Three Throws and Infinite Possibilities @ 20 Nov 2015
an interview with Master Roshambollah, the greatest Rock Paper Scissors player of all time - written by Steinar Hansen (translated into English by Bill Helfer)
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND (NFFSSP.NO): I was more than a little excited as my flight from Oslo came to end and I was once again in the familiar confines of Keflavík International Airport. My excitement was partially due to the combination of strong coffee and slight turbulence, but I was also aware that I was on my way to meet a legend.
Master Roshambollah (or "Master Rosh," as his acolytes feverishly call him) is known as the world's greatest Rock Paper Scissors player.
Master Roshambollah (to the right) - the world's greatest Rock Paper Scissors player.
He has competed on three different continents, and in the United States provided color commentary for nationally televised tournaments on ESPN, A&E, and Fox Sports. He wrote the foreword to the Official World Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide, and has been interviewed in the USA by National Public Radio, the Discovery Channel, the Travel Channel, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
With the upcoming Norwegian Rock Paper Scissors Association (Norsk Forbund for Stein Saks Papir, or, NFSSP) championship coming up on December 5th at BLÅ in Oslo, I decided it was time to ask the man a few questions and hopefully improve my game.
I spoke with Roshambollah briefly on the phone, and we decided to meet in person for an interview. He politely declined to meet me in Oslo, muttering something about an outstanding bench warrant and a former romantic partner with whom he'd rather not share a time zone. We arranged a meetup at the Ölstofan bar in Reykjavik, and I arrived with an open mind, though still wary of the legendary player as a force with which to be reckoned.
In a pre-flight briefing, former NFSSP president Geir "The Viking" Arne Brevik took me aside and said "Be sure to greet Master Rosh warmly, shake hands with your right hand, but keep your left hand on your wallet." With this in mind, I entered the Ölstofan and saw the Master in the darkest corner of the bar. Our conversation follows:
STEINAR HANSEN: Master Roshambollah, I presume?
MASTER ROSHAMBOLLAH: And you must be Steinar. (NFSSP President) Markus Thonhaugen told me you'd be coming. Great to meet you, and I look forward to drinking the blood of our enemies together some day.
SH: Excuse me?
MR: Never mind. It is a figure of speech. But you came here to learn about what you call Stein Saks Papir, did you not?
SH: That is correct. I was hoping you could fill me in a little on the past and future of competitive Stein Saks Papir, or Rock Paper Scissors, as well as give me a few tips for the competition.
MR: Ah yes, the Norwegian National Championships are on December 5th. You do realize that many of the other competitors have already been in training for two months? It's always this way: The low barrier to entry encourages amateur play. And some times, raw ability does beat hard work and training. Still, it's good to have both on one's side.
Master Rosh is a long time friend of NFSSP.
SH: How did you get started in Rock Paper Scissors (RPS)?
MR: As a youth, I would regularly beat players twice my own age. At the time, I was considered to be the RPS equivalent of a young Bobby Fischer in the chess world. Many years later, influenced by the World RPS Society's web site, I organized the first RPS tournament on record, the 2002 Burning Man Open.
In the intervening years, I wrote extensively on the subject, traveled the world playing RPS, and became somewhat of a media figure. These days I prefer the life of quiet contemplation on the Three Noble Throws to that of tournament competition, though I am told I am still quite a devious player in unlicensed and Street RPS.
SH: What is your relationship with Norwegian SSP?
MR: In the early days of the World RPS Society's World Championships, players were drawn from across the globe. We had players from the US and Canada, of course, but also players from Australia, New Zealand, the Ukraine, and the UK. The first Norwegian to enter the event was Geir Arne Brevik.
He was as much of a scout as an emissary, intense but quiet, and kept to himself until the traditional karaoke session the night prior to the tournament (Rock Paper Scissors players typically go out for karaoke prior to a tournament, as the song selection is used to intimidate and give false information.)
Though he had barely spoken to us before, Geir Arne stood and gave a stunning rendition of Britney Spears' "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." From that moment on, Norwegian RPS was on the international map.
Founder of NFSSP, Geir Arne Brevik (behind, in the middle) together with the 2005 national team.
SH: When was the next time you saw Geir Arne?
MR: The next year, he returned with five or six of Norway's finest. These athletes all went on to become legendary figures in the international Rock Paper Scissors scene. In addition to Geir "The Viking" Arne Brevik, there were players such as Pal "The Wall" Magnusson, Mikkel "The Terminator" Aukrust, and Martin "Sledgehammer" Giset.
They, and others like them, became mainstays at the World Championships, and were immediately considered among the sport's elite. The first year, they did not do well. Having spent all their money on food, drink. and ill-timed wagers, Team Norway was unable to afford a cab, and had to walk back to their hotel (this event became known as the "Norwegian Trail of Tears.") But they returned next year better than before, and fielded their first ever Street Champion, in addition to relieving many competitors of their extra pocket change.
No, not all of us liked the Norwegians, but we certainly respected them. The masked RPS player known only as the Midnight Rider once told me that a match vs. Geir Arne was the toughest of his career. "Sure, I won the match, but at what cost?" he told me. "I had more grey hairs after the match, and it probably took a year or two off of my life. Would I play the match again? Don't be stupid. You don't get an honor like that every day. I'd play the match again, regardless of personal cost."
SH: You make it sound like Rock Paper Scissors is more like a combat sport than a mere game.
MR: Rock Paper Scissors is one-on-one spiritual and psychic combat, make no mistake. I used to say that RPS took the mental agility of chess player and the physical skills of a boxer. These days, I think it's the other way around. It's a sport for everyone, but not everyone can make a career of the sport.
