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How to get better at Street Fighter Part 4: Mind Games and Reading Your Opponent

Whoo! Part 4! Who's hype for reading a super long, wordy, jargon-filled blog with a horrible picture/video-to-word ratio!? Not you? Well then close this blog now and go read something about how much the Wii U and Nintendo sucks or why paying for characters in a fighting game is totally cool because money and fuck you, advertising, baby!

...still here? I have to admit, your persistence is going to be needed. Street Fighter is a mental battlefield where weak minds get destroyed and the easier you get frustrated, the lower your chances of success. For some reason, people get ridiculously angry when they get destroyed in Street Fighter. I know there's a bit of a pride thing on the line, but really, it's online and everybody knows that's not really a true barometer for testing skill. Regardless, I've received more than my fair share of hate mail, being kicked out of lobbies, having people rage quit on me, and getting taunted if I lose a round. People really have come to dislike playing with me and it shows.

For example, these guys just couldn't handle losing so much they had to disconnect from the match (in 3rd Strike Online Edition if you disconnect from a match, you take a loss, your disconnect ratio increases, and your opponent loses the ability to save the replay).

Street Fighter, once you somewhat master execution, is a battle of wills and mental fortitude. I've compared it to a virtual Chess of sorts, to which I've mostly gotten scoffed at. That right there lets me know just how bad you are at Street Fighter. If you think Street Fighter doesn't require a lot of thinking, I know you suck at it. Plain and simple, I will always beat you and you will never beat me. It's a mindset.

You see, I approach Street Fighter like a professional boxer would approach an upcoming fight. I train for it, I scout my opponent (if possible), and I try to identify my weak areas so that I can improve upon them. All the knowledge I've given out doesn't mean anything if you don't learn how to apply it. You can perform cr.MPxxShoryukenxxFADCxxUltra all day in training mode, but if you never get a chance to land it in a match what good is it to you? What if your opponent doesn't make mistakes? He never misses a punish, he never whiffs a special, he always makes his normals or specials safe. You know those types. They're frustrating if all you've ever played are the guys who go ham with their offense.

You know the type...

This is the SF4 equivalent, but I'm sure if you've played SF online for any period of time you've come across these guys. They're convinced that the best offense is a constant offense and the best defense is a constant offense, no rhyme or reason, just reversals and unsafe specials all day with crouching jabs or shorts thrown in for good measure. These guys can headfuck you into playing their game and all that knowledge you have doesn't mean much against an opponent who isn't playing smart.

Jungle style. Balls to the wall, caution to the wind, hit as many buttons as you can, be completely random at all times, use every button and option, mindless, jungle style. I'd post the Ghandi Ryu video we've all seen by now, but you get the point. The scariest thing about jungle style are players who know how to utilize it effectively. Remember this for later.

What I'm getting at though is being able to read your opponent. By that I mean, being able to tell what kind of opponent are you facing. Is he blocking like he should? Is he constantly waking up with reversals? Does he mash throw during block strings? Does he always block low? Does he block cross ups? Does he never tech throws?

Reading Your Opponent (And Yourself)

So you've gotten your execution to a competent point and you're ready to start putting what you've learned to use. That's great and all, but a lot of factors come into play before you can just start frame trapping and option-selecting.

You need to be able to identify their skill level, what they can do and what they can't. Do they anti-air every jump in attack? Is it always the same anti-air? If they always let you jump in without anti-airing you, take advantage of it. Cross them up to mix it up, but if they're not anti-airing that's to YOUR advantage. If they're ALWAYS anti-airing with the same anti-air, empty jump or safe jump to bait them. Certain normals will sometimes stuff or trade with anti-airs, so use those too if you have them. Any offensive momentum that pushes your opponent toward the corner is to your advantage.

