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Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Costs Japan Art Auction House Millions

Updated on March 8, 2011
Rock-Paper-Scissors power dynamic diagram
Rock-Paper-Scissors power dynamic diagram | Source

Rock Paper Scissors and Big Business

Rock Paper Scissors is one serious game — one that can be worth millions of dollars.

Everyone's used this child's game to settle a playground dispute or to decide who has to take out the garbage.

Turns out Rock-Paper-Scissors has been used to settle multi-million dollar business deals.

In 2005, a Japanese executive wanted to auction off a collection of European paintings, including some by Van Gogh and Picasso, but he didn't know which top auction house to use for the deal, Christie's or Sotheby's. Unable to choose between them, he asked Christie's and Sotheby's to duke it out with a game of Ro Sham Bo to win the right to auction the paintings. The collection was valued at over $20 million, which meant that the auction house that sold them would earn a hefty multi-million-dollar commission on the sales.

Sotheby's and Christie's both had time to consider what they would "throw" in the rock-paper-scissors smack down.

Apparently, the folks at Sotheby's thought Rock-Paper-Scissors a mere child's game, a test of luck rather than skill. The Japanese head of Christie's, on the other hand, did research on the game itself, and also consulted a colleague's 11-year-old twin daughters how they would play the hand.

At the girls' suggestion, the Christie's executive threw scissors, and won the match. (The girls' logic was that rock is the presumed obvious first throw, which means that someone trying to out-think an opponent would be likely to throw paper. The truly savvy double-thinker, in this case Christie's, throws scissors. And wins.)

The paintings sold included "Les Grands Arbres au Jas de Bouffan" by Paul Cézanne, which sold for $11.8 million; "Vue de la Chambre de l'Artiste, Rue Lepic" by Vincent Van Gogh, which sold for $2.7 million; "Boulevard de Clichy" by Pablo Picasso, which sold for $1.8 million and "La Manufacture de Sèvres by Alfred Sisley, which went for $1.6 million.

Ro Sham Bo: Do Not Dismiss Kids' Games As Child's Play

Rock Paper Scissors is one serious game — one that sometimes is worth millions of dollars.

Everyone's used this child's game to settle a dispute, whether on the playground or as an adult. The rules are easy: There are two players, and three tools or weapons they can signal with their hands in a Ro Sham Bo battle.

Those tools are 'rock,' which is depicted by a hand in a fist; 'paper,' which is a hand held flat; and "scissors," which is essentially a peace sign. Paper beats rock, since you can wrap a rock in paper. Rock trumps scissors, since the rock can be used to crush the scissors. And scissors defeats paper since it can cut right through it.

Most Ro Sham Bo battles are best of three sets, or even best of seven. You hit your fist in your open palm three times, chanting Ro Sham Bo (or Rock Paper Scissors) with each beat, then yelling 'shoot' and 'throwing' the tool you think will beat your opponent.

It sounds easy, but there's actually a level of skill involved in winning.


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    • Plaid Red profile image

      Plaid Red 6 years ago from Fargo ND

      I knew that rock-paper-scissors was serious business, they even have competitions for it, but I had no idea it was used for such high profile business decisions!

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Those are high stakes, indeed, Paul!

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 7 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      This is serious business in our house. It often decides who has to change a diaper. We only play one hand.

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, renchin. I like to mix up my first throw.

    • Ren Chin profile image

      Ren Chin 7 years ago

      i always throw scissors...or do i? maybe i throw rock?

      great hub!