Rock. Paper. Scissors. Shoot.

As two serious-minded athletes step onto a dimly lit stage, the crowd erupts with cheers. The two men – one draped with an American flag, the other more conservatively clad – make their steady approach toward one another, as “Eye of the Tiger” permeates through the smoke-saturated room. The referee signals the start of their three-round, single-elimination battle.

“One, two, three, shoot!”

Athens may be hosting this summer’s Olympics, but Saturday night, at the DC9 Lounge, the capital was home to its very own sporting event: the 2004 Magic Hat D.C. National Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) Championship. Often considered child’s play, RPS competitors cite their childhood playground as the beginning of their careers. Friday’s stakes were a bit higher, as the competition drew 128 athletes eager to compete for $1,500 in cash prizes and serious bragging rights.

RPS, as defined by the World RPS Society, which governs all worldwide RPS tournaments, is “a decision-making game of wits, speed, dexterity and strategy,” whose result is to be considered “a binding agreement” between players. Given the obligation to abide by the outcome of the game, the World RPS Society Player’s Responsibility Code offers a solemn warning to all players: “Think twice before using RPS for life-threatening decisions.”

Fortunately, most responsible players simply use RPS as a means to resolve minor everyday disputes such as who will take out the trash and, according to Dave Edelson, co-captain of the local D.C. Gambits, “who gets the last beer in the fridge.” Edelson, the self-proclaimed David Beckham of RPS, also noted that the rising price of gas this summer has led to more bickering about money and consequently increased his recreational RPS play.

The D.C. Gambits, named after the revolutionary RPS technique of using a series of three pre-selected throws, were one of the four local teams – The Associates, the Three Stooges and Team Prince – that came determined to win. Although RPS players compete one-on-one, tournament officials encourage the creation of teams as a source of morale and to intimidate opponents.

While many players found joining teams to be a useful strategy, the majority of independent athletes, such as first-time competitor Dayv Venzino, found the best strategy to be none at all. Venzino, who remarkably placed fourth, claimed to play rather infrequently, operating under the assumption that playing too often makes a competitor more likely to “over-think the game.”

Robert Walton, co-captain of the D.C. Gambits, suggested that as a D.C. resident he would likely employ his preferred gambit, three successive throws of paper known as “the Bureaucrat.” Despite the symbolic gesture to the tournament’s host city, tournament director Jason Simmons agreed that “the best plan is no plan.”

RPS is a mentally and physically challenging sport that requires both training and skill. According to the Elite Training Methods for the RPS Athletes Manual, specific cardiovascular, stretching and strength training exercises should be performed daily.

However, as the competition was held at a local bar, it became clear that there is an unwritten players’ preparation guide.

“Drinking is definitely a big part of it,” Walton said. “But there is a critical limit.”

Regardless of one’s training regimen, however, Simmons said the only true way to distinguish a professional RPS competitor from an amateur is the player’s “ability to win.”

And despite a few referee disputes and the team rivalries that ensued – the D.C. Gambit’s chant “D.C.G.” was countered with “D.C. Terrible” – this year’s championship was “definitely a success,” Simmons said.

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