One thing that I've noticed some players do is they let their opponents wake up for free after a knockdown. For example, say you land a shoryuken and then back away while they wake up. This is a huge flaw in their game, as the entire point is to knock your opponent down, pressure them on their wake up, force them to make decisions, and put them in the corner. The Japanese have come up with a term for wake up game tactics called 'okizeme.' Roughly translated as 'rousing attack,' the point of okizeme is often to mix up or continue to pressure your opponent while they're waking up from a knock down. This is where meaties, baits, tic throws, mix ups, safe jumps, and ambiguous cross ups are most effective. When your opponent is waking up, he has to decide if he's going to reversal, tech a throw, or if he's going to block, where to block.

Say for example, you knock your opponent down and they have a tendency to block on wake up. Test their throw tech reactions and go for a throw. If you know they're not likely to reversal and they tech the throw, no real risk is taken and the situation reverts back to neutral. However, there is an advantage in this and I'll get into that later, as it leads into the next part. The whole point of this section is to train yourself to recognize what your opponent is doing. How your opponent reacts to your okizeme is often the best indicator of how good or skilled they may be. If they always start the round off by immediately attacking, identify that they're doing this and see if it's always the same attack. Do they jump in at the start? Do they hadoken? Is it an EX dashing straight? Maybe they always jump back tatsu or throw an air hadoken. Do they always use cr.MK to hit confirm or do they always do the same block string? Do they always try to go for a throw after a blocked jump in attack or blocked cross up?

Recognizing patterns or tendencies in your opponent's style of play is vital to being able to overcome it and shut it down. If you lose to something and don't know why, it's also important to recognize what it is and try to figure out why. The more skilled your opponent, the more clever their offense and defense tend to be. You have to assume that while you're recognizing patterns in their play that they're doing the same with yours. So to avoid being predictable, use different options to keep your opponent on their toes. It will prevent you from getting easily 'downloaded' while your opponent may focus more on trying to read you than from being predictable himself.

I hear the word 'spam' being thrown around by novices a lot too, usually in conjunction with projectiles. If someone is constantly hitting you with the same thing, it's because it's working and you're not adjusting to it. The onus is on you to stop getting hit by this attack, not on the opponent to stop because you think it's 'cheap.' It's working for him, he doesn't need to change anything. If he's zoning you with hadokens and spacing them correctly so that you can't close the distance, it's YOU that's the bad player, not your opponent. He doesn't have to use anything else because his zoning is working as intended. Why should he give up his winning tactic? Because you're losing to it and thus you think it's 'cheap?' 'Cheap' is another term I hear from novices. There is no cheap in Street Fighter (offline, anyway), only effective and not effective. Sometimes you're going to have bad match ups. And in those bad match ups there are going to be things your character doesn't deal very well with. Rekkas, projectiles, dive kicks, frame traps, mix ups...these are all things that can be frustrating, but are essential to the individual character's success. Not using them is limiting your character's potential and thus your own potential for wins.

The comments section of this video lets you know all you need to know about how little they know about Street Fighter and why they will continue to lose, no matter the player. They lose to the tactic and the match up, but not necessarily the player specifcally. Any player who knows how to do what the Gouken does can defeat the Honda player.

While that Gouken wasn't very good (he missed a bunch of damage potential and did a lot of unsafe dive kicks and tatsus), he didn't need to be good at anything other than zoning to win this match. He recognized his opponent's weakness and took advantage of it. Regardless of his skill, he played to his strengths and his opponent's weaknesses and that's why he won.

There are a couple things that Honda could've done to deal with Gouken's projectiles.

- Use Focus Attack to absorb the projectile (even the EX version does only 1 hit if they don't charge it) as this will close the distance, as well as give you an ultra earlier in the match, with the potential to get two if you use it early enough and absorb or take enough damage.

- Punish whiffed upward aiming hadokens with headbutts. Even if you don't punish and he manages to recover and block, you've closed the distance and pushed him towards the corner.

- Pressure Gouken with Jab xx Hundred Hand Slap any time he gets close. All he did were jump in fierces and roundhouses. Even blocked HHS pushes your opponent towards the corner. A little pressure goes a long way. Any time the Gouken got pushed to the corner he immediately tried to get out with escape tatsus or dive kicks. These are unsafe and can be punished. Well-timed butt slams will, at worst, trade, but keep Gouken in the corner, where he can't zone as effectively. Whiffed air tatsus can be punished by dashing in where he'll land and using a command grab. This will make him think twice about trying to escape as much using these tactics and keep in him the corner.

