Hey there Hat Lovers,
Today’s article will be a discussion of one kind of “misplay.” Probably the most common, easiest mistake to make is to go for a hard read and have it backfire on you. These misplays are often called things like “overextending” or “missed predictions.” But at the end of the day, what’s often happened is that someone has gone against the safest path to victory in favour of a more rocky one.
Sometimes, that’s what you need to do, absolutely! Not all paths to victory are going to be laid down for you. But if you’re too eager to sail off course, you’re going to hit stormy seas. Playing safe is almost always a more guaranteed path to victory. To play safe, you need to select moves that allow you to come out on par or on top at the end of every turn. Indeed, to win, you need to select the best moves to use every turn. In most instances, selecting safe moves will get you there, but I don’t deny that a hard read may be necessary from time to time.
For the record, I’m going to define “hard read” as an umbrella term here. That means there are different kinds of hard reads you can make, but they’re all still hard read scenarios. Meanwhile, I’ll define a “coin flip decision” as a subset of hard reads. Keep this in mind as you read through!
So what is a hard read?
When I use the phrase “hard read,” I’m referring to when you predict exactly what your opponent will do, and counter their moves directly. I’ll also note that if the read is truly a “hard read,” then you are often intentionally acting against conventional logic and reason in favour of your predicted scenario.
For instance, say the following turn 1 occurs:
The lead matchup is Xerneas/Smeargle vs. Liepard/Mawile. Let’s say we’re the Xerneas/Smeargle player. What should we be considering for our turn 1 play? Smeargle has Fake Out, Follow Me, Dark Void, and Spiky Shield. Xerneas has Moonblast, Dazzling Gleam, Geomancy, and Protect. We’re facing down the threat of a Fake Out and Iron Head. But Liepard also has the potential to Taunt, and may even Encore us the next turn. How do we avoid falling behind on Turn 1?
The safe play would be to Spiky Shield + Protect on Turn 1, and then Follow Me + Geomancy on Turn 2. This combination of moves prevents Fake Out, Taunt, and Encore from affecting the game. It will also prevent Xerneas from receiving a Swagger or Thunder Wave. Lastly, it protects Xerneas from Mawile’s Iron Head, which means you can set up a Geomancy, which is your goal.
While I don’t think turn 1 is the time for hard reads, an example of a hard read would be to ignore this safe game plan in favour of an alternative one, where you directly predict your opponent’s moves. Let’s say you Spiky Shield + Protect on Turn 1 (let’s not be too cancerously bad here), and you’re now at Turn 2.
Now let’s pretend we’re the Liepard + Mawile player. Liepard has Fake Out, Foul Play, Encore, and Taunt. Mawile has Iron Head, Play Rough, Sucker Punch, and Protect. Our safest play as the Liepard + Mawile player is likely to Iron Head Xerneas and Taunt the Smeargle. If we want to make a hard read, we can instead predict that Xerneas/Smeargle will see that play coming from a mile away. So instead, we opt to Foul Play the Smeargle and Iron Head the Xerneas. That way, when Smeargle uses Follow Me, we’ll take the KO and next turn we can Encore Xerneas’ Geomancy!
This plan sounds pretty good. But before I move on, take a second to think about that scenario. What might happen?
Have you taken a second? Good.
Yes, the above scenario ignores the possibility that Smeargle could Dark Void. If you opt to Foul Play and Iron Head, Smeargle will out-speed your Mawile and at the end of the turn all you’ll have accomplished is damaging Smeargle, while your opponent instead has a +2 +2 +2 Xerneas. This is why I said our safest play is likely to Iron Head Xerneas and Taunt Smeargle. That way, if the Smeargle player chooses to do anything but Follow Me, we have taken the momentum. If Smeargle does use Follow Me, it will be Taunted for next turn, and we can still Encore Xerneas’ Geomancy!
For the Xerneas/Smeargle player, the safe play is still Follow Me + Geomancy, but a hard read could be to Dark Void + Geomancy or Dark Void + Dazzling Gleam. These are terribly unsafe plays as they don’t factor in the threat of Encore, but if the opponent doesn’t Encore/Taunt, theoretically they could work out.
So in this scenario, making a hard read could work out for either player and give them the lead. Liepard/Mawile could KO Smeargle at the end of Turn 2 and still threaten to Encore Xerneas’ Geomancy on Turn 3. But I call their Foul Play + Iron Head play a hard read, because it does not cover all of our bases. Instead, it pre-supposes our opponent’s turn and attempts to punish them for it. You can see in this scenario, that making a hard read early in the game is probably unnecessary, as there are safer alternatives that cover more bases. This safer play doesn’t put us in the lead, but it also makes sure we don’t fall behind.
