Scissors stone paper

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The figures of scissors, stone, paper

Scissors, stone, paper (also Schnick, Schnack, Schnuck ; Fli, Fla, Flu; Ching, Chang, Chong ; Klick, Klack, Kluck ; stone grinds scissors ; Schnibbeln , puzzles or Schniekern ) is popular with both children and adults and game spread around the world. Two players each choose one of the three possible symbols scissors, stone or paper and then show this on a command at the same time (suddenly) with the help of one of their hands . Since each symbol can win or lose against another, one of the players is always the winner. A tie occurs if both players choose the same symbol. In this case the game is repeated.

In analogy to the tossing of a coin, it is also often used to decide between two options, for example which football team will take the first kick .


The game is played with the hands only. The hand postures are assigned symbols that can "hit" each other. The three main characters are scissors , stone and paper . The paper is represented by a flat hand with fingers not spread, the symbol of the scissors is the splayed index and middle finger, and the stone is symbolized by a fist. The value of the symbols against each other results from what is represented in each case: the scissors cut the paper (scissors win), the paper wraps the stone (paper wins), and the stone makes the scissors blunt (stone wins). If both players opt for the same symbol, the game is scored as a tie and repeated.

Scissors, rock, paper is often played in best-of-three mode .

Goal of the game

The aim of the game is to have a better hand position than the opponent. So that neither player gets a disadvantage by showing his hand position too early, both players move their right hand up and down in front of them, still clenched a fist and say the name of the game together, count to three or something similar. This movement is used for tension and is also a rhythmic synchronization aid. Simultaneously with the last word of the game name ( paper , Schnuck , Chong or Kluck ) the players reveal their hand position to each other. In a modified form, the players hook their little fingers together when synchronizing.

Logic and psychology of the game

If the human being could choose one of the three characters at random, the game would be a pure game of chance. However, it is not possible to choose purely randomly, since people always allow themselves to be influenced by their thoughts, and so there is an additional psychological-tactical component that one can try to assess the behavior of the opponent. For example, a player is reluctant to take the same symbol twice in a row, or has some preference for one of the symbols. So in order to increase your own chances of winning, you have to prevent your opponent from guessing your own choice, i.e. from having to choose his pieces at random. So if he thinks he can guess the opponent's pieces (he might think, for example, that the opponent, after he has already chosen stone three times, will do it a fourth time) and he adjusts to it by this time using paper chooses, he moves away from chance. This makes him vulnerable, as the opponent could count on it and instead of stone the fourth time, he chooses scissors. Professional players therefore determine the order of the figures before the tournaments and memorize these lists, so-called gambits, which they then play through in the tournament.

From a purely statistical point of view, scissors are chosen the least at the “Scissors, Rock, Paper” World Cup with 29.6%.

After the law of effect (the Act (Off) action) by Edward Thorndike tend players in earnings likely to stick to in the next round at the selected game character. In the event of a defeat or a tie, they tend to choose another character. If players have lost, they tend to choose the lower pawn in addition to their previously chosen figure (paper instead of scissors, stone instead of paper, scissors instead of stone) in the next round. In the event of a tie, on the other hand, players statistically decide on the next higher pawn (scissors instead of paper, paper instead of stone, stone instead of scissors) in the next round. Based on this knowledge, the following strategy can be followed: after a tie, take the next lower pawn, after a win take the pawn that the opponent had chosen, after a defeat take the next higher pawn than the one chosen by the opponent.

Story of the game

Mushi-ken no zu (1809)
Kitsune-ken (1774)

The origin of the game is still not fully understood. It is believed to have entered Europe via Japan .

The Japanese Sansukumi-ken (三 す く み 拳) is a series of drinking games that were played with the hands. The “ken” refers to a fist, and different variants are used. The oldest forms are classified in the 17th century - the frog (the thumb) wins against the snail (little finger), the snail wins against the snake (index finger), and the snake against the frog. Games with symbols for these animals are also known in older Chinese texts, so that an origin from there is assumed. This mushi-ken was later played with other animal references.

