the fundamental paradox of RPS:

“How can you compete at something that seems completely random?”

The game is simple. Everyone knows the hierarchy of hand signals. In the championship, it’s the same principle, but everyone takes it way more seriously.

Best of three games wins a set, best of three sets is the winner. The pressure builds with every tie, so an evenly matched battle can feel endless.

I had read on the world RPS Society website about a strategy where you plan out all of your moves before the game starts, thereby taking any subconscious patterns out of your play. They call them Gambits.

***

Back to the battle: I won the first set, and Metallica won the second. I read him as a mostly Rock/Paper guy—scissors tends to be a more defensive play— and he was going all out.

Someone yelled, “you got him, his hand’s shaking.”

It was true; I grinned and shook my hand a bit harder.

He won one game, and I won one, with what felt like ten tie throws in between. In the end, though, paper covers rock, and the referee handed me a card that said that I was one of the 32 best RPS players in the world.

In the final 32, I was beaten tidily in a two set game.

***

The RPS championship was born on a cold November night in a cottage north of Toronto.

“Me and my brother had a marathon best of 15,” said Douglas Walker, who, along with his brother Graham, founded the World RPS Society.

In the best-of-15 game, they each started to notice patterns in the other’s play, and invented strategies to maximize their chances of victory.

“Maybe there’s a little more to this game than we realize,” Walker said. In 2002, they hosted the first World RPS Championship in Toronto.

This year, more than 400 people stepped up to compete, including participants from New Zealand, Australia, Norway, England, and the United States.

“We see it as one of the biggest excuses in the world for a road trip,” Walker said.

When you enter into the tournament, they give you a bib with your competitor number. At the bottom of the bib, it says “Currently Undefeated;” when you loose, you keep the bib, but they rip the bottom part off. They also give you 20 RPS street bucks. Players can compete in pickup games, and bet with their fake money.

The player with the most bucks at the end of the night wins $1,000. First prize in the overall tournament is $10,000.

***

Probably my most interesting game was against Kurt Aischuetz, the captain of Team Smoot, which brought 18 members from the United States to compete.

I played Aischuetz in a three set game, and beat him for five bucks. Then I beat his friend for another five bucks while he watched intently. When he challenged me again for ten bucks he destroyed me.

“Ha! I finally figured you out.” he crowed. “When you lose, you never play the same thing.”

I can’t compete against that kind of analytical prowess.

In most of the games I played, there was no analysis, no gambits, just gut feelings. I played on luck, and feelings, and it carried me pretty far. I’m not prepared to say that RPS is totally a skill competition, but to win I definitely believe it requires more than dumb luck.

I challenge anyone who disagrees to face my lethal paper.

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