The Major Company That Played the Most Expensive Game of Rock, Paper, Scissors Ever


While you’ve probably never heard of Maspro
Denkoh, a Japanese company founded in 1952
that makes various TV reception equipment,
among other things, they will likely forever
be remembered in the annals of business lore
thanks to a rather oddball decision made by
Takashi Hashiyama- the man who would head
the company for a little over half a century
before his death in 2007 at the age of 76.
Over his years as president of the company,
Hashiyama deciding to have the business buy
various works of art to hang around, most
notably in 1996 purchasing Les grands arbres
au Jas de Bouffan by Paul Cézanne for $7.9
million (about $12.8 million today).
Among many other works he collected over the
years include Picasso’s Boulevard de Clichy
and Van Goh’s Vue de la chambre de l’artiste,
rue Lepic.
Fast-forward to 2004 and seeing an opportunity
to make a rather tidy profit on the art work
during a time when business was lagging a
little, Hashiyama decided to auction off the
art collection the company had accumulated.
While up to this point he had mostly dealt
with famed British auction house Sotheby’s
in acquiring various items, he also had a
working relationship with the other of the
Big Two auction houses, Christie’s, via Kanae
Ishibashi, president of Christie’s Japan.
Naturally, when he approached the two auction
houses about such an auction featuring so
many valuable works of art, they both were
eager to land the deal.
As Christie’s deputy chairman Jonathan Rendell
states, “The Maspro Denkoh Corporate Collection
was a jewel in the crown.
It had everything that one wanted to sell
at that precise moment.
You know, the Cezanne, the Picasso, the van
Gogh – they’re trophy names.”
After spending time having their respective
experts examine the collection and coming
up with estimates, the two companies pitched
Hashiyama on the various ways they’d promote
the auction to maximize revenue, as well as
outline their exact terms and how much he
could expect to get from the auction.
The result was that, at least to Hashiyama’s
eyes, “[Both] companies were equally good
and I just could not choose one…”
While it was an option to simply split the
collection between the two, Hashiyama had
little interest in this.
In similar situations where a decision needed
to be made on something to which Hashiyama
could not decide which path was best, he had
a propensity to let the fates decide, using
various games of chance.
On that note, Ishibashi recounted a story
Hashiyama once told her in one of their many
meetings over the years, “[When] his company
was listed in a stock market, which was a
very, very important incident, he chose the
insurance company by throwing dice….”
He notes of all this, “It probably looks strange
to others.
But I believe this is the best way to decide
between two things which are equally good.”
And so it was that Hashiyama called the two
auction houses and informed them of his decision.
Said Ishibashi, “I received a call from Mr.
Hashiyama in the office, and he said in order
to determine which auction house to handle
collection, I would like both of you – Christie’s
and Sotheby’s – to play the game rock, paper,
scissors.”
As you might imagine, the representatives
at Christie’s and Sotheby’s weren’t exactly
thrilled after countless meetings, flights
by various representatives, and all the work
they’d put into trying to land the deal.
As for Ishibashi’s immediate response, “I
didn’t really reply back to him.
I couldn’t really answer him, like, why are
you doing this?
And, you know, we can’t really do that.
I couldn’t believe it.”
Nevertheless, as Rendell stated, “[When] a
client asks you to do something, you just
get on and do it…
So we started compulsively playing rock, paper,
scissors, trying to work out how do we win
this?
Is there some secret to this?
How bad are you going to feel?
How idiotic are you going to look in front
of your colleagues when you’ve lost a collection
for a child’s game?”
As for what representatives at Sotheby’s thought,
they were decidedly less forthcoming on their
