How do you win against a superior alliance?

This is the question I posed to our strategy group last week and is going to be our strategy task heading into our second event.

Seems like a silly question and one that comes up every year, but are there examples you can point to from events where strategy and not luck has been the cause of major upsets?

Most I have seen are failed endgame by the favoured alliance and not something that the weaker alliance directly influenced.


We’ve been looking a lot on how to play good defense against 1 cycling bot - ended up upsetting the 3 seeded alliance as the 7 seeded alliance through 25 points of penalties and completely shutting down the best cycling robot on the 3 alliance, albeit in a bit of a weird situation as the captain of the 3 alliance was much worse than their first pick and maybe worse than the captain and first pick of our 7 seed.


Triple offense is the only play in this game. If you try to dedicate a robot to defense against an already superior alliance you’re generaly just digging yourself a deeper hole.

It’s hard to beat a superior alliance this season. There are 2 things you can really do…

  1. Opportunistic defense: identify which (if any) opponents drop game pieces if they’re hit a high speed. Make a point to slam into those robots as you’re cycling and hope you get lucky and you steal a couple cycles from them

  2. Trim your margin for error. If you’d usually line up to balance at 25 seconds, cut that back to 15 seconds and go for that extra cycle. Between 3 robots if you can add 2-3 cycles that you normally wouldn’t get it can help pull an upset.

Outside of those two things, I haven’t seen anything in this game that really enables weaker alliances to win without the better alliance just screwing up. The goal should be to build the strongest alliance. This game does a great job of valuing the third alliance member, and therefore gives lower seeded alliances a chance against the top robots.


To add context here we’re in the relatively weak PCH district where a lot of alliances in playoffs will be two bots that work and one bot that is just a drivetrain/has had arm issues all weekend, so often there is one robot that cannot cycle and defense is vital.

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A few thoughts from top-of-mind…

Either you need to score more than “expected”, they need to score less than “expected”, or both.

How can you score more than expected?

  • Select an alliance that acquires game pieces diversely. If you have one robot that is great at the double substation, one that is great at the single substation, and one that is great from the carpet, the acquisition efficiency may help scoring exceed expectations.
  • Select an alliance that scores diversely. If one robot is great at cones, and another with cubes, each may be able to stay in their most efficient mode longer and exceed alliance expectations.
  • Select for driving diversity and excellence. An alliance where robots stay out of each others way may exceed scoring expectations. This means having robots that are effective at driving over the charge station and the cord protector and hanging on to their game pieces. Also, agile robots and skilled drivers can help avoid collisions everywhere on the field which add cycle time to multiple teammates at once.
  • Increase risk during playoffs. A team might not pick up from the mid-field carpet due to worry about collision and breakage. A match against a superior alliance might be the time to take that risk and try to reduce cycle time. A team might drive slowly over the charge station. The right playoff match might be the time to just send it.

How can you make them score less than expected?

  • Who can you slow down? Are one or more opponents susceptible to dropping game pieces when defended? Is the top opponent scorer not agile enough to efficiently avoid defensive blocks?
  • Where can you make the most impact with defense? Defending the opening between the opponent charge station and barrier can be very effective, especially if opponents are not good at driving over the charge station. There is an extra bonus here if opponents drive into your loading zone trying to avoid defense and rack up fouls as you touch them there.
  • If an opponent likes to pick up mid-field game pieces, is there anything you can do to slow that down? Can you tip cones? Can you push game pieces to the sidewalls and make them more difficult to get? Can you push game pieces into your community? Can you pick them up and score them yourself?

All these ideas and others not listed can sometimes make a difference. However, when the superiority of one alliance is overwhelming, strategy is likely not enough. It’s going to take them having problems like a stuck game piece, falling off the charge station, picking up a tech foul or two, or other things that your alliance does not control to make enough difference.


Can you share some examples where opportunistic defense was played effectively?


Another strategy is to make sure you organize your loading zone and scoring cycles so your bots aren’t running into each other. I heard talk of teams in texas running cycles in such a way that two teams would go to the loading zone together while one team was scoring, and then switch, but I haven’t gotten a chance to watch match video yet.

Good suggestions here, I’d like to emphasis 2 of them: good communication/efficiency and risk taking.

