Rock Paper Scissors Championship

Three hands making the gestures for rock, paper, and scissors
Three hands making the gestures for rock, paper, and scissors (source)

The Residence, a bar in Wellington, New Zealand, recently held their second annual Rock Paper Scissors Championship. One hundred contestants each paid the entry fee of five dollars, and at the end of several elimination rounds, Zoe, the winner, was $1000 richer. Zoe said she did not know what she would do with the money.

Rock Paper Scissors, a game that originated in China, is played by two or more people who make a hand gesture at the same time. In the version that is dominant among English speakers, the hand gestures are those of a piece of paper (a flat hand), a rock (a closed fist), and a pair of scissors (two fingers in the shape of a ‘V’ on its side). Playing rock beats scissors, playing paper beats rock, and playing scissors beats paper. Playing the same gesture results in a tie - and a quick rematch.

Rock Paper Scissors tournaments are not common, and the game is usually played for simple fun or to make quick decisions, such as who will go first in some other kind of game, or who gets to choose what is for dinner. It has been used to settle bigger issues, too. In Japan in 2005, a CEO used the game to decide which auction house would get to sell his company’s collection of paintings. Christie’s beat Sotheby’s by choosing scissors and was able to earn millions of dollars.

For the contestants in Wellington, the dollar values were much smaller, but most of them reported having fun, and for the bar, a busier-than-usual Wednesday counts as a win.


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Worksheet with activities


Hear the article spoken:

Useful Language

  • Annual (adj) - happening once every year
  • Contestant (n) - a person that competes in a contest
  • Elimination (n) - removing people from a contest until only a winner remains
  • Originate (v) - to come from
  • Gesture (n) - a movement that you make with your body that has a meaning
  • Dominant (adj) - stronger or more common
  • Tie (n) - to finish with an equal score
  • Settle (v) - to decide
  • Auction house (n) - a place and organization that holds auction sales, where things are sold to whoever pays the most
  • Count (v) - to consider something in certain way


Discuss the following questions with your partner(s).

  1. Do people play Paper Scissors Rock in your country? Do they play for fun or for some other purpose?
  2. Are you good at Paper Scissors Rock? How do you know? Would you like to enter a Paper Scissors Rock competition?
  3. Is the result of Paper Scissors Rock random? Or is there a strategy to winning?
  4. What competitions have you entered? Have you won any of them?
  5. Do you know any other methods of making a quick decision?
  6. What other games or competitions might you find in a bar?
  7. Do you like playing games while drinking? Why or why not?
  8. What would you buy with $1000?
  9. When are hand gestures most useful? What are some commonly understood hand gestures?
  10. Playing Paper Scissors Rock requires no equipment. What other activities or games can be played with no or very few pieces of equipment?