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I love playing some of the old Avalon Hill games like PanzerBlitz and Midway (1964 edition) (I have the 1991 edition as well, but haven't played it much).

In PanzerBlitz, there are generally two approaches that work well: the widely-spaced unit approach and the heavy stacks approach. However, picking which method to use seems highly biased on how the other player will operate (ie, you've played against them several times and have gained an understanding of their tactical methods).

Likewise in Midway, there are only a couple viable options for the Japanese player - come on full strength, or spread way out and converge from multiple angles from their entry side.

Many other games follow in these two examples' footsteps: what is the best way to gain an understanding of a particular opponent before playing a game with them? Or, asked another way, how can you quickly change your playing methodology based on your opponent?

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I wouldn't say that's asked another way, I'd say those are two different questions. The first is a pretty meta question about how to read people, the second is about how to adapt gameplay. Are you looking for answers to both? –  Adam Wuerl Jan 23 '11 at 5:47
    
@Adam Wuerl - the question is how to read people so you can play more effectively against them –  warren Jan 23 '11 at 13:42
    
Got it. I'll think on it and share any insights. –  Adam Wuerl Jan 23 '11 at 16:47
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Reading people like this is something that takes years of practice and experience. there are no easy answers. However, to get you started, here's something:

One common personality trait that distinguishes people, fairly 50/50, is risk-aversion.

In such a game as you describe, ask yourself which of two strategies is more based on chance.

More risk averse people will choose a strategy that minimizes chance (variance), even at the expense of overall win percentage. For example, in a dice game, a certain strategy might win only 40% of the time, but the decision of win/lose is more based on a player's positioning than the rolls of the dice. Likewise, the 60% winning strategy can lose spectacularly, if lady luck isn't on the gambler's side.

In such a situation, a risk-averse personality will choose the 40% strategy more often because in the case of a win or lose, they can 'blame' themselves instead of luck, and a win feels more sweet, and a loss doesn't feel uncontrolled.

Determining risk-aversion is fairly simple before the game starts. Everything from dress to occupation to speech patterns can betray one's temperament. Salesmen tend to be gamblers, accountants risk-averse. Suits: risk-averse. Flashy or colorful clothes: gamblers. Tentative soft speakers: risk averse. Loud, fast, highly social speakers, gamblers.

Enjoy!

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I haven't played those particular games, nor do I often play games like them, but here's what I say is the crucial temperamental divide I look out for in players even as I'm sitting down at the table with them: competitive versus cooperative players.

A competitive player is likely, though not guaranteed, to be loud, brash, and immediately vociferously concerned with their chances of winning the game at hand. If they have you pegged as one of the good players at the table, they may well be trying to needle or intimidate you already, to gauge your capabilities or gain some kind of psychological advantage. (Some competitive players, however, are just quiet and observant, watching everything like a hawk until they can go in for the kill. These are the most dangerous ones.)

A cooperative player - for want of a better term - is much more likely, in the course of the game, to pursue their own, non-confrontational strategy in an attempt to get a handle on, or just master, the rules. If you know the game better than they do, it's quite likely that you'll beat them (at least this time), because they won't get in the way of your completing your own diabolical masterplan.

The competitive players are a different kettle of fish. You can guarantee that, as soon as they see your strategy start to pay off, they'll attack you with all the force they can muster. It can be a good idea not to appear too obviously "in the lead" at a table with a competitive player. They're quite likely to try to destroy your chances of victory even at the cost of their own - propelling one of the diligent, plodding cooperative players into first place. You have to play much more defensively with these guys on your case - leaving yourself wide open is almost always a mistake!

Of course you may be lucky, there may be two loudly competitive "alpha male" gamers at your table, in which case you can let them show off against each other while you pull steadily towards the win. Just make sure they don't ally against you - that is the worst of all possible worlds!

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Games are a microcosm of life, and sometimes "art imitates life." I will use some examples from bridge, one of my "better" games.

There is a person at my table who always wants a better result than she "deserves" (based on the cards that she and her partner are holding). Is it any surprise that she overreaches in "real life"?

Others will underbid or underplay based on the cards that they hold. Such people don't seem to know the value of what they hold, and may be too timid in life as well.

Then, of course, there is always the MANNER in which people play. That's not supposed to happen at a bridge table, at least in "serious" bridge, but it crops up all the time in casual play. Some people are overbearing in the way the bid and play. Others seem to be overly detached.

Over time, you'll get to know a lot of people playing bridge. While some play "professionally" (close to the vest) the majority will reveal themselves by how they bid and play.

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