Over time, other three-gesture games have been developed. Is known about ken mitsu- or kitsune-ken , which is played with both hands. The mythical fox Kitsune wins against the village chief, the village chief wins against the hunter, and the hunter wins against the fox. Finally, in Japan, the one-handed variant jan-ken with the gestures for scissors, stone, paper was developed, which in turn spread in Asia, and through it came to Europe in the 19th century.

In 1842 the “Rock, Paper and Scissors” club was founded in London, and in 1918 it moved to Toronto . Seven years later the association had over 10,000 members. The World Cup has been held in Toronto every year since 2002.

Chimpanzees can also learn “scissors, stone, paper”.


Four gestures

The hand position for the additional symbol fountain

There are other variants with more possible hand positions. The figures are expanded to include the fountain, for example. At the fountain, the thumb forms a circle with the rest of the fingers. If a player chooses the well, he wins against the stone and the scissors, both of which fall into the well, but loses against the paper that covers the well.

The fact that the game has been expanded to include the fountain figure shifts the balance of the chances of winning. If there are now four permitted symbols, the chance of winning can no longer be the same for all of them, since each figure gets a result against three others instead of two, as in the variant without a fountain.

stone scissors paper Fountain
stone X + - -
scissors - X + -
paper + - X +
Fountain + + - X
The table of possible hand signals, expanded to include the figure fountain. Reading from left to right, a plus means the piece wins, a minus means it loses, and the  X means the game is a draw.

If you look at the value of the figures in relation to each other in this representation, you will notice that the figures paper and fountain each win twice and lose only once. If you compare the stone and the well, it is noticeable that they both lose against the paper and win against the scissors, but in a direct comparison the stone draws the short straw. Well there is no symbol worse than stone, but twice better. In game theory, well is a strategy that is dominant to stone . If you eliminate weakly dominated strategies, i.e. if the stone would no longer be chosen, you would have the initial situation again in which each piece wins and loses once against each other (see table below, in which the strategy stone was eliminated and one for Starting situation rock-scissors-paper sets equivalent game).

scissors paper Fountain
scissors X + -
paper - X +
Fountain + - X
The stone has been replaced by the fountain, otherwise nothing changes for the player. Each piece captures each one and is captured once.

Five gestures

There are five symbols in this expansion and, as in the basic version, there are no “better” symbols. The probability of the same symbols, however, decreases.

The match is shown with an outstretched index finger. It burns the paper and swims in the fountain, so it wins. But it is smashed by the stone and cut by the scissors, whereby it loses. The overall result is:

stone scissors paper Fountain match
stone X + - - +
scissors - X + - +
paper + - X + -
Fountain + + - X -
match - - + + X

A variant of this that became known through the series The Big Bang Theory is rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock (English rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock ), in which lizard and Mr. Spock are used instead of matches and fountains : Scissors cut paper, paper covers stone, stone crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors beheads lizard, lizard eats paper, paper refutes Spock, Spock evaporates stone, and stone grinds scissors. This variant was invented by the American Sam Kass together with Karen Bryla.

Other extensions

The game can be supplemented by further hand signals. The addition of many more characters complicates the game and thus the playability. The usefulness is sometimes explained by the fact that it is less likely to show two of the same symbols and thus produce a tie.

Modifications and special forms

Outdoor Morra Game ( Johann Liss , around 1622)

In addition to the most well-known change, the addition of the fountain mentioned above, there are often more additions through symbols such as fire or the like. Often the game is played in such a way that only the one who first has three points or more wins a round. There are also variants in which the speaking rhythm must not get out of step and you have to continue playing with a physical deficit (e.g. on one leg) after each lost round or in which you have to take off an item of clothing after a defeat.

