Like most people, your only experience with rock-paper-scissors was when you and your siblings played to decide who got to control the car radio. But this is 2015 and we’re all adults now, so rock-paper-scissors is now a high-stakes drinking competition.
In the middle of its 10th season, the Pabst Blue Ribbon Philadelphia Rock Paper Scissors League hosts regular tournaments where competitors face off in hand-to-hand, rapid-fire sessions of rock-paper-scissors.
“Whatever you’re imagining, you’re wrong,” Emilio Mendez, third-season participant, said. “You have to see it to believe it.”
Players face off on either side of a referee, who closely monitors the throws to watch out for fouls. Yes, fouls, as laid out in the League’s extensive 2,700-word rules page of its website. Among these rules include strict adherence to proper throws, making note of the “vertical paper,” sometimes referred to as “the handshake” which is “especially bad form.”
Current Managing Director, Commissioner and head ref Anthony Iacobucci describes the hand game as a way to escape the pressures of being an adult.
“It’s a place and an activity where you can really just shed and forget a lot about your adult life for at least a few hours and just engage in a childhood game,” Iacobucci said. “[You can] just go back to having fun purely for the sake of having fun.”
Players usually compete under aliases and stage names. For example, Mendez, who dons a bandana while playing, goes by the Chicken Thief, but “morphs” into the Chicken Ranger as the night progresses.
You don’t have to show up and be the person you are from your regular 9 to 5 job,” Iacobucci, who formerly played as Dick Nasty but now goes by his alter ego, Richard Classy, said. “You have the opportunity to ham it up a bit.”
While the game may be seemingly simple and random, players incorporate strategy into what hands they throw.
“On its face, it is absolutely a game that is broken up by 33.3 percent chance for each individual throw to win,” Iacobucci said. “But the problem is that you can’t really take the mathematical statistic of winning and introduce the human element and expect it to come out that way.”
Some players go as far as scouting what other players are doing at the table so that if they come up against them later in the night they might be able to exploit patterns.
“It’s a game of paying attention and knowing your opponent,” Iacobucci said.
The demographic of players varies in both age — ranging from early 20s to early 40s — and by gender.
“If you were to look at it, you might think, OK, this is probably something that is more dominated by nerdy guys,” Iacobucci said. “You’d be surprised that it’s probably split right down the middle between guys and girls that play.”
Each season, which runs from mid-April to early June, consists of 31 tournaments at bars around the city, including Dirty Franks, 12 Steps Down, The Raven Lounge and Murph’s Bar. At the end of the season, a championship tournament is held with various prizes, including a $1,000 grand prize. To participate in the championship, players must participate in at least five season tournaments.
While still attracting a relatively small audience, the Philadelphia RSP scene is growing.
“Back when it was first started 10 years ago, you might have a night where maybe 10 or 12 people showed up to play,” Iacobucci said. “Now we’ve grown that to a point where, last night, we had 38 players come out and play in the tournament. It’s not a huge burst, but it’s definitely something that has caught on over the years, being such a niche activity.”
More than 200 players participate throughout the season, according to Iacobucci.
Information about tournaments can be found on the League’s website. The championship tournament will be held on June 13.