The Correct Play

Hello everybody and welcome back for my first article of 2012! My topic this week is regarding making the correct play and my thought process in how to do this. I’d like to go ahead and say some things that you all may not necessarily agree with, but I believe them to hold true.

I believe that there is a single correct play in every situation of every game and every move other than this correct play is a misplay. Many of you probably disagree with this and would say that it depends on the player’s playstyle. What if I said that playstyles didn’t exist or rather that they were unnecessary as your playstyle should be dynamic and changing with the game? It is extremely unlikely that the correct play will follow a single playstyle (aggressive, conservative, etc) every time.

“I always play carefully and try to avoid unnecessary risks. I consider my method to be right, as any superfluous ‘daring’ runs counter to the essential character of chess, which is not a gamble but a purely intellectual combat conducted in accordance with the exact rules of logic.”

- José Capablanca, Chess World Champion 1921-1927

Capablanca also believed that there was a single correct play in chess. There is, however, a difference between chess and Yu-Gi-Oh. That is in chess, everything is revealed and the only thing you cannot be sure of is what your opponent is going to do.  Yu-Gi-Oh is different since it is a card game and there are lots of factors that you don’t know such as what your opponent has, what you’re going to draw, whether or not they will make the correct play, and so on. That is why in Yu-Gi-Oh we have to make the distinction between the best and the optimal play.

The Best Play

The best play is the play that you would do if you knew all of the factors surrounding the game. The best play is objective and if you did it you would receive the best result every time. You would attack the eight out of ten times they didn’t have Gorz and not attack the remaining two times. You would set two when they did not have Heavy Storm and would not set two when they did have Heavy Storm. You would turn all but one monster to defense when they had Mirror Force and leave all four monsters in attack mode when they did not have Mirror Force. All of these are what I would consider the best play. Unfortunately, the best play is largely irrelevant. We can’t be 100% accurate in doing X when they have said card and Y when they do not because of all the unknowns in the game. The best play does us little good as it gives us almost nothing to strive for and for this reason the best play is not necessarily the correct play.

The Optimal Play

The optimal play is the play that we would make given what we know. The optimal play is subjective to the factors surrounding the game. This is much more useful to us since there are so many unknowns in the game. Since it is useful to us, I consider the optimal play to be synonymous with the correct play.

The optimal play and the best play are not necessarily different plays; in fact, they are quite often the same. After all, the reason we are making the optimal play is because we feel that it has more of a chance at being the best play than any other play we could have made.

The next thing I’d like to explain is what I take into account when I am figuring out what I believe to be the optimal play. There are five things that I take into account while I’m trying to figure this out; reads, pressure, investment costs, state of the game, and avoiding unnecessary risks.


Since the optimal play is subjective to the factors surrounding the game, the first thing you should account for is what you believe your opponent is holding. When you take these into account you should have a reason for why you believe they have something and not just a random guess or the “what if” situations that you can create. Allow me to give a very basic example; I was playing at locals and started by summon Tengu and setting Enemy Controller. He summons Banisher of the Radiance and sets two. I summon Spirit Reaper and attempt to attack over Banisher with Tengu, he responds with Dimensional Prison. Why would he do that unless he could stop both my other Tengus with the last card to which I concluded it must be Warning. I then chained to the Dimensional Prison my set Enemy Controller to tribute the Tengu and take the Banisher. He activated Warning on Tengu and then Reaper and Banisher hit him directly and I made Zenmaines and I won shortly after.


Your next goal in figuring out what is the optimal play is to figure out which of your plays puts the most pressure on your opponent to deal with the current situation or take massive amounts of damage by waiting. Examples of pressure are most soft locks such as Stardust and Dimensional Prison or Caius and Maxx “C,” situations where you have essentially forced your opponent to lose some card advantage to deal with the immediate threat while creating a situation that they will be forced to deal with.

Investment Costs

The next thing you want to look at is conserving your power cards. As a rule of thumb you are going to want to use your least powerful cards before you use your most powerful cards. The reason for this is that because as the game goes on, all of your cards become more powerful since both players have fewer cards and as such have fewer cards to answer yours with. If you managed to save your Black Luster Soldier until you absolutely needed it, chances are they aren’t going to be able to deal with it since they wasted their more powerful cards dealing with your less powerful cards.

This is the reason why cards like Thunder King and Tengu are so powerful. They are very low investment cards that force your opponent to use multiple cards to get rid of them. This creates an ideal situation for you as you can conserve your powerful cards like Reborn or BLS for once they have used their resources to get rid of your lesser, low investment cards.

State of the Game

The next thing you should consider is the state of the game; are you winning or are you losing? If you are in a winning position, you should only use low investment plays to minimize any chance your opponent has of coming back. The reverse is also true, if you are in a losing position, you often do not have time to wait. The reason for this is your opponent wants you to wait, they clearly have a better hand and if you play their game, they are going to grind away all of your resources.  Let me give an example; I was playing at the same local and the kid had Macro and two other backrow with a Survivor up. My hand was rather weak and if I wait I would almost certainly lose and despite it being the first turn I chose to activate Heavy Storm without fear of Starlight for if he had it and I activated Heavy, he’d win, but if I did not activate Heavy, he’d win regardless. When he did not have Starlight and I activated Heavy, I was able to come back and win.

Avoiding Unnecessary Risk

The final point goes hand in hand with the above point. There are necessary risks and there are unnecessary risks. An unnecessary risk would be, for example, if you are in a winning position and attack into Gorz despite you not having an out to it if they have it. A necessary risk would be something like the one mentioned above with Heavy and Starlight, it is a risk you must take because if you do not you will lose regardless.

By taking all of these factors into account, you should be able to come up with the optimal play, the single best play with what you know. This is something you should always be doing as it is often also the best play. Even if it does not work out as the best play, you have no way of logically knowing beforehand the actual the best play and thus should strive to make the optimal play. I hope everyone enjoyed my article and had a happy holiday! Until next week everybody!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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