Being really good at Rock Paper Scissors–or Roshambo–can mean a world of difference. Whether you’re playing to decide who’s riding shotgun, who’s picking up the bar tab, or who gets to auction off that Picasso painting, strong Rock Paper Scissors skills might give you the upper hand in some of life’s most important challenges. And, as we all know, there’s no greater challenge in a skater’s life than when they’re asked to play SKATE.
It’s common protocol that before the first shuv is popped or flip is kicked in a game of SKATE, a round of Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) sets the stage, with the victor winning the right to go first.
The outcome of a game of SKATE isn’t dependent on who wins the game of Rock Paper Scissors, of course, but most people see a definite advantage in going first. Some of you have probably learned this the hard way after getting skunked by the skatepark-hero who can do every flip named after an animal but can’t kickflip.
But for those of you who need data to back up such anecdotal evidence, let’s look at skateboarding’s most popular games of SKATE, the Battle at the Berrics, to see how winning the opening RPS helps you win.
An analysis of games from BATB 7: Pros vs. Joes shows that 17 out of the 31 games of SKATE were won by the RPS winner, giving a 5% edge to the skater that sets the first trick. While that may not seem like much, a closer investigation reveals just how pivotal the upper hand can be.
Take a look at Luan Oliveira’s route to the finals: In his first match against Tanner Lawler, Luan loses RPS and gets 4 straight letters before getting a chance to set the trick, after which he proceeds to not miss again until he’s won. He wins the next RPS match against Chris Chann and runs right through his quick flick go-tos until his foe’s demolished. That dynamic is unfortunately reversed for Luan in the finals though, as he loses the RPS to Cody Cepeda and gets skunked without an opportunity to ever go on the offensive.
For a similar cherry-picked example, look at the next season’s finals for a repeat of this with different skaters. Sewa Kroetev uses his mechanical ability to win the RPS and the game of SKATE without ever missing a trick.
This proves that if you have a robotic consistency in your skating–or at least 5 weird-ass flip tricks–winning RPS means you pretty much can’t lose in SKATE.
To become a master of this martial art you must first understand the origins of fist games. Back around when BC turned to AD, Chinese in the Han dynasty were throwing hands in a game called Frog Slug Snake, a precursor to RPS. Over about 17 centuries, that game morphed into something the Japanese called, believe it or not, Janken, which uses the same hand symbols we use today.
Of course, endless variations of the form exist now, with new ones being invented on playgrounds even as you read this, but the basics are the same: rock beats scissors which beats paper which then circles back around to beat rock, a perfectly balanced trio that, in a perfectly random world, would have each hand winning 33.33333% of the time.
But, as you would know if you’ve ever fallen asleep to Nyjah executing the same Street League run over and over and over, humans aren’t random, we’re creatures of pattern, meaning there are ways to game the system to ensure you have a better chance of beating your opponent. The real Rock, Paper, Scissors pros know that there are both physical and psychological tactics to employ to exploit your adversary’s weaknesses. Let’s look at a few.
There’s no explicit rule in RPS against intimidation or trash talking. Use whatever you have at your disposal to get into your opponent’s head. Before the match, dap up your challenger and, when y’all’s hands touch say something like, “Your hands are soft, you must be a paper player. I’m going to cut your ass up.” Then, when the game gets going, yell out “Scissors” and play anything else. Talk so much shit that they’re too busy wiping it off to even know what hand they’re throwing, giving you the opportunity to take advantage of their lapse in focus.
STARE DOWN THE HANDS
Engineers in Japan have already designed an unbeatable RPS machine that can read the tiniest hand movements to always play its opposite. And though humans, even cyborg’s like Shane ‘Zigram 23’ O’Neil, do not have as rapid reaction times, one could gain a possible advantage in trying to mimic the Janken robot’s approach.
Rock should be the easiest to spot, as the player’s hand will probably stay clinched, leaving you just enough time to release the rest of your fingers to turn a possible scissors-loss into a paper win. And, if you’re worried about your opponent watching your own hand movements you can always try and cloak your throw by acting like you’re going with one before switching to another in the last split second. It’s like playing cards or lying to your parents, you want to hide your tells.
Another approach is to think of each hand as corresponding to particular personality traits. Are they an aggressive, bowl-troll type of fella? Maybe they’re more likely to go with rock. Light on their feet like Mark Suciu, perhaps they’re going to play paper. Are they the filmer? Get ready to defend against scissors since they like to cut so much. Statistics show that paper is the least played hand, so if your opponent is always trying to go against the grain, wearing skinny jeans when everyone’s going baggy, expect them to go with the unexpected.
What we’re really dealing with in RPS is an exercise in psychological warfare. You have to get into your combatant’s head if you want to win. You could spend their whole life dedicating themselves to the study of a single weapon in the RPS armory, but that would leave you terribly vulnerable to someone who had knowledge of that preference. Try and avoid personal predictability while also understanding how your opponent might be more inclined to play.
SEE THE PATTERNS
If you find yourself in a best two out of three scenario, or if you always end up playing against the same people, you can keep track of their patterns to get one step ahead of them. Winners often stick with the hand that they won with, and losers have a tendency to move to the hand that beat them. So, if you win, you shouldn’t stick to the same script, move to the next hand in the sequence (R → P → S → R …). This isn’t determinative in and of itself, but it’s another tactic to add into your book.
All this means is that this may be one of the few occasions where we have to encourage you not to share this article. The more skilled your opponent is at the strategies of RPS, the more skilled you will need to be to stay ahead of them, so keeping them in the dark to all the tips and tricks this article has might be in your best interest. Good luck in the wars ahead, skaters. You’re going to need every advantage you can get in the games ahead, so take this advice to heart. Or don’t–your loss!