Hand-to-Hand Combat 

Fear and Rock Paper Scissors in Las Vegas

Jim Peeken nearly passed up his chance to represent Tucson in last month's USA Rock Paper Scissors League championship in Las Vegas.

Peeken, a guitarist in the local rock band Fourkiller Flats who works at downtown's Rialto Theatre, wasn't planning on entering the local competition to determine the best Rock Paper Scissors player in Southern Arizona, with the winner landing two plane tickets and a three-night stay at the Luxor, as well as the chance to compete for a $50,000 grand prize, courtesy of Bud Light.

"At first, I turned my nose up at it, because there was all this corporate sponsorship, and I was like, 'They've totally co-opted the thing,'" Peeken says.

Peeken is more of a Rock Paper Scissors purist. His interest in the game was sparked a few years ago, when he read a New York Times article examining how the conflict-resolution contest was popular with patrons of East Coast bars. Peeken soon discovered the Web page of the World Rock Paper Scissors Society at www.worldrps.com.

The Canada-based global organization goes far beyond the basics of the game--Rock crushes Scissors; Scissors cut Paper; Paper covers Rock--known to schoolchildren everywhere. The Canadians, who say they've been "serving the needs of decision makers since 1918," delve into strategies and gambits in professional play, which consists of three rounds, each with three throws. For example, a player who throws Paper three consecutive times is utilizing the "bureaucrat gambit," which they describe as "the ultimate in passive-aggressive play."

Peeken remains skeptical that the game is actually "the father of all martial arts," as the WRPSS Web page suggests, but says it's not all about luck.

"As with anything else, like poker, there's an element of chance, of course, but there's definitely some strategy involved," says Peeken, who favors a combination of intimidation and misdirection.

Peeken, who had organized a Rock Paper Scissors championship at the Fourth Avenue bar Plush a few years ago, was distressed when the upstart USA Rock Paper Scissors League landed sponsorship from Budweiser, because it seemed to be nothing more than "a vehicle for selling Bud Light."

But the idea of representing the old-school style of play--as well as winning a free trip to Vegas and competing for $50,000--changed his mind.

"I decided: I'm going to school these people," Peeken says. "I'm going to show them what Rock Paper Scissors is all about."

Peeken climbed into the ring at a qualifying match at Club Congress and brought out "this whole other persona," playing with an intensity that surprised even him.

"Most people weren't taking it seriously, and they said, 'What's up with this guy? He's fucking crazy!'" Peeken remembers.

No one could stand before his devastating assault. He crushed any and all opposition, landing a spot in the final citywide competition. In the weeks that followed, he became a bit obsessive, forcing his girlfriend into playing round after round of Rock Paper Scissors. Peeken recalls her reaction was along the lines of: "You're crazy. You're driving me nuts. I don't want to play any more Rock Paper Scissors."

But the training paid off with a win at Rusty's that qualified him for the Vegas trip.

"I felt great," Peeken says. "In some ways, I felt a sense of vindication, like the nerds are still in charge of the sport."

When he arrived in Vegas, his worst fears about the sport were realized. At a pre-competition poolside party, he found himself surrounded by a "sea of backwards baseball caps." Hundreds of frat boys were everywhere, chanting "All hail Bud Light!"

But in the end, it wasn't a frat boy that brought him down. It was a young woman with a bare midriff that he found himself facing in the first round.

"That's a tactic that a lot of girls in the sport use," Peeken says. "I was not deterred by her exposed midriff, but she had written on her stomach: 'Scissors first.'"

Peeken reasoned that was a sure sign she wasn't going to throw Scissors. So he went with Paper, figuring that if she threw Rock, he'd win; if she threw Paper, he'd tie.

Sure enough, she threw Rock, giving him the win. But she proved to be a cagey opponent who "caught on to me as much as I caught on to her."

As the battle raged back and forth, Peeken found himself winning a few, losing a few and tying a few until the pair ended up even for the final throw.

"It was essentially like bottom of the ninth, two men out, three men on, three balls, two strikes," Peeken says.

His gut instinct told him she wasn't going to throw Scissors. As he pumped his hand, he told himself to throw Paper, but at the last second, he changed his mind and threw Scissors.

She threw Rock. Game over.

"I felt pretty sour," Peeken says. "I had it in my mind that I was going to be the guy who went up there and said, 'Nerds rule!' But it didn't happen. Instead, people were chanting, 'Show us your tits' or 'More Bud Light!'"

Peeken's arm has been sore since the end of the tournament, and he doesn't know what the future holds for his game. The Canadians are having a big tournament in Toronto this summer, but he can't afford the airfare, and they don't have the corporate sponsorship to pick up his tab.

"But if somebody wants to sponsor me and pay for my flight to Toronto, I think it would rekindle my flame for the sport," Peeken says.

More by Jim Nintzel


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