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Wednesday
Aug292007

Evolution 2007 Finals

I did better than I've ever done before at our world finals event this year, taking 5th place in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. I also got to test 18 decks of my Yomi card game, and got to lose Guilty Gear to Yossan, the #1 finisher in that tournament.

I won't say much about Guilty Gear other than having to relearn the strange lesson that my Potemkin gets much worse when I have to play under pressure against unfamiliar opponents, and yet my Chipp gets much better when I have to play under pressure against unfamiliar opponents. I call this the Curse of Chipp.

In ST, I made it to the top 8 without losing a single match. i tried this year to make an effort to "play the opponent" rather than "play the game." In my book, I talk about the player type called Planner. That's how I've always approached things, but the approach has weaknesses.

I've heard Seth off-handedly mention in his match commentary whether certain players "show no respect" for their opponents. He means this in a very particular way. He's not talking about sportsmanship at all, but instead whether a player does things within the game that a really good opponent should be able to counter. Seth isn't even giving an insult by saying this. He's just pointing out when a player is trying to get away with something that he might not try against a player he "respects." To be clear, you *should* do bootleg stuff that's easily counterable *if* you really think the particular opponent you are playing against won't counter it. That is what "playing the opponent" means, rather than "playing the game."

The toughest opponent I beat was Afrolegends. He's a rising star of a player. Determined and in practice. I think it's safe to say that he practiced at least 10 times more than me, if not 100 times. I invested nearly no practice time into ST this year, and instead have focused on designing STHD. Anyway, I didn't rely on practice or on scouting.

Here is what I did. I remember watching the match between Afrolegends's DeeJay and Graham Wolfe's Vega (claw) three weeks ago. I also remember playing the same match against Afrolegends right after that, and losing. Graham got hit by about 90 ducking medium kicks. Three weeks ago I tried very hard to avoid that fate, but still got hit by several. That match is on youtube, but I only watched it maybe 1 or 2 times casually. I'm honestly not trying to be arrogant about this, I'm just trying to point out all the things that I didn't do to prepare hat people probably expect me to do.

I decided to play the same character matchup against Afrolegends this time. I won't be bullied away from Vega just because of a damned ducking medium kick. So instead of trying hard to avoid it, I would just have to try REAL HARD to avoid it. To look into Afrolegend's mind and try to guess when he will do it, so I can slide a bit after. And just as important, try to guess when he will throw his sonic boom thing ("max out") so I know when I can go off the wall. I also factored in that I know he's sitting there waiting for me to go off the wall a lot of the time, so I have to avoid the temptation to do it when he expects me to do it.

I won this match by something like two pixels, so it's not like I dominated at all. It could have gone either way. But my point is that I got more mileage out of focusing on exactly when I think the opponent will do X or Y than I probably would have out of studying match footage or even actual practice. I should also point out that Afrolegends's tons of practice wasn't for nothing. He placed 3rd, which was two places higher than me.

To prove that I'm not just bragging, all this reading the opponent stuff went exactly the other way when I faced Graham Wolfe. After losing a game, I switched to Honda (a crowd pleaser!) and won one round, but in the final round of the match, Graham guessed right something like 4 times in a row. His final move was a ridiculous jumping strong with Balrog (boxer) that clearly proved he knew exactly what I was going to do, and when. Graham soundly beat me in that match, so my hat is off to him. He took 4th place.

My only other loss was to Tokido. I was very sure I would beat him. So sure that I knew overconfidence was probably bad, but I just didn't think he could be Bison (dictator) with Vega (claw). About four years ago, my friend first introduced me to the concept of Meyers-Briggs personality types and after a quick set of questions, he told me I'd be most likely to lose to a player who is capable of executing something in a game that I didn't think was possible or practical, so it wouldn't be in my "systems analysis" of the game. He was exactly describing John Choi's ability to custom-combo my Rose's low strong in SFAlpha 2. And, it turns out, he described Tokido, too.

There's something mysterious about Tokido's ability to go off the wall with Vega. Two different times, I saw his Vega touch the wall, then do the air throw just a bit earlier than I thought was possible. He also sometimes went off the wall then immediately attacked, just a tiny bit earlier than I thought was possible. Maybe more to the point, Bison can beat Vega if he can get close enough to do scissor kicks and stand roundhouses. It didn't really occur to me that Tokido would be able to run away well enough to avoid this for a whole match. I think I was one round away from defeating him, but he came back with his mysteriously good run away and off the wall tactics. He went on to defeat John Choi with similar antics, earning Tokido 1st place. I'm a little salty about it, but oh well.

Before signing off, I'd like to give my awards for strangest counter-character choices in the tournament. DSP was about to face Japanese Dhalsim player KKY. I asked DSP if he was going to win and he said "KKY's Dhalsim cannot beat my Vega." Pretty bold, but amazingly, DSP was right. KKY then switched to Blanka! Unexpected for a Japanese Dhalsim player, but nice move because it's counter-match heavily in Blanka's favor, in my opinion. KKY won game 2, but to DSP's credit, not by much. DSP could now switch to a new character in game 3. Luckily, DSP plays a wide variety of characters who have a big advantage here: Old Sagat, Balrog, and DeeJay for starters. But DSP chose to KEEP Vega, countering himself! I don't get it. It went down to the last hit and as KKY did whiff roll into bite for the final hit, both players physically leaped out of their chairs in excitement.

But this was not as strange as Alex Wolfe's choice. Let me preface this by saying that Alex Wolfe is one of the very best players in the US. He won 1st place at last year's Evo World Finals and just two weeks ago he and his brother Graham got 5th place in Japan. Anyway, his Dhalsim got absolutely destroyed game 1 against someone's Vega. It was really bad, but it happens. then Alex switched to ZANGIEF. Zangief vs Vega is an incredibly hard match and it's pretty damn crazy to intentionally play this match when you're 1 game from losing a tournament match. I guess his idea was that a good Zangief has a big surprise factor (and his Zangief is good), but Vega proved too strong even then.

I hope that gives you a taste of what the Super Turbo tournament was like. It was also a great opportunity for me to get feedback from the Japanese players about STHD...but that's all I'm allowed to say about that.

--Sirlin

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