- Quit doing random EX headbutts or butt slams in hopes that a random one will work. Even if one lands, you're not conditioning your opponent since he knows they're random. Since you're not punishing whiffed upward hadokens and Gouken's not jumping in on you, there's almost no reason to use EX headbutts. LP headbutt works about as well for anti-airing and you build meter, not burn it. Meter is important for Honda, because he's more dangerous in this match up with super. Jab xx HHS xx Super, Anti-air headbutt xx super, super through projectiles, anti-air super, whiff punish with super, etc. Since Gouken wasn't forcing much of the action and only really tossing hadokens, Honda could've had super and two ultras both rounds. A fully loaded Honda is much more dangerous than one who isn't utilizing his meter or damage potential. Since Honda's a character that can deal out a lot of damage with just a couple attacks, meter makes him all the more dangerous.

If you're not playing your character to their potential by using all of their tools and you lose, you need to recognize what you're NOT doing and how you might go about incorporating those things the next time around. Simply recognizing what did and didn't happen in a match can change the flow or momentum between matches. Reads and adjustments are the key to Street Fighter. The more you can predict what your opponent will do, the easier it will be to react or punish your opponent for being predictable.

1B) Autopilot and Random

A lot of players, after having played a certain character for awhile, will go into an 'auto-pilot' mode, where they just react with their usual routine of options because they work against the majority of players they face. 3rd Strike Akuma's tend to always do shoryuken after a blocked HK tatsu. A parry or block and punish in this situation will work most times because it's unexpected. Most of their opponents try to punish the blocked HK tatsu. In certain match ups, you can punish it (Hugo's pile driver, Dudley's Corkscrew Blow, characters with small hitboxes go under the last few hits and can easily punish), but not too many players online will continue to block, just wanting to escape the block pressure Akuma can force on opponents. Try to recognize what your autopilot tendencies are so that you can break them and be more effective. It's not about being random, it's about not being predictable.

I can't stress that last part enough. Too many players rely on random because they're misguided and think random is what works for them. To a certain extent, it will, but it works way more against you, because an opponent that adjusts will get much better punishes for blocking than you will get for landing random hits. Remember, random is a double-edged sword. It might be okay every now and then just to keep your opponent on their toes, but relying on random attacks is putting yourself at a disadvantage. If it's random, you don't know what's going to happen either. Random is a gamble, and if you bet wrong, you lose big.

However, there are guys who master being random and autopilot. They're frustrating and often make good players look bad because they know what a good player would and wouldn't do. They often gamble a lot and rely on that to carry them. One of the best players I've ever come across online who embodies this is this guy:

Not putting him on blast, as the guy can beat anyone and he's actually got fundamental skills (hit confirms, defense, anti-airs, etc.). His reactions are top notch and he knows his character and style. The only problem is once you figure it out, it stops being effective and he has a much harder time pulling off wins. All he has is that style, so in that respect he's one dimensional. It's a really hard thing to deal with, but once you do he has almost no counter or adjustments for it. He also only plays this character, as far as I know, so he's one dimensional there as well. There is no switching it up, because he's so ingrained in this particular style with this particular character that he maybe doesn't want to or can't adjust his play once he gets figured out.

So, while random can work against you just as well as it can work for you, there is a sort of art or skill in mastering it. Not everyone can do it, and a lot of players look down on it. Regardless of opinion, if you can master it, go for it. It's just one more weapon in your arsenal. Just don't rely on it. Don't be one-dimensional. The best players know when to use it and when not to. Poongko is a prime example of how to turn it on and off when appropriate.

Training Your Opponent

Like I've said before, Street Fighter is a mental battlefield where mind games rule when you play this game at higher levels. Training your opponent simply means conditioning them to think a certain way to to expect things you want them to expect. This is the funnest part of Street Fighter for me, as it really starts to delve into the mix ups and mindfuck territory. Poongko is one of my favorite players because he conditions players into doing what he wants them to do to win. His execution is excellent and his reactions are fantastic, but what makes him really dangerous is his ability to force you into his style of play.

