Welcome, Aphelios. Whereabouts are you from? One of the things I like the most about RPS is its universality - people play it (or a version of it) in nearly every country in the world.
R Cohrs made some good points in his reply. One thing that is worth making clearer, though, is the difference between patterns and tells.
What are patterns and tells?
Patterns and tells are both forms of information.
Patterns are information you get from the choice of throws your opponent makes. Examples of patterns you might notice your opponent following:
- always opening with Rock
- never repeating a throw if he just lost with it
- often repeating Paper twice, but not a third time
- throwing Rock on match point (when the scores are tied and the next throw wins the match)
Tells are any other useful information you get from your opponent. This could be through how they stand, what they say, or subtle facial movements that you can often only pick up on subconsciously. Examples of an opponent's tells might include him:
- blinking when he's about to repeat a throw
- shifting his stance when he's about to change throws
- throwing Paper whenever he says "I dare you to throw Paper!"
- growling like an angry bear before he throws Rock
- throwing Rock next, whenever he throws a palm-up Paper ('Feed the Pony' style)
These tells give you a direct insight into what your opponent is likely to throw (or not throw) next. The final example is a tell, rather than a pattern, because the information comes not from what he threw, but from how he threw it.
Tells can also reveal more indirect information. For example, you might notice your opponent:
- becoming more talkative at times when he's particularly unsure what you will throw next
- muttering to himself if he's 'scripting' (following a pre-chosen sequence of throws), and trying to remember what to throw next
- scratching his head when his strategy isn't working
These kind of tells don't directly indicate what particular throw he will throw next, but they can still be useful to notice, especially in long-format matches. For example, if you picked up on your opponent's scissor-exclusive strategy at the start of the match, giving you a 4-2 lead, and then your opponent scratches his head, you know that he may be about to change his tactics.
How should you use patterns and tells?
Generally, it's more useful to focus on spotting patterns rather than tells. This is because patterns recur time and again, even during a single match, while many tells are too specific to be useful very often. (For example, you may have noticed your opponent throws Paper after he yawns, but since RPS is such an exciting sport, he might only yawn one time in every ten matches.) Also, patterns tend to re-occur across various opponents more often than tells do.
A few examples of patterns that novice players often follow:
- Throwing Rock most often, and Scissors least often
- Rarely throwing the same throw three times in a row
- Changing their throw if they just lost (e.g. throwing Scissors or Paper after losing with Rock)
- Always switching down (Rock - Scissors - Paper) or up (Rock - Paper - Scissors)
On the other hand, if a player is unaware of his or her tell, that tell can linger in their play over years, even decades, so tells can give you a very profitable edge over a regular opponent.
Because different people have different tells, it's better to focus on developing your general powers of awareness, and picking up on your opponents' uniquenesses, as R Cohrs says, rather than have a 'list of tells' that you look for in all your opponents. That said, here are a few examples of tells that you might notice novice players doing:
- Clenching their fist tightly if they're about to throw Rock
- Shifting their stance when they're about to change throw
- Starting the next prime quickly when they're going to repeat their previous throw (or pausing when they're about to change throw)
It's vital, when playing experienced RPS players, to remember R Cohr's other point - that players can deliberately develop tells to mislead their opponents. An example: occasionally in the early stages of a match, I deliberately lean forward towards my opponent aggressively as we prepare to prime, and then throw Rock. If my opponent notices this tell, when it comes to the crucial throw, I lean forward but throw Scissors.
For both patterns and tells, it's all about awareness. If you notice your opponent's patterns and tells, you can exploit them, by reading your opponent. If you notice your own patterns and tells, you can avoid them, to make yourself less readable. This is one reason why training with others is so valuable - you can often notice and point out someone else's tells more easily than you can notice your own, so you learn about your tells from each other.
Once you know about a particular tell of yours, you have a choice. You can either try to eliminate it from your play, or you can continue doing it, but use it to your advantage. That can be risky, because to trick your opponent, you have to stay aware of your tell. If you do it subconsciously, you're open and vulnerable to a sharp opponent. And if they know you know about your tell, then it gets increasingly complex, in line with Sicilian reasoning: "If he knows I know he knows I shift my feet when I change throws..."
Finally, I want to echo Master Rosh's advice to R Cohrs. Look people in the eye. And trust your intuition. Intuition isn't just guesswork - it's your brain doing what it's evolved to do - spotting patterns subconsciously and reacting to them effectively. Trying to master patterns and tells with your rational mind alone is like trying to win a 100m race by hopping. Great RPS players don't out-think their opponents, they outplay them.