Risk: Win Big, Lose Hard

When you sit down to play, you are putting yourself in a situation where you must make decisions. These decisions determine your success or failure, and only the correct ones will lead to victory. What exactly those decisions are- no one knows. But for every one that is made there is a price to pay. Behind every move is a question- will you stay the course, or will you gamble with fate? Your life is a heavy bet to place- but the power that is promised surpasses all that you know.


Every single move you make- this includes not making any moves at all- comes with risk. If you choose to BB, there is a risk of the opponent stepping. If you choose to throw, there is a risk of the opponent breaking it or ducking. If you choose to guard, there is a risk of the opponent using the time to apply pressure to you.

Anything and everything carries risk. It is in every battle, every round, every game. Nothing comes for free- someone has to lose somewhere.

Risks can be big, and they can be small- but they are always in play. Sooner or later, you will have to deal with the consequences of your actions.

Generally, there are a few principles regarding risk that when followed put you above your peers.

Minimizing Risk

The first principle is to minimize your own risk while maximizing the opponent’s. This means- limiting your own actions, so that there is not much on the table to lose- and putting your opponent in situations where they can lose everything in an instant.

Limiting your own actions means not playing however you’d like- it means restricting yourself to low-risk maneuvers. If you’ve heard of the term “safe”, this is what it means: when a “safe” move is blocked, there is not a large risk of taking damage. Using safe moves only is a low-risk way to deal damage while reducing the opportunities given to the opponent.

Likewise, an “unsafe” move, when blocked, carries with it a large risk of taking damage. Using unsafe moves is very risky, and should generally be avoided, lest your opponent take the opportunities given to him and come out on top.

Punishment is a “no-risk” maneuver in particular. When blocking unsafe moves, if you can pull off a successful punish, you hit them at no risk to you- they cannot counter in any way, shape, or form once their move is blocked. As the principle goes- minimize your risk, maximize your opponent’s- and as punishment carries little to no risk, mastering punishment is key.

Spacing also comes into play with risk management- at different ranges, characters will have more or less options. When you can manipulate the space between you and your opponent, keeping yourself out of their optimal range while keeping them inside of yours, you decrease your risk of being hit while increasing theirs. Because their risk is so high and yours is so low, it is likely that they will end up taking damage while you take none.

Ring positioning is a major example of risk management; a ringout equals a blow that does 240 damage. It ends the round instantly, no matter the circumstance. A wall offers extended combo opportunities, and large amounts of guaranteed damage. An opponent that is pushed to the edge with no way to switch position is in an extremely high-risk situation, while you are in a relatively low-risk situation. On the other hand, if you have your back to the edge, but you have a move that can throw your opponent behind you, your risk is still high, but your opponent has more to worry about.

It is all about what you have to lose. If there is a possibility of losing lots of health, or even the round, the risk is high. If the worst that can happen is a chip hit for 5 damage, the risk is low. Keep your opponent in risky situations, and keep yourself out of them- nature will run its course, he will lose and you will win.

Ends and Means

Playing “conservatively” this way, you should begin to notice your win percentage steadily rising in the long run. If you don’t take risk, you essentially let your opponent undo themselves.

You may notice, however, that some players seem to get away with murder and win. They don’t seem to follow the conservative principle, and go all out and enforce their will on their opponent. Why does this work?

Well, first, this game in particular, Soul Calibur V, has a bias towards high-risk maneuvers. Generally high damage across the board points to this- combine this with the two-rounds-down meter gain, and the “guts” system that discourages low-risk maneuvers to end a round- and you have an underlying statement: Risk everything for the comeback.

But- the second reason why this seems to work- is a very simple one. It turns out some of these players are playing very conservatively, just as the principle goes- except for one small detail.

Risk is justified if the payoff is large.

The Numbers

Let’s say I am playing Patroklos. I have my opponent’s back to the ring edge. I am going to use 236B- i15, -20 on block.

If 236B is blocked, the opponent has 20 frames to hit me. There are very powerful moves that are less than 20 frames- so I am looking at a punishment of at least 50-100 damage or more.