So in essence, a hard read is when you deviate from the steady path to gamble. Sure, you could lose your gamble, but you could also win it! Personally, I try not to gamble unless it’s necessary.
What is a coin flip decision?
Briefly, I’ll also address the concept of a coin flip decision. A coin flip decision is where you and your opponent are neck-and-neck, and the game comes down to one pivotal turn. Say we’ve got the following scenario:
Jolly Life Orb M-Ray and (slightly damaged) Timid P-Kyogre
Damaged M-Kang and damaged +2 +2 +2 Xerneas
Often, coin flip decisions revolve around a crucial Protect. “Will Pokemon A Protect? Or will Pokemon A instead attack despite how I threaten the KO? If Pokemon A attacks, and I don’t target it, I’ll be pretty screwed. But if I attack into their Protect, I leave myself wide open to be KO’d by Pokemon B on their team.”
In the above scenario, let’s say that Xerneas is heavily damaged and can be KO’d by M-Rayquaza’s Extreme Speed. Both P-Kyogre and M-Rayquaza in turn can be KO’d by a M-Kangaskhan Double-Edge (but not Sucker Punch). We have just brought M-Kangaskhan in between turns, but big momma is also heavily damaged. This means she would be knocked out by P-Kyogre’s Origin Pulse, or M-Ray’s Extreme Speed herself. We cannot KO P-Kyogre with either Moonblast or Dazzling Gleam alone, but Xerneas can take an Origin Pulse (barring Critical Hits).
Thus, the RayOgre player has the option to either Protect M-Ray this turn, or go straight for the Extreme Speed onto Xerneas. If M-Ray Protects, and we hit P-Kyogre with both M-Kang and Xerneas’ Dazzling Gleam, we’ll pick up the KO on P-Kyogre and next turn M-Ray can’t take on both M-Kang and Xerneas. However, if M-Ray attacks and we just Fake Out M-Ray, we’ll take the KO on M-Ray and can Double-Edge P-Kyogre for KO instead.
BUT! If we pick wrong… If we Fake Out into a Protect, P-Kyogre will KO our M-Kangaskhan, and next turn M-Ray can just Extreme Speed the Xerneas for game. Alternatively, if we Double-Edge the P-Kyogre and M-Rayquaza DOES Extreme Speed, then it will KO Xerneas and can just out-speed and KO M-Kangaskhan next turn. Presumably M-Ray can also Extreme Speed to KO M-Kang.
Thus, we have a coin flip decision to make. Do we Fake Out M-Rayquaza? Or do we Double-Edge P-Kyogre? Either move choice is justified, and picking “wrong” will lose us the game. It comes down entirely to what our opponent chooses, and we have no way to know what they’re thinking other than a gut feeling.
This coin flip scenario is distinguished from making a hard read, because you aren’t acting against the safest path to victory. There is no safest path to victory. It’s all up to the flow of the game, and what level of prediction you and your opponent decide on.
I would call the scenario above a “hard read” scenario
I think some players might say that they needed to make a “hard read” here, as to succeed, you need predict what the opponent would do. I think that’s fair, but as I mentioned, I’m making the distinction between a hard read and a coin flip scenario by saying that hard read is an umbrella term, while coin flip scenarios are a specific instance where you make hard reads.
Thus you can make hard reads even when you’re not in a coin flip scenario. But all coin flip scenarios result in players making hard reads.
When do you need to make hard reads?
Hard reads should not be your default move by choice. The above scenarios outline why hard reads can be made even when they are not the safest play. In the Liepard/Mawile scenario, you COULD make a hard read and go for the immediate KO on Smeargle, expecting it to Follow Me. But this play is unnecessarily risky, and while it has the potential to pay off, there are alternative plays that cover more bases.
In the RayOgre vs. KangXern scenario, you are forced into making a hard read as there is no way to play to a win condition regardless of what your opponent does.
I faced similar clutch turns requiring hard reads in Oregon 2016 during the PC/Regionals; I failed to make the hard read in two, but got the third! All three were great games, and I’m sad I couldn’t save all of them. These aren’t presented in chronological order:
On one turn, I realized that my opponent could Moonblast my unboosted Xerneas for KO, leaving my M-Salamence free to attack. But I failed to act on this gut instinct and instead protected my Salamence from a potential Dazzling Gleam, and went for Geomancy with Xerneas. My opponent Moonblasted my Xerneas and I lost what was a very good game. While M-Salamence was at risk of being KOd, which would have lost me the game, the Protect play was too instinctive and reactionary, and thus his safest play was to ensure I didn’t get a Geomancy up.
