What makes the great players great? I hear this question asked a lot, as if there were a secret response that, once unveiled, would magically transform an average player into an elite one. Of course there is no such thing. The great players have a dozen or more traits that help make them the best at what they do. Furthermore, the elite players are elite in very different ways.
Billy Brake’s skill set varies greatly from that of Alistar Albans, even though both are top-ten tournament players. There is, however, some overlap in what the best players do well; and there is one attribute that can be found in every world-class player’s game. They’re all willing to make plays that typical players wouldn’t even consider.
Strong players understand situations and hand ranges better than us mortals. When Courtney Waller confidently summoned D.D. Crow and attacked for 100 points of damage against Derek Rouse at the 2011 YCS Kansas City, he did so because he knew his opponent’s hand so well that summoing it became the only logical play. (read the match here). A strange decision seems a lot less strange if you’ve reasoned it out and you realize you have no other choice. But it’s not enough merely to decide to make an unorthodox move. You have to actually do it.
It’s hard to pull the trigger on a weird play, because obviously it might not work. The fear of losing is devastating to a Yu-Gi-Oh player, but unfortunately it’s also one of the most powerful influences on the human mind. Psychologists have found that the thought of losing is so painful, most people would rather guarantee a small win than risk a big loss, even when risking a big loss for a potentially bigger win is the right thing to do. NFL coaches routinely punt in situations where going for it is the correct mathematical play. They’d rather lock in a small gain in field position than risk turning the ball over on downs — and they’re willing to give up the potential reward of keeping possession in order to do so. Similarly, tournament Yu-Gi-Oh players would rather assure themselves of moving on to the next draw phase rather than put themselves in a position to possibly bust.
Maybe even worse than the fear of losing is the fear of looking silly. Any play out of the ordinary is likely to draw derisive mocking from those who see it, read about it, or watch it on YouTube. People don’t like what they don’t understand, and Yu-Gi-Oh players especially seem to love declaring another’s play terrible.
So how does one acquire the mental fortitude to make a nontraditional play? First and foremost, you have to trust that you’re a strong player. You have to know why you’re making every summon, set, effect activation, and responce. It’s not enough to know you’re doing the “standard” play. The best players know why a particular play has become standard, and they therefore know when it’s reasonable to depart from the normal course of action. A solid understanding of basic Yu-Gi-Oh concepts will eventually lead to ideas about new and bizarre ways to play hands.
Now you just have to be willing to lose. Tournament players must train themselves not to be afraid to go broke, even with less than premium holdings, if the situation is right. The willingness to make a crazy play is an extension of the same idea. All but one player in the tournament will lose at some point. If you believe in what you’re doing, then why should a nonconformist bustout hand be worse than any other? And why would you care what someone else thinks? You’re the one sitting who’s sitting at the table, assessing all the information you have on your opponent, and coming up with what you think is the best plan. Speculation about what others will say should never cause you to disregard a play that you feel is right.
By definition, you can’t become a great Yu-Gi-Oh player by doing the same thing everyone else does — you have to find the right spots to do something different. And then you have to do it.
What do you guys think? Leave your comments below.