Japanese profit determination

In a widespread Japanese variant of the game, if a gesture is superior, the round is by no means won. To do this, you still have to guess the direction in which the loser will look at the third accent of a stanza that is also rhythmically spoken. To do this, the supposed winner holds his index finger in front of the tip of the nose of the other player and speaks the syllables "Atchi-Muite-Hoi" in the same rhythm as before. On "Hoi", both players have to choose a direction at the same time, i.e. up, down, right or left. The loser in the preliminary round has to jerk his head in one of the four directions on the syllable "Hoi", the possible winner points with his index finger in a spontaneously chosen direction. Only if there is a match does one victory point go to the winner, otherwise the preliminary round (only stone, scissors, paper), which is usual as “Jan-Ken-Pon”, is considered a draw. Often you can still stop the defeat in this way.

Mora / Morra

The finger play Morra or Mora is known especially in Italy , but also in other southern countries . Although the game does not emerge from rock, paper and scissors, there are certain similarities. In this game, both players decide how many fingers on one hand to show their opponent and at the same time try to guess the total number of fingers. Whoever has called the correct total number of fingers shown by both of them has won the game and receives one point. Similar to scissors, stone, paper, the game is played until one of the two players has reached an agreed total number of points.

Even and Odd

Even and odd , already known in ancient Greece and Rome, is a simple game of chance , which consists in picking up different coins or other small objects, closing them and letting someone else guess whether the number of objects is odd or even be.

In the version, which is very similar to Morra, both players also decide how many fingers of one hand to show the opponent. Since it was determined beforehand who wins with an even and who wins with an odd, the attraction of this variant is to combine the number of fingers assumed by the opponent with your own number in such a way that the previously defined assignment of even or odd is achieved at the end . Anyone who matches the previously established assignment receives one point. With this variant of the finger game there is never a draw.

Rock-paper-scissors principle

Sometimes there is talk of the “rock-paper-scissors” principle, mostly in connection with strategy games . This means that a combat unit is superior to certain units, but inferior to others, without these being generally too weak or too strong. This principle ensures that strategic planning must be applied in order to compensate for the weaknesses of one unit by another, and enables various tactical maneuvers due to the resulting diversity of units; it is therefore part of most dueling and strategy games today. Example: Infantry wins against cavalry , archers against infantry, and cavalry against archers.

From a mathematical point of view, the “rock-paper-scissors principle” is an intransitive relation .


  • Benjamin James Dyson, Jonathan Michael Paul Wilbiks, Raj Sandhu, Georgios Papanicolaou, Jaimie Lintag: Negative outcomes evoke cyclic irrational decisions in Rock, Paper, Scissors , Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 20479 (2016), doi: 10.1038 / srep20479
  • Zhijian Wang, Bin Xu, Hai-Jun Zhou: Social cycling and conditional responses in the Rock-Paper-Scissors game , Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 5830 (2014), doi: 10.1038 / srep05830
  • Christian Rieck: Game Theory . 5th edition. Rieck Verlag, ISBN 3-924043-91-4
  • Sepp Linhart : Rituality in the ken game . In: Jan van Bremen, DP Martinez: Ceremony and Ritual in Japan. Religious Practices in an Industrialized Society . Routledge, London & New York 1995, ISBN 0-415-11663-5 . Pp. 38-66
  • Douglas Walker, Graham Walker: The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide . Fireside Books ( Simon & Schuster ), New York 2004, ISBN 978-0-7432-6751-9

Web links

Commons : Scissors, Rock, Paper  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  2. World RPS Society: How to beat someone at Rock, Paper, Scissors , accessed October 17, 2017
  3. Wang (2014), Dyson (2016)
  4. Teresa Nauber: How you win more often at Schnick-Schnack-Schnuck , Die Welt, April 20, 2016
  5. Jie Gao, Yanjie Su, Masaki Tomonaga, Tetsuro Matsuzawa (2017) Learning the rules of the rock-paper-scissors game: chimpanzees versus children. In: Primates, doi: 10.1007 / s10329-017-0620-0
  6. Sam Kass: Rock Paper Scissors Spock Lizard .
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on May 7, 2006 .