Calculating risk vs reward

One of the least talked about yet heavily emphasized tactics in fighting games involves weighing risky moves versus safe moves.  It's a gamble.  You don't want to let down your guard at any moment, but sometimes during the middle of a heated battle taking a risk pays off. 

And sometimes the opposite is true as well.

So how do you calculate risk vs reward?  Paying attention to your opponent's patterns is a start.  It's important to keep in mind all the options you have available to you at all times, and selectively catagorizing which move is appropriate for each situation. 

Let's examine one particular move from Tekken: the hopkick (uf+4)

By itself, the hopkick is a very basic looking move.  On hit, it knocks the opponent up into the air, allowing free damage.  Hopkicks in Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion also carry another unique trait: they "crush" low attacks, meaning they're invulnerable to all low-hitting moves. 

Why is it low-risk?  Simple.  Hopkicks benefit from the fact that on block they're -12 frames.  That means that only moves that can come out in 12 frames can effectively punish it.  In the world of Tekken, only jabs can reliably punish hopkicks, and for most of the cast there aren't very many jabs that can deal a whole lot of damage.  At best, jab punishing will only turn the momentum in the opponent's favor, but it won't exactly destroy your health bar.

Look at it from your side.  If you land a hopkick, you're liable to take away up to 40 to 50% of your enemy's health bar — why wouldn't you want to throw out more of those!  That's why hopkicks are extremely high-reward, low-risk moves.

There are other instances where the risk is minimal while the rewards are plentiful.  In 2D fighters, jump in attacks can be considered high-reward, low risk moves.  If you land a jump in, chances are you're going to follow it up into a combo.  But if they other guy knocks you out of the air, you won't exactly lose a ton of life — just that one opportunity of dishing out damage.

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