opinions and process both before and after,
other than their specialist in Impressionist
and Modern Art, Blake Koh, simply saying,
“There was some discussion, but this is a
game of chance, so we didn’t really give
it that much thought.
We had no strategy in mind.”
In truth, while you might think Rock, Paper,
Scissors is purely a game of chance, it turns
out there are various strategies one can use
to increase the odds of winning.
For example, men are a few percentage points
more likely to open with rock.
Women, on the other hand, show a similar very
slight percentage preference to scissors as
an opening throw.
That said, according to the World Rock Paper
Scissors Society (which is totally a thing),
in tournaments featuring more seasoned players,
the overall numbers come out to 35.4% rock,
35% paper, and 29.6% scissors, meaning among
the “pros” scissors for whatever reason is
markedly less popular and rock and paper about
even.
Whatever you throw, another interesting trend
was observed by Zhijian Wang and co. in their
study, Cycle frequency in standard Rock-Paper-Scissors
games: Evidence from experimental economics,
done at Zhejiang University.
In it, they found that if you win, you are
likely to make the same choice the next time.
If you lose, however, your are likely to choose
the next item in the sequence from the one
you just loss with.
So, if you lost with rock, you are likely
to choose paper the next time.
If you lost with paper, you are more likely
to throw scissors the next time.
Of course, in this case no amount of practice
or research on Rock, Paper Scissors strategies
helped Ishibashi.
After all, this wasn’t a best of three type
scenario- it was one and done, winner takes
the deal, negating some of the strategies
that could have been implemented to mildly
improve odds.
And as for the fact that men tend to pick
rock first and women scissors, this is only
a very slight preference in each case, and
is only terribly useful if playing someone
who doesn’t also know that.
If they know, and know you probably know,
it becomes once again anybody’s guess what
they’ll throw.
The age-old iocane powder scenario, but with
no way to rig the system in this case.
Ishibashi states of her experience preparing,
“I don’t really remember those three days.
I mean, I was under enormous pressure to think
what would be the best strategy.
But my struggle was always that I knew that
there is no strategy because it’s just a pure
chance.
So constantly, whenever I had some moment
on a train or walking in streets, I suddenly
sort of thought about rock, paper, scissors.
I had to contemplate between choices.
I think it’s paper.
No, no, no, I think it’s rock.
Then I said, you know, no, no, no, no, I shouldn’t
do it because there is no answer.
There is no answer.
Let’s stop.
But then, even though I tried not to think
about it, I couldn’t really forget about rock,
paper, scissors from my mind.”
At a loss for what to do, with literally millions
of dollars on the line, she reached out to
pretty much anyone she could for their input
on what choice she should make.
It was during this process that her boss and
Christie’s International Director of Impressionist
and Modern Art Department, Nicholas Maclean,
decided to ask his twin 11 year old daughters,
Flora and Alice, what they would do.
In his opinion, they were masters at Rock,
Paper, Scissors, playing it all the time to
decide all manner of things.
When the mirror twins (meaning identical twins
but with various elements mirrored, for example
in this case one is right handed and the other
left) were consulted, they had a lot of input,
as recounted from the following exchange between
father and daughters during an interview with
NPR several years later:
“Nicholas: …they came back to me quite
promptly and said, you know, Dad, everybody
knows you start with scissors.
Alice: Yeah, scissors is the pretty standard
move.
Nicholas: So I said, well, how does that work?
And they said, well, most people like the
idea of going with rock.
Alice: But because they were, like, super
clever Sotheby’s, we’re like, oh, they’re
going to bluff.Nicholas: But you then double
