How to win at rock, paper, scissors

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

In 2005 a Japanese electronics firm decided to sell its collection of four French impressionist paintings. Christie’s and Sotheby’s courted the company. The CEO asked the auction houses to play a game of Rock Paper Scissors to determine who would sell the paintings. The representative for Christie's researched Rock Paper Scissors strategies, and used the advice of one of his co-worker's children: “Everybody knows you always start with scissors.” This proved to be good advice in this case, because Sotheby's chose Paper. Christie's sold the paintings for $(removed) million, and earned a $(removed) million commission.

William Poundstone (author of many books I've enjoyed, including Big Secrets, Fortune's Formula, Prisoner's Dilemma, and an entire book about Rock Paper Scissors) starts off his article about Rock Paper Scissors strategies with the above anecdote. He looks at strategies involving statistics (in pro tournaments Rock gets thrown 35.4%, Paper 35%, and Scissors 29.6%), doublethink, tells, scripts, and pattern recognition. His conclusion: