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Hax happens in Pokémon. You will get lucky or lucked at every turn, causing even the most seasoned of battlers to snap at some point. There will be moments when you think you have a guaranteed win or loss, only to find that through an intricate combination of defense drops, full paralysis, and critical hits, the battle has taken a completely unexpected turn. Most believe that these luck-based turns of events are completely out of player control and luck has no correlation to skill. However, ask any professional poker player, RBY master, or rock-paper-scissors champion and they will tell you the same thing: changing the probability of a loss by even one percent takes skill, and it will pay off in the long run. When playing, you must always be conscious of any luck factors that could affect the outcome of the game. When you are losing, force your opponent to use Stone Edge and Focus Blast, and, when you have the win, avoid Jirachi at all cost. The only move that is a 100% loss in Pokémon is to click the forfeit button; until the last Pokémon has fainted, you (or your opponent!) still have that 1/2924 chance of a triple Scald burn crit. Learning how to recognize and control these situations will have a notable impact on your win percentage, and by association, your ladder ranking and tournament placement.
I'll talk a lot about losing or lost positions here. It is important to keep in mind that winning by outplaying your opponent should be your top priority. If winning through clever switching or prediction is possible, it is always a better strategy to pursue the win through solid play. The chances that you'll pull off a win using the methods I'll discuss below are much lower than the chances of a win coming from solid play. Don't make bad moves just to hope for hax! Not all positions will allow you to win through superior play, and these are the positions that should be considered lost. In these positions, turning to luck is your only option. When you are in a losing position and looking to eke out a win from nothing, keep these tips in mind:
Creating a win from a losing position is all about finding holes in your opponent's armor, and inaccurate moves are by far the largest. Even if it means leaving more of your opponent's Pokémon alive, when you are in a lost position, using potential misses as a game-changing opportunity will pay off occasionally. Consider the following scenario:
Your opponent has an active Choice Specs Rotom-W at 40% health and a Choice Scarf Terrakion at 3% health. Rotom-W just finished off one of your Pokémon with Hydro Pump and is now locked into the move. You have two Pokémon remaining: a standard Mixed Tyranitar at 50% health with Crunch, Ice Beam, Fire Blast, and Stealth Rock, and a standard Expert Belt Hydreigon at full health with four attacking moves. There are no hazards on either side of the field. You must decide which Pokémon to send in. Consider that all your opponent needs to do is get Terrakion in without taking damage to win the game. The easiest way for them to accomplish this is to let Rotom-W die, and thus this is probably their intention. Therefore, the only way to win this game is to force Terrakion to take damage switching in, and the only way that can happen is by using Tyranitar to set up Stealth Rock. Rotom-W has a 20% chance to miss Hydro Pump; if it does, Tyranitar can set up Stealth Rock to prevent Terrakion from switching back in, and Hydreigon can KO Rotom-W after Tyranitar faints for the win. A 20% chance to win is better than the 0% chance that any other route would take you, proving that in some situations, trying to get lucky is the best possible move you can make. Note that it is possible that your opponent could switch in Terrakion on a predicted Stealth Rock from Tyranitar, but given your opponent's high chance of winning, such a move would be unreasonably risky.
Such a scenario can emerge through more than just setting up entry hazards. It is not uncommon for a game to end when a Stone Edge misses Dragonite, which sweeps with a crucial Dragon Dance under its belt, or a Hi Jump Kick misses Blissey, enabling it to use Softboiled and switch out, ready to wall the Volcarona that it was supposed to be too low on health to stop. When lost, always make your opponent attack you with inaccurate moves when possible. If you're in the process of being swept by a Swords Dance Terrakion, dare it to hit with Stone Edge before letting it finish off the rest of your team with Close Combat. If it misses, you will have escaped with the minimum amount of Pokémon lost, whereas any Pokémon it has KOed with Close Combat are wasted.
