Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Making the Opponent Play Worse

I've talked a lot recently about habits, and how powerful they are in getting us to become better competitors (and human beings).  As I mentioned, their strength lies in the fact that they cost almost nothing; the brain automates some things so it doesn't have to use energy making decisions.

The thing is, habits rely on experience and conditioning.  If--as I believe--becoming skilled is the process of accumulating useful habits, then you can make somebody play worse by questioning those habits.

This is the value of using weird strategies, or ones that aren't entirely optimal.  You don't want to use things that just don't work, obviously; however, when you use weird and confusing strategies, it forces the opponent to question what they already know.  They ask themselves, "do I know how to deal with this?"  Once you take them out of their unconscious comfort zones and force them to consciously analyze things, it slows them down and increases room for error.

This is why you occasionally get people who don't seem "as good" as their opponent getting wins off unforced errors.  They aren't playing terribly, per se, but the things they do just don't quite make sense all the time.  And so sometimes they get wins against people who are "supposed" to beat them.  This is because experts often work off pattern recognition, and when you start breaking the pattern of how the game is "supposed" to be played, expertise falters.  This leads to unforced errors and, more often than not, frustration.

A related study involves chess players and memory; there are strong chess players who can reconstruct positions from different games, or quickly memorize all the piece placements when briefly exposed to a moment from an actual game.  However, they don't just have perfect memory.  From the article:

"Chase and Simon had chess players recall chessboards with randomly placed pieces.   With briefly presented random chessboards, players at all levels of skill had the same poor recall performance and were able to recall the correct location of only about four pieces—a performance comparable with that of chess beginners for actual positions from chess games."

When the positions of the pieces were completely random, expertise no longer helped them, and the chess players' memories more or less dwindled to normal levels.  It's not about chess players having godlike recall, but being able to build a memory from pieces of relevant information.

Likewise, when you do things that don't make 100% sense to the other player, it kills their pattern recognition.  Provided you aren't causing yourself to lose, when you play outside the box it can give you a temporary edge against superior players.  They will make errors they normally wouldn't make, and sometimes get very irritated, not quite sure why they are making amateur errors.  That leads to more mistakes, and sometimes big upsets can occur if you can capitalize enough.

There is a saying though, which is that "the best athletes have the shortest memories."  Good players know how to forget information that does not directly assist their victories, and whether that's quickly moving on from stupid mistakes, or learning to ignore anomalies and just play based on their superior game-sense.  So when you do encounter players with wonky playstyles that throw you off, search for pertinent information and discard the rest.  If you are the better player, take a moment to "forget" the anomaly, since searching and trying to plan around the strange can sabotage the normal.  Rely on playing the game the way you know how, and let your superior fundamentals and basics take care of the rest.

Thanks for reading, and see you on Friday.


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