Hands-on competition

Friday, April 29, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:51 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The two men faced each other, palms outstretched and fists at the ready. One, two, three primes and then the shot.

One man threw scissors, the other paper.

And, as we all know, scissors cut paper — making Michael Hartsock the victor in his first round of rock, paper, scissors. “I was just playing on intuition really,” Hartsock said Wednesday after sweeping Jason Gass in the prelims to qualify for the finals of the Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament, a fund-raiser sponsored by the MU Student Foundation.

Today’s final rounds begin at 3 p.m. in Brady Commons. The 24 players who qualified for the final rounds have been organized into a bracket for competition. MU’s first lady, Anne Deaton, will officiate as the contestants vie for the champion’s crown, plaque and $100 gift certificate to Shakespeare’s Pizza.

“It’s April Madness,” said Hannah Davis, a member of the foundation’s leadership team.

It’s possible that Gass’ overconfidence may be to blame for his poor showing in the tournament. Before the first game, he said he was not at all nervous and thought he had a 50 percent chance to win three of five games to qualify for the finals. Minutes later and down two games, Gass was faced with the possibility of a quick exit from the tournament.

“I was a little crushed, but still hopeful I could make a comeback,” he said of his precarious position.

To rack up a game win and stay in the tournament, Gass would have to win two of the next three rounds. The outcome of the third game was uncertain at first as both men opened with a scissors-sandwich gambit — gambit being three moves made in a row with strategic intention, according to “The Master’s Guide to Rock, Paper & Scissors.” The paper, scissors, paper moves meant ties in the first three rounds, and an extra two rounds had to be played before Gass’ quest for the champion’s crown was dashed.

The MU Student Foundation, an organization new to campus last fall, organized the tournament as a way to promote the group and raise money for student scholarships.

“We’re hoping to raise money, but if we don’t, at least we get our name out,” said Hillary Miller, a member of the foundation’s leadership team.

The organization is offered as a service-learning class and requires a year-long commitment. Currently, 11 students are enrolled and they typically put in about eight hours of work each week plus class time.

“They’re hoping to encourage a spirit of students helping other students in the academic community,” said Anne-Marie Foley, professor and adviser for the organization.

The goal of the foundation is to educate students on the importance of scholarships and provide them with an opportunity to support other students through scholarships. The group has decided to focus on raising money and awarding it to working students, specifically those who work more than 20 hours a week. A campus report showed such students often drop out of MU. The scholarship theme will be reviewed every few years to determine if a new one is needed.

The first scholarships will be awarded in the fall, funded by the group’s fund-raisers and donations from private citizens. The foundation itself is dually funded by the Office of Service Learning and the Office of Development.

Competitors in the tournament were asked to donate between $1 and $3 to enter preliminary rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. They had to win three of five games, against different opponents if they wished, to qualify for today’s finals. Volunteer referees were charged with ensuring that contestants played by the rules posted on the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society’s Web site, The contestants who made it to the finals won T-shirts and gift certificates.

“It’s just a way to encourage students to have fun and become part of the community,” Foley said of the tournament, which she suggested after hearing about a group at the University of Oregon that hosted a rock, paper, scissors event. “The issue really is that students can help other students, and students can benefit others in the community, and have some fun doing it.” The tournament raised $117.

Hartsock would have faced tough competition in the semifinals. Grant Bracken considers himself an experienced player.

“I played a lot of role-playing games as a kid, so I played a lot of RPS,” Bracken said, referring to the game’s use as a decision-making tool.

While Hartsock may throw down a rock or paper based on intuition, Bracken’s moves are determined by strategy. “You figure what’s most likely what your opponent’s going to do based on their pattern,” he said. “The newbie is the person you have to worry about the most because they have no strategy.”

Bracken entered the semifinals with confidence. “I don’t want to claim that I’m going to win,” he said. “But I’m going to win.”

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