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Good prediction is one of the key skills necessary to be a successful competitive Pokémon player. Prediction is the only tool a player has at his or her disposal to overcome a poor team match-up; hence, it is important to be able to predict effectively. The ability to predict your opponent is one of the main stumbling blocks for new players and the leap to overcome it can be a great one. Hopefully, for those struggling with prediction, this article can be a starting point for you to become a successful predictor in the future.
Some competitive Pokémon players will argue that prediction is nothing more than glorified guessing. In some respects, this is true, but the characterization is wholly inaccurate. Prediction is intelligent guessing based on collected experience and information. A useful analogy is this. Let's say you are throwing a die and are attempting to guess what side it will land on. Your guess simply has a 1 in 6 chance of being correct. Now, let's say I'm aware that one side of the die has been weighted such that there is an increased likelihood of it landing on that weighted side. I will obviously "guess" that it will land on the weighted side. Could I be wrong? Absolutely. However, I am using my knowledge to make an educated guess to increase my likelihood that my guess is correct. This is the difference between guessing and prediction.
As alluded to in the previous paragraph, information is at the heart of prediction. The more information you have the better you can predict. It's as simple as that. How do we analyze that information to effectively use it though? That's the key. This is best illustrated through example. I want to make it clear that every single example I use will be something that I have experienced myself; these are not hypothetical scenarios. I also want to make it clear that all of these matches were against skilled players, so the scenarios I demonstrate are between two competitive players of decent skill level.
Let's say turn one I'm leading with a U-turn / Leaf Storm Choice Scarf Celebi and my opponent is leading with a Swampert. When initially trying to predict, one should always assume the opponent won't be predicting. In other words, you shouldn't be predicting at this point. Given that I know this is a terrible match-up for my opponent I suspect he will switch out and not knowing to what, I decide my best option is to U-turn to scout his switch-in. However, to my surprise, he leaves his Swampert in and simply sets up Stealth Rock. While the match has just begun, I have already grasped a significant amount of information about my opponent from this short play. You could assume your opponent is a poor player, but that would be a terrible thing to assume. The information you should be drawing from this scenario is that your opponent believes you are predicting him to behave in a conservative way and so is behaving in an inverse manner in attempts to "out-predict" you. How is this information I just retrieved useful to me though? Fast-forward to later in the match. My Choice Scarf Heracross uses Close Combat as my opponent switches to Gengar. I also have a Blissey whereas my opponent has a Choice Band Dugtrio. My information from turn one and the next turns have led me to believe my opponent believes that I will make the obvious move and thus he will not. Expecting my switch to Blissey, he brings in his Choice Band Dugtrio only to be KOed by my Heracross' Close Combat. Here, I have utilized my previous knowledge to make a prediction on my opponent's behavior.
Information is everything when it comes to prediction: the probability of your prediction being correct only increases with the more information you have available at your disposal. Every single action taken by your opponent is one more snippet of information about his or her play style and team. Keeping your mind open and not letting any move go unanalyzed is one of the key tools available to increase the success of your predictions.
There are some skilled players who are always trying to outpredict their opponents. There are also some skilled players who almost never utilize prediction. For most of us, it's a balance; sometimes we do predict and other times we do not. Whether we do or do not should be based on the concept of risk versus reward. The ideal time to predict is when your risk for an incorrect prediction is minimal, whereas your reward for a correct prediction is quite significant.
I have a Wish / Protect / Toxic / Flamethrower Blissey on the field, whereas my opponent has a Choice Specs Latias out and is also holding a Metagross and Gyarados. My remaining team members have great difficult with Gyarados and only marginal difficulty with Metagross. While I can afford to let neither come in for free, I must decide. Do I use Flamethrower to damage his Metagross or Toxic to cripple his Gyarados? My obvious move choice should be Toxic since that has the least risk and the greatest reward. While this is obviously an extremely simplistic example it serves to illustrate the point.
There is only one scenario where you should completely disregard the potential risk and only concentrate on reward. That scenario is when, unless you take a bold, risky action, you are guaranteed to lose. The primary objective of any competitive game is to win by any legal means. If you are in a situation where the current battle is all but loss unless you take a risky action, you should indeed take that risky action. If you incorrectly predict, you may lose "worse", but in terms of competitive play a loss is a loss no matter how close it is. Your sole goal is winning and if risky prediction is your only way of achieving said goal, it's a situation of "what do I have to lose?"
Obviously, there is a balance to this and the appropriate ratio of risk versus reward for individual players is something that can only be discovered through personal battle experience.
In battle, you should be acquiring information and predicting your opponent's move. However, should you forget, so is your opponent. Assuming your teams are both well-constructed, you will need to predict better than him or her to win. Remember my point that prediction is built on acquired information. What if you were to feed your opponent false information about your play style? Effectively, this would damage his potential to predict your actions and give you the upper hand. In essence, you are trying to feed your opponent false information about your play style to hamper their prediction abilities.
