Rock-Scissors- Paper, Christie’s and Lizard

As both companies were equally good and I just could not choose one, I asked them to please decide between themselves and suggested to use such methods as rock, paper, scissors. I sometimes use such methods when I cannot make a decision.”

-Takashi Hashiyama, President of Maspro Denkoh Corporation

In game theory, there is an interesting game called as Rock, Scissors and Paper.  The game is played between two players. They have to simultaneously make gestures with hand -Rock, Scissors or Paper. The Rock beats Scissors, the Scissors beat Paper and the Paper beats Rock; if players throw the same shape, the game is tied and the game is played again. This game is useful for selecting randomly. I am sure most of you must have played this game in childhood.


There is Japanese version of this game called as Kitsune-ken. Here a supernatural fox called a kitsune defeats the village head, the village head defeats the hunter, and the hunter defeats the fox.


Once a President of Japanese company Maspro wanted to sell his company’s art collection, the collection included paintings by Cézanne, Picasso & Van Gogh. He wanted to select between Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as he wanted only one of them to conduct auction. He called representatives of Christie’s and Sotheby’s and told them that winner will be decided based on game of Rock. Scissors and Paper.

Both started working on strategy. Winning was important, as auction houses make lot of money by selling paintings. Suppose a painting sells for $ 3,00,000, then fee is charged as follows.

For first $2,00,000, they charge 20% i.e. $40,000, for balance they change 12% i.e. for next $1,00,000 they will charge $ 12000, so total fees charged is $ 52000.


Sotheby’s without much research decided to go with paper. Christie’s on the other hand did more research, Ms. Kanae Ishibashi, President of Christie’s Japan spent lot of time on understanding psychology behind the game. Finally she took advice of two experts- 11 year old twins- Flora and Alice, who used to play this game every day. Conversation between them is given below.

“Everybody knows you always start with scissors,” Alice added. “Rock is way too obvious, and scissors beats paper.” Flora piped in. “Since they were beginners, scissors was definitely the safest,” she said, adding that if the other side were also to choose scissors and another round was required, the correct play would be to stick to scissors – because, as Alice explained, “Everybody expects you to choose rock.”

So Christie’s decided to go ahead with Scissors. The game was played at Maspro’s office in Tokyo. Instead of hand gestures, the contestants were asked to write their option on piece of paper. Christie’s won because- Scissors beats Paper.


Another application of this game is in evolutionary psychology- mate selection. Females of species of lizard in North America decide selection of males based on their colour. Males have one of three colours- orange, blue and yellow.  In competition, orange beats blue, blue beats yellow, and yellow beats orange.


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