Please give me examples of out-thinking ("meta-game" or "leveling") during sports
December 2, 2011 4:24 AM   Subscribe

Please give me examples of out-thinking ("meta-game" or "leveling") during sports

The classic basic example, is a no look pass, ie: I'm looking right, so you know I'm gonna pass it right, then I pass it left!, I was intellectually one step ahead of you, so I succeeded.

After doing the no look pass several times, it is occasionally possible to "level" your opponent by thinking on a 3rd level, and deliberately look left, AND pass left, because he "knows" that a no look pass is coming!

Please give me other examples in sport, of leveling.

Given, any one fake move, is a 1 level fake, which is not interesting, I'm talking about anything 2nd level and up!

Another example would be the goalkeeper in soccer who during a penalty kick leaves an opens pace to his right, and jumps right to save the ball in the obvious open space. He does this 3 times, and on the 4th time, does not jump right but stays put.

Another example might be the fake statue of liberty play. They pretend to do the statue of liberty, but actually don't.

I know this also comes up in poker quite often in many different forms (that is where I got it from).

I think the interesting part of these plays are that it requires a history between you and your opponents, where they are aware that you are thinking about the game at hand, and so they try to out-think you, and you take that to your won advantage!
posted by crawltopslow to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Any sparring sport is riddled with this - you'll notice that regardless of the sport, at the start of a match there is initially a lot of circling/testing/feinting before suddenly they go at each other for reals. A LOT is going on at this point, often very rapidly, though it may look like neither is doing anything.

Especially then (but at all times) both parties are concentrating almost entirely on making a set of fake "normal" reactions convincing enough that the opponent will rely on them being true when push comes to shove, while at the same time trying to figure out the opponent's true "normal" reactions from the fake ones s/he is trying to pass off on you.

It doesn't really require history between you because there is enough history in even a few seconds of sizing each other up at the start of a match, to start staking your game on your ability to see through their deceptions vs their ability to see through yours.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:53 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eg, it might only take four seconds for an opponent to have feinted several times and me responded by letting a muscle subtly twitch the same way enough times that it looks like I normally react that way but am trying not to respond to his feints. I will attempt to read him to figure out when he's going to act on that information, and if I can do that, he'll be expecting one thing and I'll deliver another.

Or more simply, in the middle of a match, I'll be keep track of how much he has done X Y Z, and how much I've done A B C, and as soon as it looks like he's figured out that I like to C, I'll swap it out for D to throw him, and we might be keeping track of a wide range of attacks and defences throughout the match. And not even the choices themselves, but things like how quickly they happen, what my reaction speed appears to be, etc. Everything that possibly can be is manipulated to trick the opponent into relying on something I can change.

So my point is, it can happen very very fast, and it's never not happening.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:08 AM on December 2, 2011

You seem to be looking for something very specific, and I'm not sure I totally understand. But if I do, would the Hidden Ball Trick be an example of what you're talking about?
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:28 AM on December 2, 2011

Perhaps the biggest coup in out-thinking an opponent is instances where you've trained your opponent so completely that they didn't even realise they were making an assumption at all, where it simply didn't occur to them that a premise they held was even a candidate for not being reliable.

The look-pass doesn't qualify because everyone knows that a pass can be made both ways and you're trying to figure out which way it will go.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:30 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I just realised I've been describing the foundation that gives rise to it, rather than giving examples at level 2 and beyond. But because of the foundation, level 2 and beyond is happening near-constantly - a match is constant building on what's already happened so far, and finding new and inventive ways to use that history against each other.)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:35 AM on December 2, 2011

In baseball, man on third, less than two outs, grounder to the second baseman deep in the hole. The book says you pump fake to hold the runner on third before flipping to first, but instead you drill it to third.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:51 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not sure that this qualifies as "level two" but there are all sorts of interesting mind games that come into play in baseball when a runner reaches second base.

Once a runner reaches second, the Pitcher and Catcher no longer have the ability to easily communciate via signals, as the runner on second can now observe the signals from the catcher. There have been many reported incidences of a runner on second observing said signals, and then signaling back to his dugout afterwards EVEN IF HE HAS NO IDEA WHAT HE JUST WITNESSED. Its a matter of griefing the other team into THINKING he knew the signals... or better yet, maybe he did decode it and just let his teammate at the plate know that high and inside fastball is coming his way.