bluff by going scissors, and scissors cuts
paper.
And I said, all right, that sounds good.
I said, what if they go scissors?
They said, you go scissors again.
Alice: Because that’s what I’d do.
Flora: Yeah.
You just stick with scissors and see what
happens.”
Maclean then called up Ishibashi and recounted
the exchange, leaving it up to her, but suggesting
they go with scissors as, to quote Alice,
“Everybody knows you go scissors.”
Ishibashi, however, was still distraught,
stating,
“I reached the point where the situation
got beyond my capacity….I didn’t quite sleep
[for] a few days, but on that Sunday evening,
I slept for few hours.
And then suddenly my husband came up in my
dream.
He said, Kanae, and he told me what choice
I should come up with.
Then I woke up, and I saw the window, and
the sky was beginning to light up.
I didn’t look at the time, but I felt really
sort of refreshed.
Somehow my husband’s voice [in my dream] really
struck me, and I didn’t even think about…
right or wrong…
I would go for it.”
Thus, that Monday morning, she and Rendell
drove to Maspro headquarters just outside
of Nagoya, Japan, with Ishibashi tight-lipped
about her choice.
When they arrived, they were escorted up to
the conference room, with two representatives
from Sotheby’s already arrived.
Rendell states,
“I knew who they were.
But it’s hardly the moment for, you know,
“hi, how are you?”
More sort of a grunt.
So we sit one side of the table.
They sit the other side of the table, and
there are two accountants and a fax machine.”
As for Rendell, he was still adamant that
rock was the correct choice, being the strongest
move, as recounted by Ishibashi, “Jonathan
actually looked at me, and beneath the table,
he showed me rock and – with his hand, and
his eyes were very sharp, and he nodded to
me once…”
Then Ishibashi picked up her pen and wrote
her choice on the paper in front of her.
The two groups handed their respective papers
to the accountants and waited.
Said Rendell, “Looking at the face of the
accountant holding the piece of paper, you
could tell nothing.
He was totally inscrutable.
He looks at it for what was probably 30 seconds,
and your heart’s in your mouth.”
Reviewing both notes, the accountant looked
up and declared Sotheby had chosen paper.
As for Ishibashi, she had decided to take
the advice of Flora and Alice, her husband’s
suggestion in her dream, as well as go with
women’s apparent slight natural tendency-
scissors.
Christie’s won.
Said Ishibashi of the event, “After we went
outside of the building, we screamed!”
As for the Sotheby’s camp, they simply stated
when asked for a quote by the media, “Sotheby’s
never comments on collections it is not offering
for sale.”
The total of all the items sold at the auction
ended up being $17.8 million (about $23 million
today), with reportedly around $1.9-$2.2 million
($2.5-$2.9 million today) going to Christie’s.
As for Alice and Flora, Alice’s original quote,
“Everybody knows you go scissors” ended up
in Time magazine’s quotes of the week shortly
thereafter.
Speaking of scissors, you can cut out the
hassle of managing projects with
your
team with Monday.com!…
Bonus Fact:
Prior to 1978, the airline industry was completely
regulated by the government in the United
States.
As in, if a seat on a flight from Washington
DC to New York City was a hundred dollars
on United, it would be hundred dollars on
Continental and American as well.
Prices were the same for every airline due
to federal regulations, as dictated by the
Civil Aeronautics Board, because it was considered
interstate commerce.
That is unless the airline only flew within
one state.
That was the thinking behind Texas businessman
Rollin King’s and lawyer Herb Kelleher’s
creation of Air Southwest, which would later
become Southwest Airlines.
But, while actually pretty fascinating, we’re
not here today to talk about the founding
of the popular airline.
Instead, we’re going to talk about a rather
interesting event in their history.
From the beginning, Southwest Airlines, led
by King and Kelleher, fostered it’s reputation
as a fun and zany airline.