It is easy to forget that a stray Ice Beam can completely change a match. A recent important tournament match was decided when, in a losing position, a player ordered his Jirachi to spam Ice Punch to try for a key freeze that ultimately shifted the game to his favor. Jirachi is, of course, the mascot for this; everybody who has played competitively for more than a month has a horror story about the time a Jirachi flinched his Heatran to death with Iron Head. Here is a simple demonstration on how to utilize side effects to win a game:
You and your opponent both have one Pokémon left. You have a Modest rain-based Volcarona with Bug Buzz, Hurricane, Quiver Dance, and Substitute at 1 HP. Your opponent has a Jirachi with max Special Defense at 36% health. Rain is the active weather. You do a quick calc and notice that Bug Buzz does 35% at the most, and his Jirachi will obviously then finish off your Volcarona with any attacking move. Do you think your only chance to win is a critical hit from Bug Buzz? Think again! The correct move in this situation is actually Hurricane. The key here is utilizing Hurricane's secondary chance to confuse. The chance of a critical hit from Bug Buzz is 6.25%, whereas the chance of Hurricane confusing Jirachi and Jirachi hurting itself in the ensuing confusion is 15%. Successfully pulling off such hax will put Jirachi in KO range of Bug Buzz. Therefore, the chance of winning if you use Bug Buzz is 6.25%, but the chance of winning if you use Hurricane is 15%. This line of thinking can be extended to multiple turns: a Smogon Frontier match was decided when one player got a Special Defense drop from Flash Cannon followed by a paralysis from Thunder and a full paralysis on the opposing Pokémon on the same turn. They would have lost with any other plan of attack.
There are less obvious ways to take advantage of secondary effects than just hoping for a flinch or a freeze. Judiciously switching in Pokémon with abilities like Effect Spore and Flame Body on contact moves can result in a key sleep or burn that can change a game. While not a secondary effect, knowing when to try for a triple- or quadruple-Protect can improve your odds of winning. Side effects are both more common than critical hits and in some cases more devastating than a miss; they are not to be taken lightly.
This one is your very last resort: you should only try for a critical hit when there is literally no other option available to you. If you can instead go for a win using any of the other described methods, including outplaying your opponent, do that instead. There are two issues with simply trying to crit: first, the 6.25% chance to win is lower than anything else you can do except switch endlessly or click the forfeit button. Second, by virtue of not being able to see ahead five or more moves in advance, you might be overlooking a better way to win. Proceed down this route with extreme caution.
Nevertheless, that critical hit is sometimes the only possible way to win the game, most notably when trying to prevent your opponent from setting up. For example, let's say your opponent has a DD Intimidate Gyarados in at full health against your Choice Scarf Tyranitar locked into Crunch. Gyarados only takes 39% maximum from Crunch, OHKOes the entirety of your team with +1 Waterfall, and you have nothing else to outspeed it. The only option you have here is to try and crit it with Crunch. Switching would just let it get a free Dragon Dance and OHKO everything. Because the critical hit would ignore the attack drop from Intimidate, a crit would OHKO here. The 6.25% chance is your best. Note that you should actively try to avoid putting yourself in these situations; if you know that you are swept by a common booster like Gyarados or Volcarona, do not let them get a free setup. This might involve intentionally sacrificing Pokémon that would otherwise give them a free turn, such as Scizor.
Eager to hop on the ladder and actually get lucky for once? Well, it might come as a surprise to some of you, but you might actually start winning a game or two. Which brings us to our next section:
We've covered what to do when you're in a real bind, but what about all those games where you've played magnificently, and all you need to do is seal the deal? Remember that all those bits from the first part of the article still apply, and any good opponent is going to try as hard as they can to maximize their ability to hax you out of your well-deserved win. So what do you do about it? Do you just roll over, yell HAX!, and weep silently into your beverage? Nope! Just like with pulling a win out of a bad situation, it's possible to control the odds, and keep your opponent from rolling the dice and having them come up "win".
This is pretty much the flip side of the above. Inaccurate moves are everywhere, from Hydro Pump on the ubiquitous Rotom-W, to the oft-maligned Stone Edge, to even the miniscule miss chance on stuff like Air Slash. Nothing is more likely to force that loss than a well-timed miss from an inaccurate move, and in some cases, nothing is easier to control.
