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How to win at Internet Roshambo

9 May 2007

Most people throw rock.

Whether it's the first throw, a desperate throw, or an attempt to pound your opponent into submission, rock is thrown at a higher rate than both paper and scissors, harkening back to our ancestral days where no one left the cave without a club.

The first key to becoming a successful Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) player is the understanding that "rock is a favorite," says Graham Walker, author of the Official RPS Strategy Guide and tournament Director for the World RPS Society.

RPS newbies are the biggest offenders.

"When in doubt, people throw rock," Walker said.

RPS appears to be a straightforward game. But, much like in poker, experience, mathematics, and mental toughness can give dedicated RPS players an exploitable edge.

Walker doesn't put much stock in Internet Roshambo, mostly because of the high rake (10 percent at Ultimate Bet) and the idea that you can't see your opponent. Gamesmanship is a large part of successful RPS strategy. Online, players lose the edge that intimidation, physical reads and taunting provide.

But if you're going to throw down some money on Internet Roshambo, here are some helpful tips from Walker, who is helping organize the World RPS Championships in Toronto, Canada, this fall, where more than 1,000 players are expected to throw down.

Roshambo Diagram

Roshambo Diagram

Win the first one

Ultimate Bet offers best of three matches. Players must defeat their opponent two times (ties excluded) to win the cash prize. This makes winning the first throw crucial, Walker said. The player who begins the match up 1-0 will win more times than not.

"Sometimes, players who are in longer matches lose the first throw on purpose to gain information about their opponent," Walker said. "In this case, I wouldn't recommend it. It's absolutely critical to win the first one."

The fall backs

Basic Roshambo players fall back on one of two things: rock or using the throw that would have beat their previous throw.

After losing the first throw, many opponents may feel backed into a corner. That's when they turn to the rock.

"When people feel threatened, the thought of having a rock in their hand makes them feel better," Walker said. "If you think your opponent feels threatened, he's probably coming after you with rock."

Players also tend to play with a predictable pattern. A common fall back is when a player uses the throw that would have beaten the throw he or she lost with. Sound confusing? It's not. Think about it, if you just lost with rock, paper would be a logical follow up. Defy logic and cut your opponent apart with a well timed scissor.

"People become predictable," Walker said. "Even if they think they're throwing at random, they still fall into predictable patterns."

Chat it up

Walker said some of the best RPS players are the ones who can confuse their opponent before the throws are even made.

"You can get a significant edge by telling your opponent what you're going to throw," Walker said. "Make your opponent think you're going to do something, then let him guess whether or not you will."

This is a common strategy used at the WRPSC and one Walker believes Internet players should use if they get the chance. Chat it up in the text box before the match begins, then dominate your opponent when the mental trap is set.

The progression of a Roshambo player

Walker's seen his fair share if new players, having run the WRPSC since 2002. Almost always, players rely on rock when they first start playing. If you have a feeling you're playing against a Roshambo rookie, be ready to throw some paper.

But once a newbie learns that rock is overvalued, the next step is to learn the value of paper.

It's not a guarantee, but if you face someone who's willing to throw paper or scissors on the first throw, they've probably played before. If they throw out a confident scissor, they may be trying to counter your anti-rock throw, and that's a pretty good sign that they've progressed past the "me-throw-rock" stage.

To become successful at Roshambo, Walker suggests thinking before you choose your weapon. Gauge the experience level of your opponent, then attack. If your opponent is a professional RPS player, then don't throw the rock.

"And then it all comes together," Walker said. "Once you understand basic play, you can start using gamesmanship (taunting, losing on purpose, and tipping your throws) to become a championship-caliber player."

The psychology of RPS

According to the WRPS Web site, there are different mindsets behind each type of throw.

The Character of Rock

"Rock, represented by a closed fist, is commonly perceived as the most aggressive throw. It taps into memories of fist fights, tall and unmoving mountains, rugged boulders and the stone ax of the caveman. Without realizing it, most players think of rock as a weapon and will fall back on it for protection when other strategies appear to be failing."

The Character of Scissors

"Scissors are a tool. As children, we use them to cut construction paper for craft projects. As adults, we may cut cloth for clothing or use scissors to open plastic packaging. Scissors are associated with industry, craft work, making things. There is still a certain amount of aggression associated with scissors; they are, after all, sharp and dangerous implements. Scissors, however, represent aggression that is controlled, contained, re-channeled into something constructive. In RPS, scissors are often perceived as a clever or crafty throw, a well-planned outflanking maneuver. As such, players are more likely to use scissors when they are confident or winning."

The Character of Paper

Paper is often considered the most subtle throw. There is nothing aggressive about the limp documents that move through our desks and offices. Even the gesture used to represent paper is peaceful – an open palm like that used in a salute or handshake. Historically, an open palm has been a sign of friendship and peace because an open hand cannot hold a weapon. Some players, who unconsciously perceive Paper as weak or a sign of surrender, will shy away from using it entirely or drop it from their game when they are falling behind. On the other hand, Paper also connects with a player's perceptions about writing. There is a quiet power in the printed word. It has the ability to lay off thousands of employees, declare war against nations, spread scandal or confess love. Paper, in short, has power over masses. The fate of the entire world is determined by print. As such, some players perceive Paper as a subtle attack, the victory of modern culture over barbarism. Such players may use Paper to assert their superiority and dignity.

Making money, settling a score, and becoming a RPS World Champion

Only a handful of online gambling sites offer RPS. Ultimate Bet is the first of the major online poker sites to add the game. Players can compete for small stakes, ranging from 50 cents to $2, in an attempt to have fun or even settle a bad-beat score.

Walker believes the stakes here are too small compared to the rake if you're paying to make big money. But if you're just in it for fun, or pride, playing Roshambo with a solid strategy can be a rewarding way to relive a game from your childhood.

Besides cash-game Roshambo, Ultimate Bet is also set up for Roshambo tournaments and sit-n-gos, which Walker said are a better test of skill.

His advice in these events is to observe your future opponents.

"I would watch the other tables and try to figure out what type of players I'm up against," Walker said. "That way, I could use that information when I eventually face them."

Players who fancy themselves professional Roshambo athletes can aim even higher and participate in one of the few events where truly anyone can walk off the plane and become a world champion.

"It takes a fun kind of person to fly thousands of miles to try and become a RPS World Champion," Walker said. "We get athletes from hundreds of countries, all competing despite the fact that they could literally be out of the tournament in four throws."

To compete in the WRPSC or to purchase the Official RPS Strategy Guide, visit the WRPS Web site


Mucking McLane
How to win at Internet Roshambo is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Recent Articles
Best of Ryan McLane
Ryan McLane

Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. He applied for this job thinking it was a joke, only to find it out that it's true, people will pay you to write about poker. His favorite word is ridiculous.

After receiving his BA in History from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, he somehow ended up freelance reporting for a couple years before being deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom III with the Massachusetts National Guard. He's back now and is a strong advocate of the phrase "God Bless America."

Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news. Feature writing is his passion and there is no need to ask for his opinion, he'll probably offer it first - free of charge.
Ryan McLane
Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. He applied for this job thinking it was a joke, only to find it out that it's true, people will pay you to write about poker. His favorite word is ridiculous.

After receiving his BA in History from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, he somehow ended up freelance reporting for a couple years before being deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom III with the Massachusetts National Guard. He's back now and is a strong advocate of the phrase "God Bless America."

Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news. Feature writing is his passion and there is no need to ask for his opinion, he'll probably offer it first - free of charge.