Thursday, November 28, 2013

Overcoming Functional Fixedness in Yugioh

Suppose someone hands you a box of kitchen matches, thumb tacks, and a candle with the instructions to mount the candle on a wall.  How would you solve this puzzle?  

The solution is to light the candle, melt some wax into the bottom part of the box, and let the candle set in the hot wax.  Then you can attach the box and candle to the wall with the thumb tacks.

If you didn’t get the answer, don’t feel bad.  A substantial number of people won’t get it because they see only one function for each of these items.  The candle was meant to be lit and the box was meant to hold the matches. In psychological terms, this phenomenon is called “functional fixedness” and it can be an impediment to creative thinking even in Yugioh.

Consider the following situations:
You’re winning your Harpie mirror match 5600 to 2900. You have one card and a set Hysteric Party. You activate party and bring out four Harpies.  As you go for game, your opponent activates his party.  Soon there are chicks and feathers all over the place.  Is it possible to go for the win?  The answer is to make a Chidori and return your opponent’s Hysteric Party.  This clears his field and allows you to attack FTW.

If you didn’t see this solution right away, it’s probably because you think of Chidori’s function as fixed on monster cards. However, Chidori can return any card your opponent control. 

Suppose you have a Stardust Dragon, Colossal Fighter, MST and a Dragon’s Ravine on the field.  You attack with Stardust only to have your opponent drop Swift Scarecrow.  Can you still go for the kill? The answer is to destroy your Ravine with your MST and then negate it with Stardust.  Since your Stardust is no longer attacking, Scarecrow’s effect fizzles. 

If you didn’t see this solution, it’s probably because you think MST’s function applies only to your opponent’s cards.  Negating the destructive effect of one of your cards is ….well… out of the box thinking.

Great players have found ways of overcoming the limitations of functional fixedness. Fortunately there are strategies that can help the rest of us.  The tips below are derived from the psychological literature and applied to Yugioh.  Most of this research comes from Tony McCaffrey at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Slow Down
Functional fixedness results from “Fast Thinking”.   In psychological terms, this reasoning is automatic.  Though it can be an impediment to creativity, it serves a useful purpose.  Fast thinking is efficient and requires little energy.  For a Yamato-less Bujin player, picking Yamato with Pot of Duality is pretty automatic.  Take it and move on.  However, this type of thinking tends to hurt more than help in a Yugioh duel.  Watch the great players; they often take more time than those with less experience.

Read Your Cards
McCaffrey found that people did a much better job with the match box problem when they were asked to describe the parts of each item (e.g. matchbox top, matchbox bottom, matches, wax, wick, tacks).  This forces one to think of these objects outside of their normal setting.  I suggest doing the same with your cards.  Read each one carefully.  Does the card’s effect apply to monsters, spells/traps, or any card?  Is it applied to all cards or only my opponents?  This is a great little exercise that can be done between rounds at a large tournament.

Learn from the Best
I suspect that most people who know the Swift Scarecrow play did not think of it themselves.  I read it on line.  There’s no dishonor in that.  However, it does point out the value of being exposed to good players. If you’re winning nearly all the time, you are either Patrick Hoban or you’re not improving.   We all hate to lose, but we don’t always use those moments to get better. 

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