Coin flip scenario #2:
I had a heavily damaged Salamence and a Xerneas (it’s aways Xerneas isn’t it?) against a M-Kangaskhan and ~50% Groudon. Salamence was in range for a Sucker Punch KO. The play I needed to make was to predict that my opponent would not go for the Sucker Punch, and instead double into my Xerneas to ensure that it didn’t get a Geomancy up. I failed to make this prediction, and Protected my Salamence while Xerneas used Geomancy. My Xerneas fainted to a combination of Double-Edge and Fire Punch. I needed to call the coin flip, and go for a Hyper Voice with Salamence while Protecting Xerneas. Again, it seems obvious, but I just wasn’t in tune with my opponent’s thought processes.
This scenario was crazy, and it’s a different subset of hard read than the above scenarios. I was in a bad spot, and I had P-Groudon out against a Talonflame and Kangaskhan. I had just lost my Talonflame, and needed to switch in either my Xerneas or non-Mega Kangaskhan. If I switched in my Xerneas, my opponent would be free to simply attack both my Groudon and Xerneas. For this reason, I opted to switch in my Kangaskhan to add pressure with Fake Out. In order to come back in the game, I had to predict how my opponent would react to this switch in. My bet was that they would Quick Guard and Low Kick my Kangaskhan to prevent Fake Out and thus take the likely KO on Kangaskhan that turn.
I set this scenario up, and at this point, it becomes a hard read. I predicted my opponent would not just attack with both of their Pokemon, and instead they would use Quick Guard to protect themselves from a Fake Out, and go for the Low Kick on Kangaskhan to pick up a KO (since their Kang was Mega, it was sure to move first, making this a fairly safe play on their end).
I then immediately switched my Kangaskhan out to my Xerneas to take the Low Kick, and used Eruption to KO their slightly damaged Pokemon, Talonflame and Kangaskhan. This plan worked perfectly, as Talonflame responded to the threat with Quick Guard and Kangaskhan launched a Low Kick into the incoming Xerneas. I crawled out of a pretty hopeless situation using a bait-and-switch strategy, thanks to making a very specific prediction; This set me up to make a hard read in order to come back in the game.
Truly ideal scenarios where a hard read is required are few and far between. But this was one scenario where I needed to make a hard read and predict my opponent’s game plan exactly. It’s a bit of a different subset, because I somewhat set the scenario up myself, so there’s an element of poker involved. But nonetheless, this was a hard read I had to make, and I’m glad it played out so well!
How should you respond to a Coin Flip scenario?
These scenarios outline some examples of what you can do when your back is against the wall. The best way to respond to these scenarios is to gauge your opponent’s ability to read into situations, and predict their actions. In my two coin flip scenarios above, I failed to acknowledge that my opponent would not make the obvious KO play both times, and lost as a result. In these scenarios, all I can say is that I should have trusted my opponent to make the predictive play, trusting that I would play safely.
I wouldn’t call these misplays, so much as they are missed opportunities. And something I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t win tournaments without taking a chance on an opportunity every now and then. My definition of a hard read is that it is effectively gambling on an opportunity. If you can spot that opportunity and make that gamble, good for you! That is one mark of a great player in my eyes.
But gambling unnecessarily is not the safest path to victory. I have also learned that one of the best ways to consistently finish in the top X% is to be capable of spotting and making the safe play. The other mark of a great player is someone who does not gamble unnecessarily. If you can spot and make plays that leave you with the advantage regardless of your opponent’s turn, you will not lose games by “overextending;” in other words, misplaying. Someone who can make those safe plays game in and game out, tournament after tournament, is also a great player in my eyes.
There you have it! I hope this discussion was a useful read. I’d like to thank folks that hung out with the Remoroom (like Toler) for discussing this article idea with me, which helped me realize I needed to clarify things a little better.
With respect to hard reads and player skill, I’ve learned some things about the growth and progression of a player over the last few years. First, when you’re just starting out, your goal should really be to try and spot/act on the safest play in every game. Once you are no longer making misplays, but are instead, losing on missed opportunities, you can start to make gambles on hard reads when necessary. If you let yourself develop as a player this way, I think you’ll see relative success more immediately, and continued success down the line.
But, that’s just my two cents! You play how you want to; and if you take home wins, then your system is clearly working!