Let’s Be Honest, Are You Really Playing to Win?

mikebalanWhy do you play Yu-Gi-Oh and why do you enter tournaments?  For entertainment?  To have fun with friends?  For the feeling of winning or to win prizes and a trophy?  Would you use every advantage you can get so long as it's not labeled 'cheating' ?  That was the discussion I originally posted on my Facebook page and when it was shared on ARG's Facebook page a heated debate ensued.

The original question asked whether or not you would tell your opponent that he or she was accidentally exposing their cards or would you use this information to your advantage?  I will preface the rest of this article with this:  Everyone has their own opinion including myself.  I cannot argue and prove that one way or the other is more correct but I would like to introduce these ideas to you with the hope that it'll somehow improve your game.

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Chances are that if you are reading articles here on ARG's website, you're more than just a casual gamer.  You're a competitive player looking for new ways to edge out the competition.  So when this opportunity to to gain free information arises, have you considered what you would do?

A good amount of players who have responded to the question have stated they would tell their opponent right away.  The arguments to do so ranged from "having an honest game" to "not deserving to win if you have to win with extra information."  If you share this feeling, the take away message from this article is to understand that not everyone will share this moral stance.  With that in mind, protect your hand at all times.  The most competitive players will utilize every piece of information they can possibly get leaving you wondering how they perfectly played around your entire hand.

If you haven't thought about how you held your cards lately then now is a good reminder.  Also, while shuffling your hand non-stop may be a habit, realize that you may unknowingly expose your cards to your opponent.  Chances are that they won't tell you to stop.

To play devil's advocate, you should know that being a person with good morals will not necessarily equate to being a good Yu-Gi-Oh player.  Vice versa, a player taking advantage of someone in a card game, fair or unfair, does not mean they are a bad person outside of the game.  Understand that there are several elements beyond the game itself, outside skills that are necessary to being successful in this game.  These skills include the mental aspects of the game, knowing how to read an opponent's set cards, knowing how to bluff, knowing how to influence your opponent to make moves in your favor, and using any useful information to make the correct plays among many other things I will touch on in future articles.  While I do not advocate for you to ever cheat by creating unfair disadvantage to your opponent, it may be okay to accept information 'given' to you.

This leads me to the other group of players.  These are the players with the "playing-to-win" mentality.  When it comes to a competition, whether it be a game of Yu-gi-oh, poker, or Halo, I take on this mentality myself.  A locals amongst friends?  I'll take it easy.  A major event?  I came to win.  From the comments on my Facebook wall, many of the best players, some who are even YCS/SJC champions, act this way as well.  While grinding the cash games at the World Series of Poker, it is the smallest bits of information that I get from other players that allow me to make the best decisions and win money.  When Major League Gaming hosted Halo 1 tournaments in its infancy, timing the respawns of power weapons was seen as 'cheap' and 'unfair.'  However, those who did it won the big events.  These games had elements beyond the rules of the game itself which influenced the outcome of game.  Yu-Gi-Oh is no different.

Perhaps I embraced this play-to-win attitude during my teenage years when I was first introduced to a series of articles written by game designer and competitive gamer David Sirlin entitled "Playing to Win" (Part 1 found here: http://www.sirlin.net/articles/playing-to-win-part-1.html)  Arguably one of the most important pieces of writing with regards to competitive gaming, his series of articles explores the frame-of-mind required to attain the skills necessary to reach the highest level of competition.  Despite his opinions on card games such as Yu-Gi-Oh and MTG (something that may not be his forte), his analysis on the mindset of the best competitive gamers transcend beyond the fighting game genre that he originally based his articles on.  I strongly urge you to read that if you haven't yet.

My biggest argument for not telling your opponent then stems from an idea that Sirlin brought up many years ago.  "Some players are playing with  their own restrictive, unwritten rules."  Unwritten rules of "good sportsmanship," "to always be innovative," or even "to only play the best deck" - All ideas that can create mental prisons holding you back from achieving success and getting to the highest level of competition.  Not using the information handed to you by your opponent can be seen merely as your own mental and moral roadblock on your way to victory lane.  Are you prepared to get to where you want to be?  Will you do whatever it takes?  Be honest with what you want to achieve.  What unwritten rules do you think are holding you back right now?

Whether you decide to use extra information to your advantage or keep the game honest is solely up to you.  I am not stating that the 'playing-to-win' mentality is the be all, end all to becoming a great player.  It is only one of many paths you can take and everyone can find their own piece of success in their own way.  For some, win or lose, simply enjoying a card game amongst others who share the same hobby is satisfying enough.  However, if you share the play-to-win mentality and want to learn more then I will be glad to give you some guidance.  As always, come back for future articles and feel free to message me on my Facebook or on Dueling Network (DDSpade). 


Mike Balan
I am a competitive gamer. I've travelled for Halo 1 events back when MLG was at its infancy. My first TCG was an online game based off Final Fantasy 8 called Triple Triad where I found much success online leading one of the best clans. Since then I've branched out to other TCGs and I play poker and grind out the WSOP. Ive played Yugioh for close to 10 year now. Winner of the biggest yugioh event ever. Topped the 2nd biggest event. Multiple tops and regional wins. I am a registered nurse and save lives as my profession. I have a family of my own now, wife, 2 year old daughter, and expecting another baby girl on the way!