See this video of Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins observing the catcher's signals and then relaying the signals back to the hitter and the other base runner (you can see him grab the earpiece on his helmet). This video is cut short, but in that at bat, the catcher of the Tigers calls "time-out" 2-3 times as he begins to get pissed off about Mauer stealing signals and has to run out to the plate to discuss the pitching strategy.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 6:04 AM on December 2, 2011

Rope-a-dope as practiced by Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle match with George Foreman. He used it to beat the champion who had been considered unbeatable.
posted by alms at 6:22 AM on December 2, 2011

Also, 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. Butler vs. Pitt.

After mounting a comeback, and taking the lead, Shelvin Mack, for Butler commits a dumb foul on Pitt player Glibert Brown, sending him to the free throw line for two shots with less than a second on the clock. Pitt can tie or win the game on freethrows.

Doing anything he can to redeem himself for his team, Shelvin Mack is seen standing next to Gilbert Brown talking to him at the free throw line during down time while the referees have a meeting. During this exchange, both players are seen laughing and smiling.

After the game, Shelvin explains that he just walked up to Gilbert, introduces himself and asks him "normal things," like where he's from, what his major is, what his GPA is... stuff like that.

If there's a "Butler Way" to trash talking or getting into the head of a free-throw shooter at a pivotal moment, thats it.

Of course, Butler went on to win the game.

See here and here.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 6:46 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this counts, because I'm not in his head. But Devin Hester appears to be able to know what defenders are going to do before even they do. Same with Walter Payton. It was as if he was reading the ground as much as he was reading the players. "If I put my foot right *there*, I will be able to push off that little lump and change directions mid flight and the other guys will slip on that wet patch next to it."

I've also seen quarterbacks get entirely confused into throwing an interception because the defender was putting on a better show of running a route and being open. It's like the quarterback is reading the field based completely on body language and forgetting to check uniform colors.

(Can you tell I'm from Chicago?)

When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, it seemed as if they were studying the rulebook as much as they were practicing. Not so much out-thinking the opponents, but out-smarting them. Taking advantage of their mistakes in a way that nobody had before.

Another thing I've noticed in many endeavors is using emotion. If your coach makes you mad, you play harder, it focuses you up. I'll show him! But if the other team makes you mad, you play worse because it defocuses you. Your mental energy gets split from playing well into wanting to beat someone.
posted by gjc at 6:48 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here is a better example of the Butler vs. Pitt game above. Pay special attention to Shelvin Mack (#1 for Butler, in the black uniforms) between the 2:00 and 3:00 mark trying to intimidate/mentally mess up the shooter at the free throw line.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 6:49 AM on December 2, 2011

The entire sport of fencing, once you get beyond the beginner level, is a lot of faking to elicit a specific reaction from your opponent. You'll see fencers attack weakly on purpose, allowing the opponent to parry the attack, because maybe the opponent gets out of position on his parry, leaving himself wide open for a remise of the attack. Feints are common, where you feint a high attack to elicit a response that opens up your real target, a lowline attack. At level 2, you purposely make a poor feint, to lead the opponent to believe he has countered your feint and now has the advantage, when in fact you were counting on him countering the feint all along, because you are setting up for whatever response you expect from your feint.
posted by COD at 6:50 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Welcome to roller derby!

Once you get the feel for how your opponent acts (she'll look to the inside of the track but hit to the outside; she'll always go to the outside of the track when trying to pass), it's easy to counteract, and then easy for the opponent to counter-counteract.
posted by Lucinda at 6:54 AM on December 2, 2011

American football is full of these kinds of things. The first that occurred to me is the pump fake, in which the quarterback fakes a passing motion to freeze the defense, then makes the actual pass once his guy is clear.
In basketball, there are certain times when it is only logical to foul someone and let them take the two free throws rather than let them get an easy two. This is especially true if they are not known to be a very good free throw shooter.
posted by Gilbert at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2011

Speakng of Devin Hester, a possible example from a recent Bears game vs. Green Bay:

Hester is the most feared punt returner in the league, so Green Bay punts to Johnny Knox on the far side of the field (from the camera's perspective). However, Devin Hester drops back as one would, and makes a big show of lining up to catch a punt.

The Green Bay defenders don't have time to look up and behind them to see where the ball is headed, so they run down and surround Hester. The Bears players position themselves sort of around Hester as they would if he was catching the ball, but just slightly more towards the far side, where Knox is quietly receiving the punt and taking off. By the time Green Bay has figured out that Hester's faking a return, Knox is already long gone, with one blocker and a touchdown.

It's interesting, because while there a number of fakes in football (many plays involve a token fake handoff or fake drop back to pass, usually unconvincing, and there are notable plays with very successful fakes), I've never seen or heard of a fake in the punt return situation, where the kicking team is controlling the direction of the ball, and the ball is hanging above the stadium, for everybody to see.

