6 years of playing competitively and a lot of brainstorming went into this guide for your improvement! Quickly read on to learn how to read your opponent to the depths of his mind!
"That was a good read!" yelled Ultradavid as Ryan Hart whiffpunished the fwd.mk of Momochi's Ken during Capcom Cup. This is an example of a read which is crystal clear to the audience watching. Which factors lead to this situation where one player had such a clear expectation of what was going to happen? Are there other situations where reading the opponent can be applied? I'm sure you all have a basic understanding of how to read your opponent, the goal of this article is to explain every aspect of reading your opponent and how to convert these aspects to gameplay.
The foremost aspect of exploiting the gameplay of a weaker player is conditioning. This is a psychological term used to describe the workings of creating a situation where A leads to B and imprinting this as a fact. In USF4 this transcribes to, for example, always throwing 2 fireballs consecutively after blocking a fireball. If a weaker player does this it is considered a bad habit and could be exploited at your leisure as in his mind the sequence is made as "it's the way it's supposed to be". If a stronger player does this the goal is to make the other player believe he does this every time and exploit the attempt to punish. This is also reflected in other aspects of the game. For example the left right mixup on wake up or a situation where one has frame advantage. Again making the other player believe A goes to B and exploiting his gameplay believing in your imprinted sequence. As you read this I want you to think about situations in your games where you could have applied this and think about the maximum punish you could have afflicted on your opponent.
One step deeper into this concept you get to a bit more vague concepts like fear and momentum. The prime example of both concepts is the Ume-shoryu. Daigo rubs his Ryu against you for what seems like an eternity and the moment you think "he's gonna throw me" or "I need to poke him out of range" he throws out his shoryu (and the crowd goes wild). As he hits these Ume-Shoryu's your doubt increases and you're not even thinking about attacking him but just being focused not getting hit. This is called momentum, if you look at the situation on facts alone (your health, your ex-meter and his) there's probably nothing to worry about. The only thing making you think like that is his ability to condition you into defending his barrage of trying to pry your mind open. It's exceptionally hard to come out under this crushing weight of really feeling being read and outplayed by someone stronger than you. The way of using this momentum yourself is riding along the hits you get, thinking one step ahead and making your opponent feel stupid by baiting his attempts to stop you running a train over him. In a best of 3 environment momentum is your best friend, as one good read can win you the entire set.
I now want to take you into the depths of the Infiltration-notetaking reads. If you're past a mid level and you already know most of the things I've written in these last paragraphs this will interest you the most. When players are past their level of having bad habits (yes, from subtop-player onwards people stop having bad habits, regardless of what scrubs try to tell you) they still have certain aspects for you to exploit. It's hard to notice at first, it requires loads of matchup and player knowledge. It takes even a greater player to see these aspects and adapt within a match. These things aside what separates the top-players and the subtop-players foremost is their ability to mask their strengths aswell as their weaknesses. If you notice a subtop-player steamrolling people in casual play you can already analyze where his strengths and weaknesses lie, as they are proud of the level they have achieved and flaunt around their skill for everyone to see. For example you can sometimes see they rely a lot on a situation made from a certain space of the screen, they get the short end of the stick in a certain defensive situation and avoid this by backdashing or jumping out. These players are often pretty amazing and could be a threat to most players in a tournament setting. But with this knowledge in the back of your mind you can exploit his tendencies. If the player likes to attack from a certain range, as described in the example, you need to do anything in your reach to not be in that range and ditto this by forcing the situations where his defense was lacking and punish his escapes. If done effectively you can make the player feel uncertain and doubt his gameplay, he will lose most certainly. To get back to the Ryan Hart vs Momochi read, Ryan read Momochi's impatience and his tendency to use fwd.mk from a certain range, he walked back at the right moment and was ready to punish to the maximum. This isn't a mindreading but it's pretty damn close to it.
-LLL.RSD "Roy Sommeling" MBR
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