Take the following real-life example:
Your opponent has only a burned Specs Tangrowth at 55%. You've got an active Choice Scarf Heracross locked into Megahorn at ~60% and a sleeping Kingdra at 20%. The Kingdra is clearly of no help at this point, and you're one Megahorn away from winning the game. Except avast! The Megahorn misses, and Choice Specs Leaf Storm obliterates your poor Heracross, and Kingdra follows immediately behind. You've lost the game on an 85% chance! Curses. You proceed to call your opponent some unsavory names and then ragequit.
However, some smart play could have avoided the whole thing. First off, the only winning move your opponent has is Leaf Storm, because he has to take advantage of a Megahorn miss—counting on two of them or a crit from Giga Drain isn't better odds. That means that a switch to Kingdra would drop Tangrowth's HP by 12.5%, putting it at 42.5%. Doing a quick calculation, you find that Close Combat does 43-50%, which means that the burn damage drops it just exactly into Close Combat KO range! Where you once had a 15% chance to lose to a Megahorn miss, you've now got a guaranteed win with Close Combat, which is always preferable.
There are plenty of other situations where this can be applicable—taking a 2HKO with Rotom-W's Thunderbolt over an OHKO with Hydro Pump (4% chance of missing twice!), hitting a weakened Jirachi with Earth Power instead of Fire Blast, or just going into the Teambuilder and clicking on Flamethrower instead of Fire Blast (or Surf instead of Hydro Pump, or even something like Rock Slide over Stone Edge—every little bit helps, and flinch can work wonders). Inaccurate moves are the easiest way to throw away the battle, and while the power might be tempting, sometimes the cost is just too high.
Crit happens. We all know it. Every once in a while, the great hax gods will wander over to your battle and give you a big 'ole middle finger. However, just because the chance of a crit is so small doesn't mean you can't just blame everything on hax. Sometimes, it's possible to make it so that even if your opponent gets the luck of the gods, you'll still pull out the win.
Take the following scenario: your 50% Starmie is up against your opponent's Quagsire. You 2HKO with Surf, he does 30% with Earthquake. At this point, all you need to do is Surf twice and win! You click the Surf button with glee, and then you see the familiar words... "A critical hit!!" and your Starmie goes down... and with it your victory. That 6.25% chance has stolen yet another win away from you. However, there's a simple way to avoid this scenario. Just use Recover! After the Recover, your Starmie is back at 100%, and then Quagsire's Earthquake drops you to 70%. Now, even if he gets a crit next turn, you'll still be at 10%, and nothing can stop you from Surfing your way to victory. Even if Quagsire lands a crit, you can still Recover again—the chances of Quagsire landing enough crits to counteract your Recovers is infinitesimally small.
There's all sorts of other ways to manage crits. The most notable is when you're in setup mode with something like Wish + Calm Mind Jirachi against something like a weakened Magnezone. You know Jirachi can 2HKO the opponent at +2, and OHKO them at +6. After a couple Calm Minds, it's taking less than 25% from Thunderbolt, so you figure it's easy enough to just set up to +6 and Wish off the damage. You hit 50%, and then... Pow! a crit blows up your Jirachi and dashes your chances of a win. That 6.25% chance has struck again. Or has it? Over time, while the chance of critical hit per turn is only 6.25%, the chance of getting critted at least once in the 10 turns it takes to get to +6 is about 47.5%. If you cut that to five turns to get to +2 and hit twice, you drop that down to ~28%, which I suppose is significantly better odds. Of course, any kind of prolonged setup is unwise. and will probably get you into trouble in general.
A lot of the time, status is pretty hard to control. If an opponent is going out looking to paralyze your whole team, it can sometimes be pretty hard to stop him from doing just that. However, you don't have to let status and secondary effects luck you out of a good game! There are a number of ways to keep status from wrecking your run, no matter how unlikely these effects might seem.