If 236B hits, I get a ring out. That is an instantaneous round win- 240 damage.

240 damage is more than the 50-100 damage I will take from the punishment. Hence, the risk is justified.

Let’s look at another example.

Nightmare scores a knockdown near the wall. The opponent could possibly sideroll to get away, so GS K will be used to stop it.

If GS K is blocked, the opponent is put at +18. The blockstun is fairly large and easy to react to, so it is more than likely that the opponent will respond with a launcher as punishment, which will result in 50-100+ damage.

If GS K hits, Nightmare scores 22 damage.

22 damage is a lot less than 50-100 damage. The risk is not justified. It is too risky to do this considering that the payoff is low.

Let’s throw a wrench in this, however, and say that GS K BE is used instead.

If GS K BE is ducked, the opponent must whiff punish from crouch, barring special circumstances. This could be another 50-100 damage, or it could be less, depending on the character.

If GS K BE hits, however, the opponent will hit the wall. The wall combo that results will lead to at least 100-150 damage.

100-150 damage is a little more than 50-100 damage. The risk could be justified depending on your own personal philosophy.

Always consult the numbers when weighing risk, but always attempt to avoid needlessly risky behavior. Remember that numbers do not always mean raw damage, but advantage, pressure, and other factors. Look at how much you have to gain for how much you are risking to lose, and make the call if it is right for you to take that risk.

Schools of Thought

Moral vs. Abare, Conservative vs. Reckless, Turtle vs. Rushdown- all of these terms regard how you as a player manage risk. The choice is a personal one that no one can make for you- but surprisingly, it is not an “exclusive” one. They are opposing, yet two sides of the same coin. Most strong players will be able to make use of both.

The “Turtle style” is that of low risk. The rewards may not be very big, but the assumption is that the turtle will outlast the opponent in a battle of attrition. “Who has the most patience?”

Rushdown, “aggro”, “pitbulling”- is a high-risk style. Attacking wildly makes you unpredictable, and can lead to big rewards. However, if you are doing anything except guarding, you are vulnerable- and that includes attacking. These structural weaknesses can be exploited and punished severely. The assumption is that the aggression will either end the match quickly or cause the opponent to panic and weaken his integrity. “Who wants it more? Who is willing to die?”

Classically, “turtle style” has been favored for its consistency. “Defense wins championships”, as the adage goes. “Low-risk investments” show returns over the long run.

However- this is Soul Calibur V.

Guarding cannot be done forever- guard too much and your guard will break, leaving you open for a combo with counter-hit properties.

Defensive movement is unsafe and risky. Backstep and sidestep grant counter-hit status when interrupted with an attack, the only “safe” form of movement being moving forward, which in itself puts you at disadvantage.

Guard Impact, while a powerful tool, requires meter, a finite resource. It also guarantees nothing when successful- only a mindgame, a test to see if both players are lucid and knowledgeable.

Just Guard, the sole defensive technique that has no weakness, lies behind an execution barrier. Fail to cross and you are repaid with a sharp blade.

This is not to say that turtling is irrelevant in Soul Calibur V- it means it is not as dominant. It means that turtles have to work harder to achieve the same results, while the other side is left with the same high-risk lifestyle as they are accustomed to.

Focus too much on defense and minimizing your risk, and you can possibly be outpaced. But as always- focus too much on offense and large payoffs, and you can be methodically picked apart.

In this game, both require commitment and both carry risk. Specializing in one no longer guarantees anything- so you may choose to use both, as the situation pertains. Ride the moderate line, and turn to extremes when your opponent requires it of you.

In Closing

Risk governs all. To play without paying heed to it is suicide- pure and simple. Reduce your risk and play “cleanly”, or chase the “big time” and die with a purpose- but don’t leave your fate up to chance.

Understand the risks, and then decide for yourself.


I was a strong believer in the turtle style. However, picking Patroklos forced me into the rushdown camp. I consider myself to be more moderate now, but I had a few principles to help me deal with the weight of aggression- I’ll talk about them now.