Their lower prices helped with this.
So did the (all-female) flight attendants
wearing bright orange shorts and go-go boots.
They also had a propensity for coming up with
a myriad of pun-filled slogans, one of which
“Just Plane Smart” they debuted on October
22, 1990.
They used that slogan for about 15 months
until they got a call from Stevens Aviation
in Greenville, South Carolina.
Apparently, they had been using the slogan
“Plane Smart” prior to Southwest.
You might think with two large companies in
a tussel that a lot of lawyers were about
to be able to buy those vacation homes they’d
been dreaming about in Maui.
However, instead of spending hundreds of thousands
of dollars on legal fees and letting the courts
decide the matter, Stevens Aviation chairman
Kurt Herwald (along with executive vice-president
Stephen Townes) came up with an idea.
They challenged the CEO of Southwest, Herb
Kelleher, to an arm wrestling match for the
rights to the slogan “Plane Smart.”
Kelleher excitedly accepted.
“Malice in Dallas” was to be held on March
20, 1992 at the famed wrestling forum, the
Dallas Sportatrium in downtown Dallas.
Besides losing rights to the slogan, the loser
of each round (it was going to be a best of
three competition) would have to donate $5,000
to the Muscular Dystrophy Association or Ronald
McDonald House of Cleveland.
The days leading up to the match-up, both
companies heavily promoted it.
Customers and well-wishers sent items to Kelleher
that they thought would help him win, including
a box of Wheaties, a can of spinach, a bottle
of Wild Turkey, and “anabolic steroids from
Mexico.”
Both men showed up to the ring at nine am
on Friday, March 20th prepared to fight.
They also made a spectacle out it.
Herb Kelleher arrived in a bus with cheerleaders
wearing a white satin robe.
Kurt Herwald, when introduced, ran from the
tunnel in a red robe with boos reigning down
from the pro-Southwest crowd.
After Kelleher arrived in the ring to the
“Rocky” theme song and pre-match tussling
between the two corners died down, the competition
began.
Immediately, Kelleher called in a “replacement”
due to his “injured arm” that he suffered
while allegedly saving a child’s life on his
way to the arena.
That replacement was J.R. Jones, the 1986
Texas arm wrestling champion.
Jones and Southwest Airlines easily won the
first around.
The second round, Herwald brought in a “ringer”
as well, one of his employees – “Killer”
Annette Coats.
She faced off with Kelleher, even though his
arm still “hurt.”
Coats defeated him in a manner of seconds.
Now with theatrics out of the way, the real
match began.
The third round was perfectly set-up with
a winner-take-all between the two faces of
their companies.
Herwald, in a red polo shirt, and Kelleher,
with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth,
locked arms in a dead heat for a solid 35
seconds.
Finally, Herwald pinned Kelleher’s arm for
the win.
Boos erupted from the crowd in Dallas, but
Herwald won fair and square, meaning Stevens
Aviation got to keep the slogan.
But Kurt Herwald decided to do things a bit
different one more time.
He allowed Southwest to use the slogan too
as a show of good sportsmanship and for Southwest’s
willingness to accept such a crazy proposal
in the first place when so many other companies
would have simply gone to court.
Said Herwald after,
“There’s too much litigation in business
today and not enough leadership.
We need more guys like Herb Kelleher who are
willing to say we don’t need to go to court
all the time.”
Kelleher told the New York Times that if Stevens
and Southwest went to court about this, it
would have cost Southwest $500,000 and a few
years to decide.
Both companies believe that the “Malice
in Dallas” had much to do with their rise
in profits directly after.
Stevens Aviation, three years later, was making
nearly four times as much as it did in 1992.
Ed Stewart, manager of public relations for
Southwest, estimated it at least generated
six million dollars in publicity, and a mere
year later Southwest’s stock prices had doubled.
And to top it all, $15,000 got donated to
charity between the three rounds.

