StarCraft vs. Poker - Outsmarting by adjusting

You've probably heard of the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” principle - it’s hard to win at anything with one unit or strategy alone, even if your opponent only has a slight idea of what he is doing.

A nice ‘Bio Ball’ of Marines, Marauders and Medivacs looks nice... until your opponent gets Colossi. You might respond with some Vikings, but he can counter with Stalkers. Pretty soon you'll start wishing you still had your Bio Ball. StarCraft games are more often than not a perpetual cycle of adapting to your opponent. He shows Rock, you opt for Paper. He shows Scissors, you go with Rock. You get the idea.

One step ahead

If you are an ambitious StarCraft player, you are probably not content with simply reacting to your opponent’s actions. Once you have scouted him properly and you have made sure that he is not doing anything out of the ordinary that may require immediate attention (Proxygate, anyone?), you put your game plan to work and try to get one step ahead of your opponent.

That’s exactly what you should be doing at the Poker table as well. Over the course of a few dozen hands you will get a clearer picture of the opponents you are dealing with, and likewise they will have a better understanding of what you are doing.

Now it’s time for adjusting. With the information at hand it’s time to check if you need to diverge from your original game plan in order to make the maximum profit from the people you are playing against.

In StarCraft, especially at the casual level, your opponents can generally be placed into a few distinct categories. Some players stay in one base the entire game and go for a one base all-in, others try to out-macro you by getting the better economy, and others rely mostly on harassing and dropping and are generally aggressive.

The same is true in Poker. Some people hold on to their chips like prized possessions and risk them only when they are absolutely sure they are making the right decision. Others have the gamble in them and love a good flip of the coin. Each player requires a specific counter-strategy.

'Rock, Paper, Scissors' all over again

Remember the example from the first paragraph? The Rock, Paper, Scissors analogy? The same goes for dealing with the different types of poker players.

Unfortunately, there aren’t just these three types of players. That would make things too easy. There are various ways that players can be aggressive or that they can be ‘tight’, the usual Poker term for someone who plays more defensively. General logic would suggest, that you should be ‘tight’ when someone is aggressive, right? Wait for strong hands, then use his aggression against him?

While the general concept that ‘tight is right’ is frequently correct, you still have to make sure that you don’t get run over. Once in a while you have to take a stand, even if you don’t have Aces or Kings. Otherwise, you’ll be easier to read than a children’s book. One with pictures, not words.

Changing gears

Even if you are playing tight, you want to make it as hard as possible for your opponent to adjust to you. If you make it too easy for him to put you in a category, he will adjust to your style of playing and not pay you off when you finally have a good hand.

In Poker, you can deal with this problem by what some players call “changing gears.” This means that you sometimes play aggressively by raising and betting a lot, but when your opponents believe they know what you're doing you “change gears” and start playing tight again to get paid with your strong hands.

In StarCraft, you can probably compare this to going in one tech direction while already preparing to change your army composition further down the road. You know that your opponent will counter your infantry army with Colossi, so you already have the Starport in place to have Valkyries ready for action when he bring in the Colossi.

That way you can pre-adjust to your opponent's plans and use his own momentum against him. Or in the words of a famed car mechanic: Yo dawg, I heard you like adjusting, so I adjusted to your adjustment...

Poker and StarCraft are about being smarter than your opponents and staying ahead of them with frequent adjustments is a key part of that. Try to keep that in mind at the tables!