To be best, one must lay down a lot of hard work. Here is RPS-legend Pål The Wall Magnusson (to the right) photographed in a street-match during the 2008 World Championship in Toronto, Canada.
SH: But isn't it all luck?
MR: If I had a Krone for every time I've been asked that question... Well, I guess I could buy off that Oslo judge and we could have had this discussion in Norway...
No, there is no element of luck in RPS, aside from the luck of the draw in tournament play.
You could get matched up with a weak player or a strong player. That's all the luck you're going to see. There are some games that are all luck: Casino games like roulette, for instance.
There are some games that combine luck and skill, such as poker. In poker, the cards you receive are all luck, but the way you play your cards requires skill.
SH: So you're saying there is strategy in RPS?
«In RPS, you can choose any throw at any time. It is this ability to determine your throws that makes luck irrelevant.»
MR: Of course. It is the world's oldest strategy game. With only two game elements you get simple luck-based games such as a coin flip. With three elements you have what is known as an non-transitive tripartite arrangement: Each elements beats one element, loses to another, and ties with itself. There is no simpler arrangement.
SH: You mentioned training earlier. How does one train for RPS?
«You have only three throws, correct, but within those three throws you have infinite possibilities.»
MR: Like any professional athlete, a six to eight week progressive training schedule is best. Most professional Rock Paper Scissors players combine proper rest and diet, stretching exercises, and weight lifting (low weights and high repetitions, in order to decrease fatigue and muscle soreness in competition.)
Along the way, there should be plenty of practice matches against different types of players, balanced with studying the great historical matches of the sport and learning different strategies.
«There should be plenty of practice matches against different types of players», advise Master Rosh.
SH: You keep mentioning strategies. The World RPS Society maintains a list of popular "gambits": three throw sequences such as the Avalanche (three rocks) and the Fistful of Dollars (rock, paper, paper.) Do you have a favorite gambit? A favorite throw? What's your preferred strategy?
MR: Focus on one specific strategy is not important, and can actually be detrimental. I do not have a favorite throw these days. At one time, I realized that over thousands of throws, I was using less paper than either other throw. I spent a few months throwing nothing but paper to put my lifetime percentages closer to 33%.
Likewise with the gambits; they are important building blocks for personal strategy, but one should not be confined to them. US player C. Urbanus (known in Norway as "Der Legenden") often writes "scripts" of predetermined throws up to ten throws long. He does this because he likes to formulate his strategy regardless of opponent, and scripting is the ultimate in non-reactive play.
SH: Yes, but what is *your* preferred strategy?
MR: I prefer a dynamic complex adaptive approach. I usually start by visually "reading" an opponent. I don't look at their hands or eyes so much as I scan their aura for electromagnetic disruptions. You can tell a lot by stance and physical movement as well. However, I usually begin a match with an attempt to influence my opponent to throw what I want them to throw. This is very important.
SH: Why is that?
MR: At least once a year, a news story will come out with the latest "foolproof" rock paper scissors strategy. Most of these strategies are passive, and focus on patterns of play held by large groups of people most of the time. Professional players love these articles, because they make all the amateurs play the same way for a few months.
Seriously, if a major article comes out and says that most people never throw scissors after paper, most Pros will start doing it. Influencing another player to do what you want is in many cases far easier than reading what they are about to do. Ways of influencing other players can be as simple as saying the name of a throw when you're in the priming phase.
A lot of players will throw what you tell them to throw. You can also show someone a pair of scissors, for instance, and they will throw it. These examples are very obvious, but there are much more devious approaches. Interested parties should contact me to attend one of my Roshambollah Learning Systems seminars. It may seem expensive at first, but can you afford *not* to attend?
Norwegian RPS-pro Mikkel "The Terminator" Aukrust getting ready for a match during the 2006 World Championship in Toronto, Canada.
SH: So you're saying that an active approach is better than a passive approach?
MR: Of course, one must have both, but I find most beginning players focus exclusively on the passive approaches like reading physical "tells" and patterns. Sometimes you can beat a player more easily by reading them, but some players require a little push.
The best possible approach is to combine both active and passive stances. Let's say your assessment of another player's six-month statistical record shows that they have a 37% chance of opening with paper. There are many simple "mind control" approaches that can nudge those chances up another 10%. That's almost a 50% chance of opening with paper! Yes, please!
SH: Speaking of beginning players, do you have any other advice for newbies?
MR: Arrive at the venue on time. Familiarize yourself with the rules. That last part may sound ridiculous, but different organizations play the game differently. Some play "one two SHOOT" and some play "one two THREE shoot."
Some tournaments are best two of three throws, some are best two of three sets (a set is a best two of three throws) and some are "race to ten." You have got to know these things and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Another good tip for beginners is to be nice to the referees. A lot of us old-school players like to pick on the refs from time to time ("If it's got stripes and stinks, it's either a ref or a skunk!) but we have known many of them for years. Win or lose, you won't get anywhere by antagonizing a ref. Finally, and most importantly, have fun at the tournament!
SH: Master Rosh, this subject is much bigger than I thought, but I think I'm finally on the right path. I won't claim that I'll win the Norwegian RPS Championships, but I think a final sixteen finish is within my means. Thank you for your time. Any final words for our Norwegian readers?
MR: If you run into my Norwegian ex, tell her I said hello. She's a real witch. I don't mean that in an offensive way; she's an Ásatrú priestess who worships Skadi, the goddess of Winter, who is also very skilled with weapons (I mean the goddess and my ex are both very skilled with weapons.) Anyway, if you run into her, send my regards, and tell her I wish her nothing but the best.