100 comments

  1. Help buy our writer and research monkeys bananas while also leveling up your skills all at the same time at Skillshare today: https://skl.sh/2N8DXpw If you use that link, you also get a 2-month free trial. Big thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring this video!

  2. Sorry but I have to throw this factoid, that I've learned playing, rock paper scissors is,the game is always best of three, it's more fair and more interesting that way

  3. That was nuts! I seriously felt like Simon was reading a script for an anime, because that poor woman was tormented over the eccentric whims of a powerful business man, which sounds like prime anime fodder! I actually can’t believe that one of those production companies hasn’t written a six or ten episode series about this yet… I really enjoyed this though, and felt a ton of sympathy for the lady from Christie’s!

    As to The Malice in Dallas… hilarious! More businesses should settle disputes that way! It sounds like everyone had a good time, charities benefited, and both companies ended up profiting too. You could probably do an entire Business Blaze episode about it too, and that would benefit me because BB is my new favorite channel from you! 😆

  4. The bonus fact… I knew there was a reason I always like Southwest Airlines… they do things different.
    As for the arm wrestling match? Well, this story gave me hope for the future (even though this was long in the past)… not all big business is quick to jump into litigation. Kudos to both company owners for taking the higher road. Now if only more companies would not fight to the death in court and just get along. Imagine how much good they could do for charities and basic good will for all.

  5. I got an extremely off topic question. Do people in Europe and the UK like loud and obnoxious exhausts on their cars or is that just an American thing?

  6. More court cases should be decided by something like that!😝😝😝😝🤣🤣
    🏳️‍🌈🎃🌈🏳️‍🌈🐻🌈🏳️‍🌈🐻🌈

  7. The companies/leaders in the airline slogan issue were brilliant. What a great way to turn what would have been a dumb legal spat into a lot of fun and a great show of mutual respect.

  8. This is the caliber of bumblefuck that controls the world's wealth… Can't grasp the idea of a game of chance being a simple affair…

  9. As a woman I always start out with rock, because if you are playing a man you are more likely to end in a draw, and when that happens you have some strategy on what they will play next. And if you are playing a woman they are most likely to choose scissors, which gives you the best chances over all.

  10. I am not married. And in germany if you are not married but pregnant you can get the father put in the paperwork before the child is born. It makes it easier if the child should get the fathers Last Name. When we were there we got a question we die not expect: what Religion should our baby have. I am Protestant, the father cathlic. The Person putting in our data said we can wait and pick Later in life, but we both knew we wanted it filled out. So we did Rock paper scissors and i lost…

  11. I know a man who died because of this silly game. He was hit by a 2000lb boulder when he drew rock. No joke a true story about 30 years ago. Imagine if he drew a scissor? Who knows what could have happened.

  12. Disappointed that they write it on paper. Takes a bit of reading the opponent out of calculation by watching their hands. Naturally getting the timing right is hard if out of practice

  13. Of corse i found that video interesting i havent found one of your video to be uninteresting yet mate and ive watched dozens you keep up the quality vids and ill keep watching them good luck with it all mate take it easy

  14. Since there’s a world champion that’s won a number of times consecutively, there must a type of rhythm.
    One and out, though, is pretty scary.

  15. Southwest is the best. Attitude is everything and they make air travel enjoyable.
    Every time ~ I mean EVERYTIME I have to fly United they are either arrogant or obviously don’t care. Given the option I’d always fly Southwest.

  16. I thought this would be a metaphorical game of rock paper scissors. I dont know why I assumed that. Probably because it makes more sense.

  17. The rock paper scissors story is obviously amazing, as it's the main feature… it's hilarious how the game was treated like a huge drama movie.
    But the airline story deserves recognition too. It's an amazing example of wholesome business practices, big companies deciding something without tearing at each other's throats. And lo and behold, both of them came out way better for it.

  18. 15:41 He thought his daugthers were masters of rock-paper-scissor… If I was the seller, discovered that between 2 companies i'm looking to sell my stuff the head of one of them thinks a game of chance has masters, and the label was given to 2 kids just because they play it a lot, well, immediately I would choose the other company: someone asking tips to kids while having means to hire a group of mathematicians to study and organize a plan to win a multi million dollars project clearly isn't the best choice to handle my inventory to sell.

  19. Rock crushes Scissors.
    Scissors shreds Paper.
    Paper turns into an origami gauntlet and snapped fingers, deleting Rock.