This is extremely significant with the efficacy of Outrage as an offensive tool, and especially with stuff like Moxie Outrage Salamence. If you can get a good Moxie chain going, you can get two or three KOs with that Salamence and just roll straight through teams... except for that pesky confusion that pops up. When your Salamence is at +2, it's so tempting to just hit that Outrage button again, just for the pleasure of seeing +2 Outrage melt whatever your opponent has out. However, it's important to use a little restraint! Salamence is an extremely powerful offensive tool even at +0, and much of the time it's prudent to just switch Salamence out, drop the boosts, and come back in later to go on the warpath again. Best to do that than just roll on a coinflip.
Yeah, we both know how tempting it is to set up Swords Dance on that weak Scald from something like Tentacruel. The burn rate's only 30%! Dragonite totally resists Scald; it'll only take like 10%. There's no way it'll burn all six of your team members one after another with only something like seven uses. Lucario just needs a Swords Dance and then it'll sweep the whole team! Honest! However, it's important to resist that urge. Try as hard as you can to keep your sweepers away from stray Scalds, Fire Blasts, Flamethrowers, Thunderbolts, and anything else that might cripple a sweeper before its day. This is usually easier said than done, but at least try as much as you can to keep important sweepers away from secondary effects that will end them.
It's easy to get riled up by nasty paraflinchers like Togekiss and Jirachi, and in a blind rage just let them flinch your counter 16 times in a row and kill it. However, sometimes that prevents you from making the better move, which is switching to a Pokémon that may not be quite as well-equipped to handle the opponent, but can at least get in safely and avoid getting flinched. As long as you're careful, you can figure out ways to get around nasty paraflinchers—the key is doing so before you lose an important Pokémon to the terrible luck they can induce.
Prediction is a science, but it's an imperfect science at best, so when it comes right down to it, a lot of prediction is just a simple 50-50 coinflip. A random number generator would probably have just as much success predicting the right outcome as a real player would. As a result, an important thing to keep in mind is that as much as you can, you want to mitigate how much the end of a game comes down to that crucial 50-50 heads up.
Take this as an example: You have a Will-O-Wisp Heatran in against your opponent's Thunderbolt-locked Specs Magnezone, and you take it out with your Lava Plume. Your opponent is now down to his last sweeper, a half health Dragon Dance Moxie Salamence with Dragon Claw. You've got your Heatran, as well as an Acrobatics Gliscor at 50%—just enough to take a Dragon Claw, but not enough to take a +1 Dragon Claw. At this point, it's a real coinflip, as you have two options: stay in with Heatran and use Will-O-Wisp, or switch to Gliscor. Your opponent's best options are to Earthquake or Dragon Dance. If Heatran stays in as Salamence uses Dragon Dance or switches out as Salamence uses Earthquake, you win. If Salamence Earthquakes when you stay in or Dragon Dances as you switch, you lose. At this point, the game is in the hands of the coinflip... and it could go either way. On top of that, you could still lose if you predict correctly and Will-O-Wisp misses! However, this whole thing could have been avoided by doing something entirely counter-intuitive: letting Heatran die to Magnezone by spamming Will-O-Wisp. If your opponent switches, his Salamence gets burned and he loses. If he stays in, you eventually get Gliscor in safely against Magnezone, and your opponent has no way to beat Gliscor. It's a 100% win.
This isn't always applicable—there are some situations that will always come down to a coinflip. However, the important thing is to have foresight—instead of thinking now (Magnezone vs. Heatran, I can't switch so I might as well kill it), think a couple of turns ahead (Gliscor beats both of his remaining Pokémon; how do I best get it in safely?). After a while, it's easy to spot the situations in which the seemingly suboptimal play puts you in a situation where your win is assured (or at least significantly more likely).
So there you have it. It might seem like luck is an immutable force destined to screw you out of wins at the worst times, but with a little smart play and application of brainpower, you can optimize your ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, or prevent your opponents from doing the same. It's all in the way you set things up.
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