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Monday, February 13, 2006


There's a great variant of Rock-Paper-Scissors that is played in Korea. It is known as "Kai-Bai-Bo" or "Muk-Chi-Ba", depending on nuances unknown to me.

Rock-Paper-Scissors is more or less a game of chance, though try beating a strong AI player and you realize how much room for bluffing strategy there is. But Muk-Chi-Ba combines speed and bluffing, making for sudden reversals and triumphant victories. Best of all, like Rock-Paper-Scissors, it can be played anywhere with no props.

To begin the game, players slap hands three times: first left hands, then right, then left again, each time crying "ha!"

After three "ha"s a fourth is cried and the players each assume one of the rock, paper, or scissors positions. (If their positions match, they start over.)

There are several versions of each position. "Muk," or rock, is indicated by making fists with both hands and placing them firmly next to your hips, or alternatively by pretending to cup a large rock around your belly button, with one hand curled upwards (as if around the bottom of the rock) and one curled downwards (as if on top of the rock).

"Chi," or scissors, is indicated by folding one arm across your chest, and grabbing the elbow of the other arm, which is bent at the elbow with the hand raised to chin level and the fingers pointed forward, evoking a scissor blade.

"Ba," or paper, is indicated either by extending the arms forward and down and forming a diamond shape with thumbs and forefingers (as if forming the outline of a flat piece of paper) or, alternatively, by putting arms in a "walk like an Egyptian" pose with hands pointing, flat, to the left and right, once again evoking the flatness of paper.

The fact that each of Muk, Chi and Ba can be formed in various ways provides additional opportunities to throw off one's opponent or to make a split-second change.

So what makes the game substantially different from regular Rock-Paper-Scissors? The difference is that the game does not end when one player's position "beats" the other. To win the round, the player who is "beating" the other is must follow this with a subsequent pose in which both players are indicating the same position as each other.

When do the players move to this subsequent pose? The player with the initial disadvantage (let's call him player B) must wait until the player with the advantage (let's call her player A) chooses to change her pose.

Player A announces the new pose as she forms it by calling out its Korean name: "Muk!", "Chi!" or "Ba!". The very instant that player A moves to strike this new pose, player B must chose a pose himself, though he does not need to call out its name (this returns a bit of the disadvantage in the situation). Player B may also simply remain in the same pose, or may switch to any alternative version.

If A succeeds in getting B to enter the same pose as her (regardless of which variation of the pose they are in), then she wins. If not, play continues based on who now holds the advantage.

Here is an example of play.

A and B: [slapping right hands] Ha!
A and B: [slapping left hands] Ha!
A and B: [slapping right hands] Ha!
A and B: [each assuming a pose] Ha!
A has formed Chi (scissors) and B has formed Ba (paper), so A has the advantage; B must wait until A chooses to move.
A: [changing pose to Muk (rock)] Muk!
[B has simultaneously changed pose to the other version of Ba]
Not only did A fail to get B to also form Muk (which would have given A the win), now the advantage has switched, because Ba beats Muk. Now A must wait until B chooses to move.
B: [suddenly, forming Muk] Muk!
[A, flustered, forms Chi] B: [rapidly, forming different versions of Muk] Muk! Muk! Muk! Muk!
[A, flustered, remains in Chi. This allows B to maintain the advantage.]
B: [forming Chi] Chi!
[A has formed Muk, and now holds the advantage]
A: [forming Ba] Ba!
[B also forms Ba]

B has lost, because A successfully followed his advantage with a pose in which they chose the same thing--Ba, in this case.

B was able to rapidly change poses earlier because he was aware that he had the advantage each time he struck a pose.It is important to note that if either player hesitates, moves too late or moves first when not in the advantage, that player forfeits the round.

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