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How to Always Win at ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ and Other Games of Chance

Games of chance don’t have to be all that chancy. Here are some hints on how to get the odds on your side.

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Be a Rock, Paper, Scissors King

Think Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS) game is based on pure luck? Think again. According to experts, there’s a way to game the game…at its own game.

What’s the catch? Graham Walker, Director of Management of the World RPS Society, gave Mental Floss a few beginners’ tips. For one, males tend to choose Rock on their first throw. So if you’re up against a guy, scissors might be your best bet for a victory. Walker also advises players to avoid delivering the same throw twice in a row (it makes your next move predictable) and try to think one step ahead of your partner. For example, it’s likely that your opponent will deliver the throw that beat her last one. So if she played Paper, beat her next Scissors throw by playing Rock, instead.

If you don’t want to leave it to chance, try game theory. Zhejiang University in China published the first large-scale study of RPS in 2014 using the technique. Their results? Players tend to follow a fairly predictable psychological pattern.

Although there’s no way to game the first round (it’s a one-third chance your opponent will pick one of the three options), you can predict what choice she’ll make after that. If your opponent wins, it’s likely she’ll choose the same play. But if she loses, she will switch her strategy in a clockwise direction—so rock changes to paper, paper to scissors, and scissors to rock.

Researchers based their conclusions off of a game theory called “the Nash equilibrium,” which predicts that people will choose each of the three options equally over time.

Confused? We don’t blame you. In a high-pressure game, amateurs like us don’t have time to strategize. So if you don’t know what to throw next, Walker suggests defaulting with Paper. Statistically, Paper is thrown the least often in competition. It’s delivered 29.6 percent of the time, which is slightly under the 33.33 percent average for each throw.

Let’s be honest: In the end, victories feel pretty good. That’s why we’ll give you the scoop on how to always win those notoriously tricky carnival games.

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Be a Coin Toss Master

First thing first: make sure you pick the coin, you do the flipping, and you make the call. Then get acquainted with the coin. Feel it. Which side is bumpier? (It’s usually heads). That’s important to know because of this sequence: a) toss the coin into the air; b) catch it; c) in one quick motion, feel the top of the coin while flipping it over to the back of your non-tossing palm. If the top feels bumpy (heads), when you flip it over call tails, and vice-versa. If your opponent insists on you calling it in the air, when it lands in your palm quickly swipe your finger across the top. If it’s smooth say, “Tails! I win! Pay up, loser!” if it’s heads, then slap it on the back of your palm so it comes up tails, and say, “Tails! I win! Pay up, loser!” Make sure not to draw attention to your fingers by staring at them. If you weren’t pushy enough to control the toss, make sure you get to call it, because the side facing up has a 51 percent chance of landing face up. Or skip the coin toss and put your spare pennies to these brilliant random uses. Sources: Wired, Daily Mail

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Be a ‘Pick a Number’ Fiend

This method works if two of you have been asked to pick a number and the closer number wins. Usually, the range will be between one and 10. In this case, let your foe go first. Say he picks seven—you pick six. This gives you a 60 percent chance of winning. If he smugly shouts, “Three feels lucky,” you counter, “Four feels luckier!” And it should, since it gives you a 70 percent chance of winning. Should he put everything on five, you put it all on six. At least your odds are 50-50. Source: everything2.com

Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.