Recognizing Wins and Losses

To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
-Sun Tzu

I discussed in a previous article some methods of improving as a player and I want to expand a bit on something mentioned in that article. Recognizing the cause of a win or a loss is crucially important to becoming a stronger player. This is especially true for a loss particularly if the loss was due to a mistake which was made. Often times however that critical moment is not as easy to identify as one might think. Observing the broad strokes of a game is a skill easily picked up by even the most casual player, but often the real reason for a win or for a loss requires a bit more in depth analysis. A game is often effectively over several turns before the actual end of the game, although it takes a very skilled player to recognize that.

I think it is fairly common for players to ask themselves the question “Why did I lose” after a loss. I believe the ability to correctly identify the cause of the loss is much less common. Far too often players will recall the most obvious or most recent element of the game just played and incorrectly identify that as the cause of the loss. Players generally put much more emphasis on the latest mistake they made while thinking back on the previous game and tend to forget about mistakes which were made prior to that. In my experience, the earlier mistakes are far more crucial to correct than the later mistakes because the earlier mistakes tend to shape the game as it progresses forward from that point. Correcting the earlier mistakes will have a larger impact on the outcome of future games than fixing later mistakes will have. Aim to fix the earlier mistakes and you will find your later mistakes often resolve themselves. Imagine you are driving down the freeway and you take the wrong exit while trying to get to your destination. In the process of trying to get back on the freeway you make a wrong turn and end up on a dead end road. While it is true that had you not made that wrong turn you would not have ended up on that dead end road, the mistake you should try to remedy next time you drive to the same destination is not to take the wrong exit off of the freeway.

This concept of looking to the earliest turning point in a game is not solely applicable to lost games and the mistakes that lead to those losses. This skill is equally important in recognizing the earliest occurrences of winning decisions, cards, or strategies. Understanding that you had the game well in hand long before the cards you consider to be your most powerful were brought to bear will help you to recognize how to be successful when your most powerful cards aren’t drawn. In some cases you may even find that the cards you thought were essential to your deck are in fact “win more” cards which can be trimmed to make your deck that much more efficient. In the Celestial Edition arc, clan champions serve as a great example of this idea. In the early stages of the CE arc many games were won or lost due to the presence of or absence of the clan champion. As the arc developed, people began to realize that not every deck warranted the inclusion of the clan champion and many players began removing their champions to make room for more efficient cards. As we move into the final days of the CE arc I can honestly say that of the nine playable clans, I think only three (Crab, Mantis, and Unicorn) still play the clan champion in the majority of their tournament viable decks.

The ability to correctly identify the turning point of a game which has already been played is an important skill to possess in order to improve the next game which is played. As you get better at identifying those turning points in previous games you also begin to learn how better to identify those moments during a game in progress. Knowing if you are ahead or behind in a game seems like it should be easy, but I am amazed at how frequently a third party will walk up to a game I am playing and ask the question “who is winning” and my opponent will respond with either he doesn’t know, or he will say one of us is winning when I believe he is clearly mistaken. Understanding if you are winning or losing as soon as possible will benefit your game greatly because we play differently when we are ahead than we do when we are behind. If you are ahead in a game, play conservatively and wait for your opponent to make a mistake you can capitalize on. If you are behind, look for the high risk high reward play that can get you back into the game. If you are playing a high risk style of play while you are winning, you give your opponent the opportunity to change the status quo and move ahead himself. If you are playing conservatively while you are behind you maintain the status quo and your opponent will build upon his lead until you cannot overcome it. In the early stages of the game it can be difficult to determine who is ahead or behind and things can shift quickly because the fewer cards that are in play, the bigger impact each new card will have. As the game progresses, it becomes increasingly easier to determine who is winning or losing and each new card in play is much less influential on the game as a whole. This is why it is essential to understand if you are ahead or behind in a game as soon as possible. The earlier you understand your position relative to your opponent, the more likely it is you will be able to use that information to your advantage.

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3 Responses to Recognizing Wins and Losses

  1. Adrian says:

    I think it is meant to be a ‘hare’.

    Nice article, though ideas like this are hard to teach without actually playing.

  2. DDreischmeyer says:

    Every translation I have ever read has said “Autumn Hair” including the original translation by Lionel Giles. I found an online source which explained a bit more in depth what is meant by this phrase:

    “Autumn Hair” is explained as the fur of a hare, which is finest in autumn, when it begins to grow afresh. The phrase is a very common one in Chinese writers.

    Thank you for your comments regarding the substance of the article. Unfortunately it is true of most discussions of a strategic nature that the concepts are difficult to explain and comprehend without actual real world experience. Still, I hope the articles I write can help players of all skill levels by providing a starting point for discussions or ideas. The intent of these articles is to give the reader something to think about while working to improve their own game. The real world applications of these ideas will fall to each individual reader to explore.

  3. PJ says:

    It’s funny, I was JUST thinking about this very aspect of the game a few days ago. It’s very challenging and truly refining such a skill will set you apart from many a player.

    As for the article as a whole, I dig it. Felt somewhat repetitive in spots, however repetition makes perfect, and creates clarity, so well done. ^_^

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