If you've played SF4 for any period of time online, you probably already do this to a certain extent. You might block string someone and drop it in anticipation of a reversal. You might frame trap someone you know likes to hit buttons or mashes throw tech. Good Ken players in 4 will do delayed crouching shorts to see if you're mashing crouch tech (trying to tech a throw while crouching) and then punish you with shoryukens if you are. Makoto will rush you down and punish you with normals to force you to block so that they can land their karakusa. Cody will frame trap you and condition you to block to kill you with tic throws or in hopes of counter hitting you for more damaging combos.

There are all methods of training or conditioning your opponent to do things you want them to do. Okizeme is a huge part of this and training your okizeme to include different options or set ups is vital to your chances of winning. In SF4 various characters have a 'vortex' that players refer to. Akuma will pressure you on your wake up with demon flip set ups. DeeJay will do ambiguous cross ups or frame traps so that he can combo into his cr.MK which causes knockdown and allows him to continue pressuring you. C. Viper, Cammy, Ibuki, and even Oni (to a certain extent) all have their own types of vortexes that make them 'better' than the rest of the cast. They make getting knocked down more dangerous than against characters with less okizeme options like Sagat or Vega.

In ST, Vega has the best okizeme in the game with his wall dives, as they are mostly safe on block and lead to more mix ups if you land them. This makes getting knocked down against Vega extremely dangerous and thus makes him one of the best (if not the best) characters in the game.

He conditions Kusumondo, one of the best ST players ever, to block and hesitate going on the offense because of the threat of Vega's okizeme. This is a bad match up for Honda, but try to pick up on the way Mao forces Kusumondo to play. Kusumondo tries to limit the wall dive's effectiveness by putting himself in the corner, preventing a cross up. The corner, usually where character's are most at a disadvantage, works to Kusumondo's favor in this particular match up. Notice that later on in the set, Mao works at keeping Kusumondo midscreen as much as possible where his wall dives are most effective. Kusumondo does a great job limiting Vega's mostly safe pokes with great spacing and timing of his own normals, so a lot of blocking is going on in this match. That sets up opportunities for command grabs and throws which Kusumondo utilizes throughout the match. Safe jumps, jump back or neutral jump normals in anticipation of wall dives, purposely whiffed normals or specials to punish counter attempts, control of space, and control of the air game determine the flow of the match and show how each player is trying to impose their will on the other.

When you play a match against anyone, regardless of skill level, you want to put an idea in their heads of what your next move is going to be. You want them to think you're going to go for overheads so you can go low. You want them to think you're going to go for meaties or throws so you can bait a reversal and punish. You want them to think you're baiting something so you can go for throws. You condition them to block so you can go for tic throws.

Let's say you condition them to expect a throw after a blocked jump in attack. Walk back for a second and throw out a quick normal that you can hit confirm from. This will cause them to question their action the next time this situation occurs. Say you go for an overhead and then usually go low. Next time do two overheads and go for a throw. They expected a low, the second overhead threw them off, and they were not expecting a throw. Now your opponent is confused and scared to be put in that situation again. He guessed wrong twice and he might get desperate. Do one overhead, walk forward for just an instant and immediately go to block to see how they react. Do they try to tech a throw? Reversal? Do they block low? Block high? Attempt a parry? Dash back? Use this as data for their tendencies and plan to blow it up the next go round. Players who panic fall back into bad habits and tend to not consider the implications of their actions in those situations, as they're merely worried about escaping those situations. Use this to your advantage and really get into their head by exploiting their tendencies.

Try to pick up on what your opponent is falling for more than anything. If it's tic throw set ups, don't just use the same set up. In certain instances, dropping hit confirms might do you more good in the long run than earning just that small bit of damage. It shows you're willing to mix it up even when attacks land and makes you just that more unpredictable. It isn't always advisable, but keeping your opponent on their toes is key to staying unpredictable. That being said...