Walk through exactly your cycling route and game plan with your alliance partners so that you are never in each other’s ways. Hopefully the other alliance will make a few mistakes that cost them time, if you plan and play correctly you will not and that can push you over in the end.
Superior robots ≠ superior alliance.

Secondly, if you have a chance to take a risk, do it. If you are going up a better alliance, you will need it. I find in this game that usually means triple balancing at the last second, or taking a more risky path through the middle of the field for a game piece. These can help push you over their score, as alliances who think they have a good chance like to play safe which can end up costing them.
GL with your event!


One big thing is thinking about how the pieces in the middle will play out. Who is winning the battle for short cycles. What will yhe field look like after auto?
Can you place them in ways only you can acquire them. example, other alliance can acruire cubes and upright cones? Lay cones down. Also the way the cones are laid down is potentially prohibitive.

Some teams subscribe to the philosophy of, “make it ugly!”

I’m merely a fan, would need @Travis_Hoffman to fully explain.


For an example of knocking over cones when the opposing alliance can’t pick them up, look 20 seconds into this match

Although I would mostly agree with this, you can have 2 offense bots and 1 defense bot this season with relative success!

Triple offense is usually the best tactic, but imo I still feel like there’s drawbacks to it. For instance having 6 robots cycling throughout the whole entire match is bound to cause a lot of traffic. I also think it diminishes diversity with how the game played.

If you’re going up against a tough alliance who have consistently great scorers (meaning great cycle times, fast pickup and dropoff, etc), odds are, there’s almost no way your alliance can outscore them on the grids. It gets harder to outscore when the opponent alliance is also great on the charge station endgames.

However one great way to diminish the opponent alliance’s great scoring ability is obviously defense. This can also clear up traffic for your alliance too! So overall, I wouldn’t really put down 1 defense bot with 2 scorers.

The endgame is also extremely important : )

Everyone Screws up at some point. Even the best.

2007 never dies

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  1. Triple climb can be huge
  2. Opportunistic defense (I think I saw this already but would like to echo it)
  3. Make sure all 3 robots are mechanically and electrically fully ready + checked. A small failure can cut any chance of winning since the chances are already against you. Superior reliability can win.
  4. Take it game by game
  5. Focus - don’t let having a lead change anything since there’s always a chance they can make that gap back.

Port Hueneme finals by Wolfpack robotics 3859

You basically have to play perfect triple offense unless you have a great defense bot on your alliance (like 5920 is an example of a great defense bot that won an alliance the game).

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I would look to this match at Sacramento for an effective demonstration of your suggestions. It did not net the #8 alliance a win, but their aggressive defensive tactics held the final scoring gap to 20, by far the smallest margin of victory the #1 alliance put up during the playoff rounds.

Amid the well-orchestrated chaos mainly unleashed by 3501, the #1 alliance committed 22 points in penalties and ended up with a yellow card somewhere in there for “causing damage to another robot” per the Game Announcer. That yellow card would not likely have manifested if the #8 alliance didn’t commit to contact defense. They can’t well get inside your frame perimeter if ye all are off in a corner scoring triple offense at a rate vastly less than theirs. I would suggest that that is precisely what many exceedingly-superior-on-paper alliances would prefer underdog alliances do - stay out of the way and let them cruise to an easy victory.

That yellow card might have been exploited by subsequent opponents of the #1 alliance by continuing to apply pressure via aggressive defensive engagement, attempting to coerce another cardable-mistake; but defense was either less effective or nonexistent in those matches.

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Are we watching the same match?

There’s no denying 3501 played some good defense, but relying on your opponent’s bumpers riding up on yours (rather than the other way around) to cause damage isn’t a strategy, it’s hoping and praying.

Contrast that with a well executed triple offense strategy, like the kind being run by the 8th seed at the Wisconsin Regional here: Match 1 - Wisconsin Regional 2023 - The Blue Alliance

Sure, it relies on the 1 seed making some crucial mistakes, but that’s usually how upsets happen. In this game, if you use your three good robots to try to match the top seed’s two elite ones, you can hit your peaks when they hit their valleys and pull it off!


Consistency is huge with double eliminations now. One may have tons of firepower but if it isn’t consistent it can rack up losses, leading to a sooner exit than expected. We have seen that plenty in Indiana (and with my own team) this year. Stay consistent and you can pull out some wins.

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