Too bad there was a penalty and the play didn't count...
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:06 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ooh! I thought of another one.

So football has a lot of fakes and misdirections and so on. But there's actually two games going on. One is called "American (or Canadian) Football" and is being played by a hundred or so athletes for an hour every week. The second is called "Remain an NFL Head Coach" and is being played by individuals, for years at a time.

The team winning the first game obviously increases the odds of the coach's success on the second game. But how the team loses the first also has an impact on the second.

In general, NFL coaches are afraid to call plays that are risky and nonstandard; in particular, the decision to attempt a fourth down or just kick. A recent Slate article describes a play in the recent Atlanta-New Orleans game. Broadly, Mike Smith, the coach for Atlanta, chose to go for it when presented with a fourth-and-one on their own 30 yard line, in overtime. The odds were high that the team would make the play, and the odds of winning would be much better if they made the play than if they punted, given New Orleans' powerful offence and the good position they would likely have had after the punt. Statistically, it was a good call, but the play didn't work, and Atlanta lost.

It would have been safer to punt the ball away, not in terms of winning the first game, but in terms of Mike Smith's coaching longevity. This tension is present in a lot of football games (especially these types of situations) and the coaches usually opt for the "safe" route, not in terms of winning the game, but in terms of keeping their jobs.

I suspect this is similar in other sports with high coach/manager input into the game -- I recently saw Moneyball, and there's a scene where the GM, Billy Beane scolds the manager for not having the team play in the unorthodox way Beane envisioned when he assembled it. The manager replies that he is playing the team in the way that will give him a chance of working as a manager in the major leagues again.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:49 AM on December 2, 2011

teriyaki_tornado: "Not sure that this qualifies as "level two" but there are all sorts of interesting mind games that come into play in baseball when a runner reaches second base."

Even on first base, a skilled runner can drive a pitcher crazy by simply threatening to run and drawing throws to first base while the pitcher is desperately trying to focus on the batter.
posted by mkultra at 8:55 AM on December 2, 2011

Offense in American football is predicated on identifying and creating opportunities with the coordinated application of force. Deception plays a huge role.

For example, the various option offenses boil down to moving toward open space with multiple potential ball-carriers in play. Since the defense can't cover them all at the same time, opportunities are created.

One of the most interesting storylines in this NFL season is Tim Tebow. The modern NFL offense is traditionally heavily reliant on passing. However, Tebow is at his best only a so-so passer. His team has modified its offense to run college-style options, especially a variant called a read option, which have proven to be very effective.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:10 AM on December 2, 2011

ESPN Sports Science: "Chicago speedster Devin Hester may be the best return man in NFL history. The Bear's speed is put to the test against, well, a bear."

But if the other team makes you mad, you play worse because it defocuses you.

When I played coed rec soccer the best player in the league was a hothead (who should've been playing men's competitive, on both a skill and mindset level). Every foul was the other team's fault, every ball that went out of bounds was off the other team, and so on. Whenever my team played his team, I told my teammates to foul him on purpose. Nothing major, just a soft elbow or hip check, stuff like that. He'd get so pissed he was ineffectual the rest of the game.

Another opponent was a former teammate, who tended to get overexcited and kick the ball too high and hard if he had a shot on goal. When we played against him and I played goalie I'd move out of the way so he had an open shot and he missed every time.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:58 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

High-level Brazilian jiu jitsu is this way. One false action or reaction can lead to your position being constricted in an unfortunate and lasting manner. Black belts will tempt opponents with apparent openings, leaving an arm hanging in the wind or an open neck in order to counterattack.

And chess, of course.
posted by TheRedArmy at 1:15 PM on December 2, 2011

I think the UFC 129 fight between Lyoto Machida and Randy Couture would be a good example. Throughout the match, Machida would fake a quick leg kick which would make Couture flinch. Machida would then follow up with some quick jabs which would make Couture keep his guard up.

In the second round, Machida did the same fake leg kick and Couture, expecting a couple of jabs, would put his guard up. Instead, Machida followed up with a front snap kick that knocked him out.

Machida was also trained by Steven Seagal so I imagine he was in fact 3 or 4 levels ahead.