The following principles were just what I used to get by with an aggressive style, and they may not be right for you.


Turtling in this game involves taking risks. As such, going to the aggressive side is easier- if you have to take risks just to “play safe”, why not “go big”? Taking large chunks of your opponent’s life in an instant can equalize 60 seconds of cautious, careful play.

This skews even more so when you’re losing.

When given the choice between trying to inch back the victory carefully, and putting all the chips on the table, I go all in, and start taking huge risks to even the score. I turn my intensity and aggression to 11 and explode towards the opponent. Just the change in pace alone can win matches.

It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it sure does look like I made some good reads.


“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”

The above quote is from the Hagakure, or “The Book of the Samurai”. There are a few more that I’d like to show you.

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death.”

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.
Every day, when one's body and mind are at peace,
one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows,
and swords,
being carried away by surging waves,
being thrown into the midst of a great fire,
being struck by lightning,
being shaken to death by a great earthquake,
falling from thousand-foot cliffs,
dying of disease
or committing seppuku at the death of one's master.

And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead.
This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”

Pretty gruesome stuff… But what does it mean?

Look closely at this line.

And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead.

A samurai was supposed to exist solely for the purpose of his master. His life was in his master’s hands. If the master said, “Kill yourself.” the samurai would whip out his dagger and start cutting away.

In other words, he was a dead man walking.

Now this… This was a terrible servitude, almost barbaric in nature.

But- what it also represented- was freedom.

A sort of liberation- as twisted as that sounds.

A dead man has no emotions. He only serves one intention- the will of his master.

And- as we are the master of our own souls- this intention should be:

“Think only of cutting.”

When you do otherwise, you are making decisions and taking action based on risk- or more accurately, based on fear.
Fear of losing.
Fear of dying.

Operating from fear will taint your actions and prevent you from expressing your full strength. You are not thinking only of cutting anymore- you are thinking of losing. And so you are afraid.

If I consider myself as dead- I have already lost. I begin from a place of loss- so I have nothing to lose.

A dead man is not afraid.


“A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death.”

But to be honest- things don’t seem too irrational to me.

Winning or losing don’t mean anything to me, except:

A win means “You did good. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

A loss means “I need to train more.”

That’s pretty much it.

These are my ideals, at least. It is what I believe. I may have my fair share of salt now and then, but that’s irrational, and I stem that back with reason.

As it pertains to risk- this lets me take bigger risks when I need to. If I don’t care about the outcome and I don’t care about my life I’m not going to be scared when using risky moves. The current game just so happens to encourage this (and maybe I would not think this way if I were not playing SCV).


Of course, everything in moderation- use your good judgment. You should be capable of throwing caution to the wind, but you don’t want to do it all of the time.

In World War II, the Japanese military, taking the concept to extremes, had infamous war practices of doing banzai charges and dying for nothing with no chance of winning- don’t do that.

(This happened because at the time, death was romanticized and tied with honor. Your honor, your family’s honor. Your “face”.

I use the idea of “death” as a way to power or freedom, and nothing more. “Honor” gets in the way of strategy and tactics and really has nothing to do with playing the game.)

You don’t have to prove that you’re not scared, just don’t be scared.

The human aversion to loss is one of the strongest urges known to man. Risk management is a powerful tool, but don’t let it control you.
Very interesting article. I personally get a thrill out of fighting gamers who are far better at it than myself. Sure, I'll likely lose many times, but each time, I keep at it, I get a little harder to beat, and on occasion, I'll manage several wins. Risk taking for me personally, is being certain of what I want to accomplish even if the possibilities of failure looks big to me. Of course precautions are also necessary according to the situation at hand. With enough practice, discernment can be a powerful tool. I've used it plenty of times in real life, and wish I could get back to the online experience to apply it also. I miss gaming. I must be very rusty by now. XD
Any nerdgasms to add to this article? =D
Yes there is a lot of depth that can be discussed, . After you have mastered the ability to minimise/maxmise risk You have to learn how to implement Frame data into your strategy,Such as Pat uses 66B 4, Since he back steps at -2 he is more likely to dodge an attack unless it has the range to hit, Pat 66B 4 < NIghtmare G 66B Nightmare most likely will end up at advantage or better, Unless Pat can evade/A+B/Just guard//GI,