Mindfuck your opponents by maximizing your damage potential. Hit them with long, extended combos. Get the max damage from any situation to put pressure on your opponent into not making any mistakes. If they whiff an uppercut, try to get the most damage possible from a punish to force them to play less risky. Some players are unaffected by this, but some are susceptible to getting mindfucked simply by sheer skill of execution and loss of life. Players who get punished for trying to rush down will all of a sudden slow down their offense and play more defense or play a lot safer. They might not take as many gambles and try to play reactionary.

Some players don't handle rush down offense well and some don't handle turtling defense well. Pick up on what makes your opponent uncomfortable and use it to condition your opponent to playing the way you want them to. Are you more comfortable forcing them to block? Rush down. Are you more comfortable playing defensively and forcing your opponent to come to you? Turtle.

However, what can really help your game out is if you learn how to play both ways. You can change your style depending on momentum of the match. If you won the first, but lost the second round with turtling, play the third with rush down and throw your opponent off. Keep your opponent guessing by playing defensively to get the lead and rushing down to finish them off. Or rush them down to get the lead and finish them by turlting up. Whatever works for you in the match, use it until it doesn't work. Condition your opponents into playing how you want them to play. Build a game that forces your opponents to jump at you. Build a game that forces your opponents to block or parry. Use different characters to prevent getting downloaded easily or quickly. Different characters have different strengths and different weaknesses. Play to their strengths or play to your opponent's weaknesses.

This last part is something I think only I really do, but I've found helps me figure out different player's games and how to overcome them. Lose the first round or match purposely. Don't show them all your cards. Trick them into believing you play a certain way or can't execute certain things. Play solid though, try to force their hands offensively, but don't show everything you're capable of in the first round. As you play more matches, let your offense and defense evolve. Either your opponent will evolve with you to the point that you've both seen most of what each other can do and will and skill decide the match, or your opponent can't evolve his game with yours allowing you to steadily defeat them. It doesn't work too well for things like ranked, but in long sets this will go a long way. You still might not see everything they're capable of, say, in a best of 10, but you will build a strong foundation to go off of and get a good feel for how your opponent likes to play.

Editor's Note: I'm going to link some really useful tools and things at the bottom here, which, if you can utilize them I heavily suggest you do as they can only help improve your game Also, if you guys have any questions on anything I've covered or want me to go over something you have questions about that I haven't covered, leave a comment and I'll try to get to you within a reasonable amount of time. I also need some input because at this point in the series I'm unsure what direction to go in since the general stuff has mostly been covered.

Anyway, thanks to any and all who've stuck around for this extremely lengthy, wordy blog series so far and to those of you who've shown appreciation.

An okizeme trainer to help you with your okizeme for SFIV on PC, Shabrout has put together an awesome mod and tutorial video:


If you're looking to learn 3rd Strike, Nica K.O., one of the best 3rd Strike players in the US, has compiled a huge playlist of all sorts of really good, really technical and character specific tutorials and demonstrations for anything and everything 3rd Strike:


If you're interested in all the different hit boxes and what they look like for everyone in SF4 (all the way to AE, as far as I know), a bunch of guys over at SRK have put in a lot of work compiling everything and making it really comprehensible:


One of the best resources for match up knowledge out there for SF4, SF4tube offers a variety of character specific content, allowing you to search by match up, showing who wins, who loses, and other character specific content.

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About KD Alphaone of us since 7:17 PM on 11.21.2006

Been a member of Dtoid since June 2006, but I don't really like the front page since it's become a jumbled mess of overwhelming content I could care less about. I'm mostly active on the forums these days. I'm here for video games, not social commentary. If you really want to get to know me, head over to Super Street Fighter IV or Gears of War 3 threads.

Favorite games: FFVIII, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Super Street Fighter IV, Tetris Attack, Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger, Star Fox 64, Tekken 3, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Breath of Fire IV, Dragon Quest VIII, NBA 2K12, Gears of War 3, Geometry Wars 2, Vagrant Story, Lumines Live.

Fighters all day, errday.
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