  20. A co-worker told me of working as a programmer at Southwest back in the early days. He said after a particularly long and stressful day they thought a good way to get a hard-working co-worker out for some fresh air was to attach him to his desk chair with strapping tape, push him onto the elevator, hit a few random buttons, and send him in his way. The elevator went up 3 floors and stopped. The door opened and there stood CEO Herb Kelleher. Both parties just kind of regarded each other for a few moments before the door closed and said programmer was on his way again, none the worse for wear. The event was never spoken of.

  21. Thumbs down on this one because as a fellow Brit, Mr Whistler I am offended by the way that you gestured the number two with your two fingers pointed out towards us. You know what it means in Britain and althoiugh we can excuse others, as a Brit you havwe no excuse for that disgusting behaviour.

  22. This is a storyline literally ripped directly out of any given Yakuza game (by Sega). And i love it. No matter who wins, Majima will probably steal everything anyway.

  23. That one almost tops Howard Hughes loosing a pissing contest. He was selling the rights to photo copying technology to xerox. At the last moment Hughes raised the price. When xerox protested Hughes bet that if the xerox exec could place his back on a wall and hit a urnal on the opposite side of the room he would honor the original agreement. Hughes lost.

  24. Today I [ also ] Found Out: It's pronounced "van Goff " not " van Go " .
    (i.e.~ Vincent van Gogh)
    Thanks!
    UPDATE: After I commented I noticed this, rather heavily accented pronunciation on his wiki page.
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/80/Vincent_willem_van_gogh.ogg

  25. The correct move: play both sides off against each other. Ask for ever greater kickbacks until one side folds and gives in.

  26. I used to have an unintentional hack for rock paper scissors.

    As a kid I didn't quite know on how to play the game so I was learning on the go. Since I had no idea you are supposed to have your fist closed during the "countdown" I was always going with rock paper scissors in said order. That apparently have caused enough delay so that when I have gone for my final choice, I was actually opening a split second later then others. With that delay and a sharp eye pointed at their hands I was able to determine what move they choose to go with. This technique was so effective I was winning at least 70% of all rock paper scissors games. Even better, they almost never noticed anything strange and so nobody really ever corrected me. It has occurred to me only years later that I was doing it wrong. Though wrong in a way that nobody noticed.

  27. What a fantastic story and as usual you told it so well! The emotion in Mr Simon’s voice was damn spot on. Thank You! This made my day!
    All the best to you and yours!

  28. I went to malice in Dallas with a bunch of friends, everything there was real light and fun, no one took anything seriously about the event and I have flown with Southwest ever since seeing their head had a playful side.

  29. The publicity Southwest & Stevens gained from their stunt was most likely better than
    even the most awesome commercial they could've made and to top it off they gave to charity.
    Big props to both of them. Hopefully more businesses use that strategy in the future

  30. Your a coward Simon. You'll do a top ten awkward story's of the bible but not from the koron. You could find hundreds of retarded stories out of there. But your afraid. Not of Christians but of muslims.

  31. I can't believe you mentioned the wrestling history of the Dallas Sportatorium. Literally no one but the most nerdy wrestling fans know that.

  32. Deciding what to throw for a one off, winner takes all game of RPS is like a scene out of Princes Bride.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMz7JBRbmNo

  33. These are things that we should make our world leaders do to settle disputes. Thank you Simon, I really needed a good laugh and you provided.

  34. When I have to chose between 2 equal valued options, I flip a coin; if I am driving, the next vehicle's registration number will help decide which way to go: odd number for left, even number for right. When deciding between 2 lunch options, sometimes I choose both.

  35. He had an equal relationship with Sotheby’s and Christie’s. He couldn’t decide who he wanted to go with so he had them play rock, paper, scissors for it. It wasn’t that he thought they were both equally good, they each specialize and offer different things in their auction houses. I think he just wanted to have fun since he didn’t want to upset one of the auction houses. It was a brilliant way to fuck with people trying to earn the potential $20 million commission.

  36. They obviously made fun of Hashiyama for his method of decision making.
    Only to find themselves paralyzed by an impossible choice that Hashiyama could easily make.

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