In this scenario, several times my opponent has witnessed my match-up of my Infernape versus his Snorlax. Looking at his team, I was concerned about his Choice Scarf Salamence waiting in the wings, which I realized I had no guaranteed way of beating. So, I decided I would feed my opponent false information about my play style. Every time I was in the scenario of my Infernape versus his Snorlax, I always used Close Combat, even when it was plainly obvious that his Cresselia was going to come in or his Salamence. In the final match-up of Infernape versus Snorlax, instead I decided to use Hidden Power Ice which KOed his Salamence. I intentionally fed false information about my play-style to my opponent (that being, I rarely predicted) in attempts to lure in a particular Pokémon and then predict accordingly.
This strategy, while risky and requiring fine-tuning, can often yield large return and get you out of a tight situation. This connects back to my point stating above in "Risk versus Reward". This is a tool available to you that can be used to get you out of situations where if you do not act in a risky manner, you will lose the battle regardless.
The type of team used also impacts prediction. Each particular style of team requires a different style of prediction to use them effectively.
Let's begin with stall teams. Stall teams are often characterized as involving the least amount of prediction to use successfully. While this is true in some respects, that is not to say that stall players do not require any prediction skills. Stall teams will often have a sure-fire response to any variation of a particular Pokémon. For example, if a stall player's opponent brings in Swampert it is natural for him or her to respond by switching in Celebi. However, they will not always have a sure-fire response and this is where prediction comes into play. Notorious stall breakers such as mixed Dragonite or Salamence can pose huge threats to stall teams if the stall player does not predict correctly. If the stall player incorrectly switches Blissey into an incoming Superpower the core of the stall team can be injured significantly. This is where prediction on stall teams is most important. As a stall player you will want to consider what information you have given your opponent about your play style. If you have always made the obvious move where in the match-up of Dragonite versus Blissey you bring in Hippowdon to the Superpower, you may this turn wish to stay in expecting a Draco Meteor. Prediction on stall teams can be characterized simply as: only predict when you absolutely must. Prediction does have an inherent risk to it and generally stall teams try to minimize any scenario where there is risk present. A general rule for stall teams and prediction is to play it safe.
Hyper-offensive teams are in direct contrast to stall teams. They rely on prediction substantially. Offensive teams will typically consist of fast and frail sweepers who rely on setting up to sweep. To find the time to set up, it requires prediction. Hyper offensive teams are known for taking risks and playing with few reservations to be successful. Offensive teams work particularly well with the concept of "false intel" illustrated above. Offensive teams need every opportunity to set up possible; by misleading the opponent into your play style early in the game this can open up potential situations for you to set up by changing your play style later in the match and causing your opponent to incorrectly predict. Offensive players often weigh reward significantly greater than risk and it requires a lot of fine tuning to find the correct balance between those two for a successful offensive team.
Strategy-based teams are arguably the most vulnerable to an opponent's predictions. Strategy-based teams are those teams that are built on the concept of setting up a particular strategy, such as Gravity, weather teams, Trick Room, or Baton Pass teams. On these teams, a single incorrect prediction can damage a team substantially since each member relies on one another so strongly, particularly in the case of Baton Pass teams. To these teams, it is often in their best interest to completely eliminate prediction. For example, Baton Pass teams will often carry Substitute. Substitute helps to prevent incorrect prediction on the players part entirely since if he or she were to incorrectly predict, the consequences are substantially less since a Substitute would be the injured one. Gravity and Trick Room teams will often use multiple Pokémon to establish their strategy. The majority of the time, the number of Pokémon that are designated to set up on a Gravity or weather team are higher than necessary in most cases. The purpose of this is too eliminate the negative side effects if an incorrect prediction is made (or a correct prediction by your opponent). Strategy teams often use "back-ups" to aid in incorrect prediction and to minimize its effects. The actual prediction style itself is nearly identical to stall team in that strategy-based team players should attempt to expose themselves to risk as little as possible.
For balanced teams, a mixture of the above styles in varying degrees, prediction, not surprisingly, is a combination of the above styles and should be played as such. The style of prediction in balanced teams comes down to individual team members. If you are currently utilizing the portion of your team associated moreso with stall, you will want to utilize the prediction aspects laid-out in the stall team section.
While this only begins to touch the depths of prediction, hence it being an introduction, hopefully some players unfamiliar with the basic elements of it will be able to use these guidelines to explore this realm further. Prediction is something that is fine tuned over time and evolves differently with each player. The rudiments of it have been outlined, now it's the time for those of you who have yet to use prediction successfully to take these basic concepts and expand upon them with your own experiences.
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