Monday, February 23, 2009

Theory Fighter: Volume 2: Bread and Butter combos

A little introduction: Given the amazing success of Street Fighter IV already (it was sold out in Japan on day 1 and is tough to find a launch copy in Canada/USA) and the massive influx of new players, the Street Fighter community is bigger than ever. Even though the game is new, there are already a lot of very good players out there, but for most people, this will be their first Street Fighter in over a decade! To help those people, I welcome you to "Theory Fighter." In each installment I will try to explain some of the concepts that seperate a noob from a pro using practical examples and setups for varying characters. For the most part, these are concepts that can be used in any Street Fighter game, and in some cases, any competitive game period.

Note that this series of articles will very much be geared towards newcomers, so if you're a Street Fighter Veteran the information here may be of limited use. Also note though, that these articles will assume you're at least familiar with the Street Fighter (IV specifically) core mechanics.

Remember, there's a huge difference between a noob and a scrub. A noob knows (s)he's a beginner, but willing to learn. A scrub is convinced he's already good before (s)he's learned anything.

You can find Volume I here


Here's a short list of words I'll be using that you need to be familiar with. You can skip this section if you're confident you understand this terminology.

A sequence of moves that, if the first hit connects, cannot be blocked by the opponent until the combo is complete. A combo can come in two varieties: Chain and Link. For this article we will focus on chains.

A chain occurs when you use one move to "cancel" the recovery animation of another move. If done correctly, this results in the first move never entering its recovery animation phase, and if you land it then you will get a combo. For example, Ryu can chain his cr. MK into a Hadoken fireball. When done correctly, Ryu goes right from the active frames of his cr. MK to the startup frames of his Hadoken, without ever showing the recovery frames of his cr. MK. For more information on frames, see Volume I here.

A correct chain with Ryu. Notice that he goes straight from his cr. MK's active frames to his fireball's startup.

There isn't really a trick to performing chains. Just press the button or do the motion for your next move while the previous move is still in progress. You want to time it so you complete the next command just after the previous move connects with the opponent (be it a hit or even if blocked). Note that not ALL moves are chainable. For example, unlike Ryu, you CANNOT chain Fei Long's cr. MK into any of his special moves. Finding chainable moves must be done through experimentation (or through Street Fighter IV's excellent Challenge Mode). Also note you cannot chain from a whiffed move. A move must connect (hit or blocked) to chain into the next move.

Anytime you see the letters "cr" followed by an attack (LP, MP, HP, LK, MK, HK), this indicates "crouching." Otherwise, assume standing.

Your primary and best character.

One move's ability to win when it comes into contact with another move. Contrary to popular belief, people do not get "lucky" when they hit you out of an attack with another attack. These are all predetermined by the priority of the two moves. For example, Ryu's crouching MK has higher priority than Blanka's crouching LK. Therefore, if the moves ever clash during their active frames, Blanka will always get hit.


Theory Fighter: Volume 2: Bread and Butter combos

Before I start this article I'm going to make something abundantly clear:

Beginners put way too much emphasis on the importance of long combos.

I'm not sure why this is. Maybe it's because they're flashy and impressive. Maybe it's because its the primary thing you can practice in arcade mode against the CPU. Either way, the fact remains that long, complex combos, despite being damaging and invigorating, make up a relatively small part of a Street Fighter match. Check any Street Fighter IV tournament video on youtube (you can find a ton here: I wager you see very few long combos. Conversely, I also wager you'll see the same 3 to 4 hit combos used over and over again. These small combos might not be as flashy, or do as much damage, but their effectiveness comes in the number of times you can land them, and the safety they afford if you miss them.

These are your "bread and butter"

The Bread and Butter combo (bnb)

When choosing a character to main, it is absolutely imperative you find a bread and butter combo. This is your all purpose go-to move to punish your opponents mistakes. Your bread and butter doesn't need to be complicated, it can be as few as two hits, but you must constantly work on it so that it becomes automatic. When your opponent whiffs something, or you block a move with a lot of recovery frames, you should automatically go for your bread and butter. You absolutely, positively must execute this combo with near 100% consistency.

Phew. I hope I got across the point that this is important.

So what goes into a good bread and butter? An optimal bread and butter combo starts with a move that has quick startup, good range, high priority, low recovery, and leaves you relatively safe even if blocked. A bread and butter combo also shouldn't use any of your EX meter, since you want to be able to perform it in any circumstance. By that same token, you should be able to perform your bread and butter combo from the ground without a jump-in. Jump-ins take too long which cost you many opportunities to deal guaranteed damage.

Example # 1
Ryu can chain his cr. MK into a Hurricane Kick. This is not a long or particularly flashy combo, but what it lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in consistency. You will land this, a lot. The cr. MK is a relatively high priority move with good enough startup time that it can punish many moves on block. If you connect with this combo it leaves your opponent on the floor, but if done at the right distance, the LK Hurricanne Kick is difficult to counterattack even if your combo is blocked. Thus, this combo fulfills our criteria of being simple, moderately damaging, yet also safe.


You can have more than one bread and butter combo. In fact, as you get better, its a good idea to have a number of them for different situations. In high level play, it is often smart to maximize safety even at the expense of losing some damage potential. Although the above bread and butter is relatively safe, a blocked Hurricane Kick can still be punished by very quick opponents.

Example # 2
An even safer bnb combo for Ryu is his cr. MK into his Hadoken fireball. True, this combo does piddly damage even compared to the combo in example # 1, but it's so incredibly safe that you can throw it out repeatedly without fear of counterattack, especially when done at a range just inside Ryu's foot. Check out this video from one of the best arcades in Japan and count how many times both players (Ryu and Akuma) use this simple combo.