another example; landing cervys 9[B+K] causes a hit stun that has a stun window of 19 frames, Since it is a collapse stun you have 19 frames to hit them, BBB will combo but so will iGDR which is exactly i19, meaning if you got some guts, you will hop over an attack and then land iGDR combo, This is a ethod for combo finding, I can go on but this is drake's thread.

edit from a few hours later.: igdr is i17 and the stun is in fact 17 frames or so.
Frame data speaking makes me hungry! I don't wanna! /bad joke
I hear ya bud, Its pretty simple if You pre program your responses. I cant gurantee you win 100% but it really helps when you dont have to think about what you are doing, because you are just doing it to them. Now if you will excuse me, im gunna run to the store ^^.
One of the things I like most about SC5 is the risk/reward structure of the game is excellent. For once, defense now shares a similar risk reward structure to proaction; which in my mind is the best series the change ever had.
another example; landing cervys 9[B+K] causes a hit stun that has a stun window of 19 frames, Since it is a collapse stun you have 19 frames to hit them, BBB will combo but so will iGDR which is exactly i19, meaning if you got some guts, you will hop over an attack and then land iGDR combo
Isn't iGDR i17?
This is a ethod for combo finding, I can go on but this is drake's thread.
No, please. Do go on.

These articles are meant to start discussions in order to coax the truth to come out into the light. If you have anything to share, feel free to do so.

It's my intention that we all become stronger by sharing knowledge and making "smart" play a commonality.

The value in a stronger community is self-evident.

Traditionally, strength in the community has been gained through the restriction of knowledge.
"I win because I know something you don't."

I've heard many stories on this, secret tech, small nuances in the game... I can't remember what it was (if it was ST or SFA2 or something), that someone started winning tournaments for that game, because they had bought a hacked arcade machine and were able to peer into its inner workings.

If everybody knows the truth- if everybody is an elite player, then our current elites, following the adaptation principle, will have to change in order to keep their superiority.

They will have to make new and unexpected developments in skill, pushing the upper limit higher than ever before.

The arms race for power never stops.

What does the future hold, if true strength takes root among everyone?

It's infinite and unlimited possibilities... but only if our lowest are raised up first.
Well something that should be kept in mind with Risk reward, Ill share some advice a few players gave me at soul calibur 4 nationals, A good rule of thumb with Risk is dependent on how Life you have and if ir will cost you the match. The Math is incredibly important, but knowing when to use it is just as important. Ive beaten many players because we both have no life and my opponent will 236 B with Pyrra. This is not a good move to use in this situation unless your opponent cannot punish it.

When it comes to finding combos. creativity counts. Id have to give a tutorial on zwei to really illustrate combo finding.
I'm going to go ahead and say that when I lose rather than win, I am at least 3 million times more likely to throw an object at my T.V. crushing any hopes of playing again.
I have a doubt about one thing I saw here and in other posts. When you say that GI costs meter, what do you mean? That when you use GI, it consumes a fraction of the meter bar, like when you use BE or CE? Or something else? As far as I can recall, I have used GI without my meter bar being consumed. (I use Cervantes, and all the GI I used were practically A+B and B+K) When I saw someone´s post saying that GI costs meter, I even made a VS combat using two controllers, and started to GI attacks from the beginning, without them reducing my meter bar, just to be sure that I was not mistaken. So, if you don´t mean that, I don´t know how GI costs meter.
Well, it´s just like the saying: You´ll never go to sleep without learning something. But how come that that combination of buttons does not appear in any in-game move list? How are players like me, who start the saga with Soul Calibur V, supposed to know that? I never saw that input in the game, and its a fundamental defensive maneuver, seeing the way people speak of it here.