Christie's Vs Sotheby's: the $20 million game

Whether it's Roshambo, Jankenpon or Rock Paper Scissors, we’ve all played a ‘simultaneous zero sum game’ at one point in our lives. Some of us may have even played for money, however we’re doubtful anyone reading this has ever played a $20 million game. 

Whether it's Roshambo, Jankenpon or Rock Paper Scissors, we’ve all played a ‘simultaneous zero sum game’ at one point in our lives. Some of us may have even played for money, however we’re doubtful anyone reading this has ever played a $20 million game.

That's exactly what happened in 2005 when representatives from Sotheby’s and Christie’s faced one another in probably the most expensive game of Rock Paper Scissors.

It all began when Japanese electronics giant Maspro Denkoh decided to auction off a portion of works from its extensive art collection. Unable to choose a consignee after hearing pitches from both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, company president Takashi Hashiyama decided to put the fate of the auction consignment quite literally in the companies hands. It was said that Mr Hashiyama also left the fate of which insurance company would take Maspro Denkoh public on the stock market to a throw of dice. 

This particular consignment included works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Bonnard, Chagall and Pissarro. However the star of the collection was "Les Grands Arbres au Jas de Bouffan" by Paul Cézanne which would go on to sell for $11.8 million. 

Kanae Ishibashi the then head of Christie’s in Japan studied the psychology of the game and was instructed by her colleagues' twin daughters, 11-year-olds Alice and Flora Maclean, that scissors was the best option. Their reason being, rock is too obvious and paper is beaten by scissors. ‘You never go paper.’ - Alice Maclean. ‘It's just a weak move.’ - Flora Maclean. 

The unnamed Sotheby’s representative had a different approach. Blake Koh, a colleague involved in the negotiations, said "But this is a game of chance, so we didn't really give it that much thought. We had no strategy in mind."

Both parties were instructed to meet at Maspro Denkoh’s Tokyo offices and write down their choice of either rock, paper or scissors. Ms Ishibashi is reported to have prayed, sprinkled salt (a traditional Japanese ritual for good luck) and carried lucky charm beads. 

After handing the piece of paper containing the all important decision to a Maspro Denkoh manager, it was announced Christie’s had won - scissors beats paper. Kanae Ishibashi had written down scissors and won the consignment for Christie’s. The Maclean twins were right ‘you never go paper’ ‘it’s just a weak move’.

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