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On High Level Competition

I’ve previously mentioned my love for Chihayafuru, but today I want to discuss another topic that’s recently come up in the series – as of the latest chapter, 222.

***Spoilers abound for those who don’t read the series***

So as of the latest chapter, Chihaya is on the 2nd out of 5 possible queen matches with the current reigning queen, Wakamiya, her long time rival. One development that’s come up is how Chihaya is moving around her card order in order to disrupt Wakamiya – she considers herself the only and foremost expert on Wakamiya’s playing style, and she’s using her knowledge of the queen’s playing style to disrupt her normal flow of play. In other words, she’s trying to take away her A game.

Jack Slack is a combat sports writer I follow who does in depth analyses of elite combat sports athletes, as well as technical breakdowns of their matches and styles. He has a long running series in particular called Killing the King, which is an analysis of a current UFC champ – what their strengths are, and their weaknesses. More importantly, how to exploit their weaknesses, and how to take away their strengths, or even turn them into weaknesses. He also calls this taking away a fighter’s A game – their A game being all the things they’re good at that enables them to stay champion. Presumably, previous challengers have either failed to take away their A game or are incapable of beating them even after taking away aspects of their A game. Which leads me to Chihayafuru: Chihaya decides to beat the queen by taking away her strengths.

Chihaya has always been focused on the queen Shinobu, for the entirety of the series. Before meeting Shinobu, she had been fixated on achieving the status of queen herself. But after meeting Shinobu, she finally had a target with which to place her goal. Reaching the level of Shinobu had become her focus for much of the series, as well as achieving some other tangential achievements in Karuta – having her high school team become national champions, as well as trying to evangelize the spread of karuta as much as possible. However, her main goal has always been to reach the top, and that’s always been embodied by surpassing Shinobu Wakamiya. What I find interesting about this is how so much of the series is about Chihaya developing her own sense for the game and her own strategies to win that are faciliated by her playing style – her superior sense of hearing. But unexpectedly, she downplays the strategy of focusing on polishing her own A game to chip at Shinobu’s A game.

For most of the series, Shinobu is undefeated – she may lose a match occasionally, but like tennis, she wins the overall set – until she faces Wataya Arata. Arata, Chihaya’s childhood friend, turns out to be a long term rival of the queen as well – apparently, he’d always beat her in tournaments when they were younger. Likewise, when matched up again, he beats her again, in a hard fought match. But he doesn’t do it by taking away her A game – he does it by having a stronger A game than she does. Which leads to my next point: the style matchup.

Every sport and everyone that plays a sport has different styles – there is no uniform way to play that will inevitably lead to success. Think of it as rock-paper-scissors: some styles are inherently better suited against others in the same way that rock always beat scissors, and some styles will nullify each other in the same way that rock cancels out rock. There’s no single style out there that will literally beat everyone. Even the best players in any sport has taken some L’s. If you’re playing against someone who’s style happens to match up well against you, you need to readjust – what can you do?

  1. Beat them through sheer athleticism. This won’t work if they’re more athletic than you.
  2. Just keep going as is and hope you get lucky.
  3. Make adjustments to their actions that should favor you more than it favors them over time.

For number 3, there are two forms of adjustment you can make: in game adjustments, and pre game adjustments. You can think of the difference between these two as tactics vs strategy. Tactics are the adjustments you make during the action – when you’re already engaged with your opponent. Strategy is higher level thinking – it’s the actions you make in preparation – the direction you plan on beforehand that should be specifically catered towards your opponent’s habits or weaknesses. It’s not the case that you should be doing one or the other – ideally, you should be executing on both fronts. You should examine your opponent and try to prepare strategies against them beforehand. However, you should also be on the lookout for things during the match that you can capitalize on, since you can’t always predict exactly what will happen in the real world – as Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” You can prepare all you want, but there’s no guarantee that things will line up as you expect. You need to be able to adjust on the fly as well.

Anyways, back to Chihayafuru. Arata beats the queen, without taking away her A game – this can only work if the style that you’re imposing is capable of beating the other player, obviously. If you can simply power through without ever considering the other player, well, you’re clearly far and away the best. But the odds are good that you’re going to hit a wall at some point. We see this from the two best players in the series – the king and the queen, Suo Hisashi and Wakamiya Shinobu, respectively. Their play styles don’t take into consideration the other player’s styles. They’re simply good enough that they can impose their A games on anyone and can beat them straight up. However, we’re starting to see that no longer to be the case – If your style stays static forever, eventually people will come up with strategies to nullify your strengths and impose their own strengths onto you. We’re now seeing this with Chihaya, and will probably see Arata do this to the Meijin. Otherwise, he’s gonna get smoked.

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