I looked into my opponent's eyes, and they weren't kind. His right fist, resting on his left palm—what would it do? The referee threw his hand in the air, and the pounding began; one count, two counts and then—oh, as sharp as a knife in the chest!—two outstretched fingers, pointed victoriously in the direction of my feebly flattened palm.
"Scissors cut paper!" declared the referee, and with a swift hole-punch on my competitor's badge, I had been cruelly eliminated in the first annual Rock Paper Scissors Championship at Roshambo Winery.
That was five years ago, but the memory still burns. Not since I'd played Little League had I felt such a surge of adrenaline, a crazed rush of competitive vigor, and then a complete deflating of the ego. After all, if you can't win at Rock Paper Scissors, what in God's name can you win at?
No one with anything even remotely resembling a sense of humor can deny the brilliance of an actual Rock Paper Scissors championship; the only strategy is to pretend, so hard and so convincingly, that there is, in fact, a strategy, therefore intimidating the opponent into throwing the wrong hand. Or the right one. It is luck, after all, right?
Graham Walker, co-author of the Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide, doesn't think so. His tips involve a blend of simple statistics (most rookies, for example, throw rock first, while paper is thrown the least overall) and tactical psychoanalysis of opponents' moves (watching for patterns, counting throws, anticipating moves based on prior outcomes). There's even a whole category of ways to mentally suggest a throw into the opponent's mind.
These tips may work—or they might not. Last year's champion, Philadelphia's Kristen Lantz, was returning from a Hawaiian honeymoon with her husband when, on a layover whim, the newlyweds decided to drive to Healdsburg to compete. She outlasted 256 other opponents and took home the $1,000 purse, prompting Roshambo president Naomi Brilliant to declare, "This just proves that guys have no idea what's going on in a girl's mind, while the ladies know exactly what guys are thinking."
Part competition, part theater of the absurd, the Rock Paper Scissors Championship has drawn lovers of good, clean fun for five years now. But not everyone is amused. Josh Drake, erstwhile promoter of the Supreme Pro Wrestling matches at Petaluma's Phoenix Theater, was overheard condemning the Championship recently. "Let me just go on record," the wrestling honcho declared, "by saying that that's not actually a sport."
The fifth annual Rock Paper Scissors Tournament takes place on Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Flamingo Hotel. 2777 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Noon to 6pm. $20 competitors (advance registration a must); $10 spectators. www.roshambowinery.com.