Video. (youtube)
posted by chugg at 2:22 PM on December 2, 2011

Harlequin is dead on with sparring sports. Here's an example and breakdown of some of this going on in this Kendo video (warning slow jazz accompaniment)
0:09 - White (on the left) lowers his sword as if he's going to strike which opens his head. His opponent takes the opening, but white counters with a strike to the wrist for the point.
0:31 - White (on the right) lowers his sword like the previous instance, and when Red attacks for the head strike, White blocks and executes a waist strike for the point.
0:56 - Red (left) circles his sword hoping to get white to commit to protecting his wrist, when that doesn't work he lowers his sword as if to prepare for a deep strike (which could make his head vulnerable for an instant), however unlike the 0:09 example, he overextended the feint and white is able to get the head strike before red could execute a countering wrist strike
1:19 - White (left) raises his sword to counter Red's high position, Red quickly makes a fake, which provokes white to slightly alter his position, and Red attempts the wrist strike, that particular wrist strike is not a point because Red hit with the wrong part of the sword, however the strike has White frozen for a moment allowing Red to get the point with the following head strike.
1:52 - one of my favorites. If you saw this at full speed it would look like a "level 1", a straight head strike, but it's actually a level 3. White (left) begins the head strike motion but brings the sword close to his body for defense and possible counter-attack. Red doesn't take the bait and steps back. White than begins another fake head strike, at a sufficient distance to be able to react to any of Red's counters, but Red doesn't counter, but most importantly doesn't distance himself from White, which White then takes advantage of by moving into the 3rd (this time real) head strike.
2:19 - White steps in and fakes, Red counters with a deep wrist strike that was deeper than White expected.
2:40 - Red tries to provoke white, but begins to try something else because White's not moving, but White struck right at the moment Red became convinced that he wasn't going to strike.
3:05 - Red tries to use strength to knock White's sword out of position, but misses twice, and on the second miss White counters with a wrist strike before Red can fully execute a head strike that Red was transitioning into.
3:33 - White fakes and raises his sword to counter the expected head strike, It looks like Red expected that exact move and counters with a wrist strike just before White could block it.
3:45 - another favorite, as it's very pretty. Both make the same fake open head move. Red takes a more defensive posture and White's body screams out a head strike is coming, which prompts Red to raise his sword making him extremely vulnerable to the wrist strike, which is the exact move White was making. In other words, White positioned his opponent perfectly for the strike he intended to make.
4:05 - First level move, I don't agree that it was a point, but I have the advantage of super slow motion.
4:28 - Another favorite. White moves and Red follows. Red bets everything that White is going for an immediate head strike, but White was being defensive, blocks Red's countering wrist-strike, and Red is now completely out of position and unable to defend against White's ensuing head strike.
4:52 - Just a second level, but it's a pretty one. Red blocks white's head strike and counters perfectly with his own.
5:22 - Red (left) fakes a wrist strike, which White blocks and Red responds to the block by going around White's sword with a head strike.

Any sparring sport has these same types of strategies (on preview, like chugg's UFC post), but they can happen in fractions of a second so it may be hard to catch sometimes.

You may wonder why so many of the opening moves begin by the lowering of the sword slightly, it's because it's one way of preparing for a deep, fast strike so it will often provoke a response in an opponent. The 4:05 clip shows an example of the non-fake.
posted by forforf at 2:42 PM on December 2, 2011

In the NFL, teams use deception to disguise their defensive coverage all the time. They will vary their formations to give the appearance of one type of coverage, while intending something completely different. There is a ton of meta-game going on that often isn't even commented on. For instance in a recent game I watched the outside linebacker (I think it might have been Leroy Hill of the Seahawks) was on the edge, lined up across from the TE. The offensive team sent the TE into motion and the OLB followed him across the formation. This is normally a very reliable tell that lets the QB know that the OLB is in man-to-man coverage on the TE and that the OLB is therefore not a blitzer. It also tends to suggest that there is likely to be man-to-man coverage across the board, since a zone would almost always mean that the OLB was dropping back to handle the short middle of the field protecting against crossing routes and dump off passes. Except as the ball was snapped, other players dropped into a zone and the OLB stormed the pocket from the outside edge. He was untouched and blind-sided the the QB for a sack, because he completely "leveled" the QB and the pass protection scheme.
posted by Lame_username at 10:04 AM on December 3, 2011

It stretches the definition of sport, but the entire field of "professional" roshambo/rock-paper-scissors is built on this.
Basically, there are two ways to win at RPS. First is to take one throw away from your opponent options. ie - If you can get your opponent to not play rock, then you can safely go with scissors as it will win against paper and stalemate against itself. Seems impossible right? Not if you know the subtle ways you can manipulate someone. The art is to not let them know you are eliminating one of their options. The second way is to force you opponent into making a predictable move. Obviously, the key is that it has to be done without them realizing that you are manipulating them.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:12 PM on December 6, 2011

« Older Artificially-induced Squigglevision   |   Out-of-this-world amazing scrambled eggs? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.