RPS never lies,” says Master Pete Lovering, the reigning World Rock Paper Scissors champion. In the epic 2002 final, Master Pete won $1,200 by throwing “the rock heard ’round the world.” As he shuffles into Kool Haus, a Toronto concert hall, more than 900 RPS fans and competitors squeeze closer to catch a glimpse of this grinning Zen master. Wearing his distinctive green bathrobe and blue straw cowboy hat, Master Pete is favored to triumph again tonight, October 25th, his thirty-sixth birthday. Asked for a prediction, Master Pete says simply, “There will be no error.”
But he’s facing unprecedented competition. According to organizers Douglas and Graham Walker of the World RPS Society, 320 competitors have trekked to the Molson Canadian Rock Paper Scissors International World Championship from Scotland, London, Germany, New York, Hawaii and across Canada. They’ve all come to win a purse of $5,000.
The rules are simple: Paper covers rock. Scissors cuts paper. Rock breaks scissors (although in Canada, the Walkers claim, rock wins by “dulling” scissors). There are many teams here, but everyone must compete solo in a single-elimination ladder; to win a match and advance to the next round, a competitor must take two “best-two-of-three” sets.
Their backs to Kool Haus’ bar, two RPS masters size up their pre-event competition: Master Roshambollah, 32, a professional body piercer from Washington, D.C., is ruggedly handsome in his trademark blue velvet tuxedo and conical bamboo hat. To his left, wearing a vintage cream suit, is C. Urbanus, 27, who was introduced to RPS in high school by actress Piper Perabo, star of Coyote Ugly. Urbanus hails from New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he is currently unemployed, leaving him plenty of time to practice his intricate RPS strategies.
Master Roshambollah claims Urbanus is a notorious “scripter.” This means Urbanus plans dozens of moves in advance by linking three-move “gambits” (e.g., throwing a sequence of paper, scissors, paper, known as a Scissors Sandwich). Urbanus also invented the Urbanus Defense, in which he intentionally loses the first point in a match. “This lulls the other player into thinking they have an advantage, which in turn gives me the advantage,” says Urbanus. But despite the soothing presence of Lauren Hood, 25, his girlfriend and live-in trainer, Urbanus seems nervous. When pressed, he admits he’s nursing a scissors-related ligament strain.
The RPS Championship is like a high-stakes Star Trek convention, but with binge drinking and better-looking women. One fan favorite is a mesmerizing twenty-one-year-old blonde known as Force of the Fist. Last year, clad in lowrider jeans and distracting lacy panties, she was the highest-finishing female. Tonight, Force of the Fist wears a tight, pink dirty bird shirt and is flanked by teammate the Ba, a guy wearing a neoprene glove with a built-in beer holder “to keep my playing hand warm.” A third teammate, twenty-six-year-old Fistful o’ Sneer, carries a measuring tape to psych out opponents by measuring the correct distance between their throwing hands. (According to the official RPS tournament rules at worldrps.com, this is “no less than one cubit and no more than two cubits.”)
The hard-drinking trailer trash who call themselves Team Slut prance for the TV cameras and pour beers on one another’s heads; they also have a teammate dressed in a lion suit with “Team Slut” penned on his soft beige underbelly. He lurches around, bumping into members of Team U.K., six London dandies in identical Union Jack suits. “The biggest concern for us, frankly, are the rank amateurs in this hall,” says Team U.K.’s Andrew Cumming, 27. “It’s hard to defend against their random kind of game. It’s unnerving. If you’re playing against a professional, at least you know you’re on the same level.” To further confuse the Brits, a guy in a blue shirt unveils a laptop computer named Deep Mauve, which will compete by randomly generating rock, paper or scissors.
Then the emcee announces, “Let your paper be horizontal, your scissors be vertical and your rock be rock hard. You may begin.” The matches start with a flurry of fingers. Scissors chop. Rocks smash. Papers smother. Within minutes, dozens of competitors are crushed like the sponsored beer cans on the floor. A man screams and sinks to his knees, gazing helplessly at his outstretched fingers. Suddenly, the beer-drenched Team Slut lion is poached, and he falls heavily to the jungle floor. Adding salt to his wounds, someone steals the noble beast’s tail. The lion staggers around the arena, shouting, “What am I gonna do now? I look like a fucking retarded squirrel.”
Master Roshambollah advances, as does Master Pete. But Deep Mauve gets beaten in the qualifying round, as does a dejected C. Urbanus. “We were all hoping for me to go further,” Urbanus says. “Especially me.” Lauren Hood, his trainer, advances to the next round. “Which is odd enough, because I pay her to train me,” says Urbanus. “You can’t help thinking in the back of your mind, ‘Maybe she set me up.’ She wanted to make it, she knew who her top competition was, so . . . I’m pretty emotional right now. It’s horrible.”
Then a massive upset stuns the arena: Hood advances to the round of sixteen by defeating the number-one seed, Master Pete Lovering. The crowd is hushed. A giant has fallen. “It feels extraordinary,” gushes Hood. Magnanimous in defeat, Master Pete doffs his cowboy hat and lends it to Hood. But when she faces her next opponent, she takes the hat off and plays bareheaded. She loses, leaving Master Pete disgusted: “I don’t give that [hat] away for nothing. It’s spoils of war. If you cut off somebody’s ear on the battlefield, you have to respect what you’ve just done and carry it through to the next battle.”
The final match becomes an instant classic: the Trauma in Toronto, pitting Fistful o’ Sneer (a.k.a. Marc Rigaux) against the Legion of the Red Fist’s Rob Krueger, 31, who wears a single red glove and a wig as black as doom. The two warriors stand facing each other, alone beneath the spotlights. They stretch their necks. Krueger flexes his red-clad fingers. Then the referee raises his hand to start the best-of-five finale. The combatants simultaneously hurl scissors: a stalemate. Then they tie again, this time throwing paper. Then scissors again! The crowd is hysterical. Four throws later, Fistful wins the first set by hurling a rock that deftly smashes (and/or dulls) Krueger’s scissors.
In the mosh pit, the crowd sprays beer at the photographers and shouts, “Rock! Rock! Rock!” But Krueger battles back, taking the next two sets by flinging paper. So the crowd starts chanting “Paper! Paper! Paper!” In the incredibly tense fourth set, the referee penalizes Krueger for throwing “vertical paper,” an illegal hand foul. Krueger pauses and sucks a deep breath, then he and Fistful throw five straight stalemates. The crowd is in a frenzy. Fistful loses the next point by throwing an ill-advised rock to Krueger’s canny paper. At match point, Fistful neatly snips Krueger’s paper, and they move to the fifth and deciding set.
First they stalemate with twin scissors. Then identical rocks. Then Krueger unleashes the Fistful o’ Dollars gambit (rock, paper, paper) against Fistful o’ Sneer’s Avalanche (rock, rock, rock). Paper covers rock! Fistful sags in defeat. The new World RPS champion, Rob Krueger, thrusts his red fist high in victory.
The arena goes wild. Graham presents Krueger with a gold medal, trophy and oversize $5,000 novelty check. Krueger’s sunglasses reflect hundreds of camera flashes. Asked if he has any advice for the kids, he says, “RPS heroes are role models. Get out and play. This sport rocks!”
At the afterparty in a local bar, Master Pete admits he’s relieved he lost his title. “It was too intense,” says Master Pete. “I did 100 interviews this year. Don’t get me wrong: I love this sport. And the greatest weight I’ve ever had was just lifted off my shoulders.”