A slightly less obvious but crucial thing you want to be careful of is that your bread and butter combo of choice works on characters of ALL sizes, whether they are standing or blocking. This is important because no matter how safe a move is on block, almost all moves are very punishable if you whiff them.

Example # 3

Consider Ken's standing mp, standing HP chain. This is an easy chain combo (unique to Ken) that doesn't have a lot of recovery that you can further chain into ANY of his specials. It seems like a pretty good candidate for a bread and butter. Unfortunately, the standing HP will completely whiff small to regular sized opponents when they are crouching. This is a HUGE liability, because even if you connect with the MP, it means you could potentially whiff the HP on a crouching opponent, giving them ample time during both your active AND recovery frames to launch a counterattack.

Changing the properties of your moves

Bread and Butter combos can have some unforseen advantages that you may not realize right off the bat. The three major benefits are
confirming, hiding recovery, and block switch.


Confirming is a technique in Street Fighter where you only finish a combo when you know the hits before it have connected. This is useful because combos often end in risky, high recovery special moves. This essentially lets you "fish" with the beginning of your bread and butter with significantly less risk.

Example # 1
One of Cammy's primary bnb combos is cr. LK, cr.LK chained into her Spiral Arrow special. However, her Spiral Arrow has a lot of recovery time if it gets blocked, making it rather dangerous to use her bread and butter. However, with enough training and good reflexes, a Cammy player can learn to perform the Spiral Arrow only when they've confirmed the cr. LK, cr. LK has hit the opponent. Most people do this by performing the first cr. LK and then performing the motion for the Spiral Arrow (down, down-toward, toward), but ONLY pressing kick again if/when they confirm the second cr. LK has hit. If the cr. LK is blocked, then the Cammy player simply doesn't press kick for the Spiral Arrow, leaving her relatively safe since the cr. LK has very short recovery time. This essentially allows you to hide bad recovery moves behind much safer, short recovery moves.

Example # 2
Let's take a look at that Ryu vs Gouki match again (above). Notice at 4:20, Ryu jumps in and fishes with his cr. MP, cr. MK and then his cr. MK again without getting punished! If any of these hits connected, you can bet he would have confirmed into a Hadoken or Hurricane Kick.

Confirming can be difficult even for elite players. There are always scenarios where players inevitably read a hit/block wrong, or act before they've confirmed, which leads to blocked specials (hence why you'll still see this even at the elite level). However, even if you only confirm with a 50% success rate, that's 1/2 fewer combos you will eat as a result of blocked bnb combos.

Hiding Recovery

This is basically the opposite of confirming. By chaining moves together, you can hide long recovery moves by chaining short recovery moves to them. This is important because it gives you a use for some moves that would otherwise be too slow and dangerous to consider.

Example # 1

Rufus's standing HP leaves him at a considerable disadvantage if blocked. Conversely, Rufus' special move "Galactic Tornado" has unusually good recovery time (it only leaves you disadvantaged for 1/60th of a second!). Therefore, whenever trying to attack with his HP, it is generally a good idea to tack on a Galactic Tornado, which leaves him significantly less vulnerable if he gets blocked.

Rufus' HP is blocked, but he chains a Galactic Tornado to hide the recovery.

Block switch

Block switch isn't real Street Fighter terminology, but its a relevant topic that many players take for granted. By chaining moves together, you can effectively change the way these moves must be blocked. This is very useful for confusing your opponent with mixup games.

Example # 1
Let's examine Ken's Hurricane Kick. Normally, Ken's Hurricane Kick can be blocked high. However, if you chain cr. MK into a Hurricane Kick, this must be blocked LOW (because his cr. MK must be blocked low). This essentially gives you a Hurricane Kick that must be blocked low.

You can also think of it as adding free extra hits/damage to your cr. MK. Either way, the result is the same, you are getting more damage than a Hurricane Kick or cr. MK individually, but stealing the "block low" property of the cr. MK.

Example # 2
Now let's look at this the other way. Normally, you would block Rufus' cr. LK by crouch blocking. However, Rufus has a command normal called the Dive Kick, which allows him to drop very quickly from a jump at an angle. This move MUST be blocked high. By jumping and performing this move while you are still very close to the ground, you can surprise a crouch blocking opponent and then combo into his cr. LK (which you can further chain into a Galactic Tornado).

Rufus performs his dive kick very low to the ground, which hits a crouching opponent. This is often called "Instant Overhead"

Like the previous example, this changes the property of one move by "attaching" it to another.

Note: I have just discovered, much to my embarrassment, that Rufus' dive kicks can actually be blocked low. Now, this doesn't completely invalidate the above example, because you can often catch characters when they attempt to poke you back, but I would be remiss not to mention my mistake.


The key to playing a successful game is consistency, consistency, consistency. Flashy combos are great when you have a solid, obvious opening. However, more often than not, you will need to rely on a short, sweet, non-risky combo over and over to get you consistent damage on your opponent. This combo is like your best friend. Even as your game evolves and you learn new tricks and strategies, it will stay with you all the way to the end. It will give you a way to poke at your enemy's defenses, it will give you a way to punish their mistakes with a healthy amount of damage.

In short, it will make you a threat.

Next time: Offense and Defense 101


tranvv said...

This post is excellent (as is your first in the series), can't wait for the rest!

Freddy Burgos said...

Great post! Looking forward to your next one.