In any tournament level game, players not only need to have a perfect game play, but they also need to understand the different player’s psychologies. A player’s psychology influences his style of play and by being able to identify this you can outthink your opponent. No top player of games like MTG, Scrabble, Super smash bros brawl or chess can earn his place at the top without having a sense of metagaming.
When you sit with your opponent(s) and the game is about to start, in the first few moves you make yourself an idea of his playing style, of its resources and of its thinking pattern. Everybody does that, but not everyone is conscious they do. By looking at his playing style, you can see his pattern and anticipate his actions. Is he aggressive, opportunist, careful, deliberate, random? And yes, random is a style of play. By consciously trying to be unpredictable, your opponent loses its metagaming advantage, he may start to feel uneasy and stressful and he may be more prompt to a mistake, even a small one.
Those are only the most basic forms of play styles. Each game has its own particular play styles that can become really complex at high level. In chess for example, there is a constricting style which plays defensively, but more than that aims to subtly control squares, limiting the other player’s movements and maximizing its own piece’s power simply with position. It doesn’t attack other pieces directly, but after removing every move that piece has, it is no better than dead. There is also a triple threat style that aims to create 3 weakness in the opposing position and then to press on those 3 weak points until the position breaks. There is also the tempo sacrifice style that creates “time” (tempo which is a mix of initiative and position development advantage) by a well timed loss of material. It exchanges a physical permanent advantage for a virtual temporary one and usually takes the opponent by surprise.
By noticing early on the play style of your opponent, you prepare yourself for those weirder moves and you understand their meaning, which also allow you to find an appropriate answer. Even on Scrabble there is some play styles like “Aiming”, which is targeting a specific x3 square in a few turns and playing conservatively toward that square; or playing in such way that the word you create doesn’t offer any good transversal x3 squares for your opponent; or even planning two lateral words which will give tremendous amount of points for all the small transversal words created at the same time.
Knowing those play styles makes you prepared defensively, but offensively you can choose a style of your own. This allows you to start a game with a plan to win it. You will build your game focused on that plan instead of spreading your forces around, not knowing where you’re going. Knowing the way you play also means you know your weakness and can counter your opponent’s counters. You’re better prepared to play this way than just knowing a list of good moves. Also, if you don’t know your own play style, an experimented opponent will have the advantage of knowing how you think better than you yourself because he will surely analyze you in the first few turns.
Trying to analyze one’s play style, and especially your own, you first need to keep track of a few games that player played, no matter if they were won or loss. The most useful games are those really close to a draw, but that you somehow manage to win or to lose. When going through that game again, notice anything that made you win/lose directly. Then ask yourself why you did such a move and note it down. Then find those really small moves that gave you any advantage/disadvantage and ask yourself what you wanted to do with such a move. What was the plan you were following. Then find those moves you don’t understand, those that seem so random and that don’t bring anything to the game at first. Then ask yourself the necessity behind this move. What did you see at the moment you played this move that made it useful or even lifesaving in such a subtle way that when looking back you don’t understand it. Note it all down and do this for as many games as you can, without looking back at your notes in between. When you’ve collected a sufficient amount, take another sheet or blackboard and write what you found one by one with the number of time it was present in your games. For example, if you have “targeting weak f7 early on”, write it and every subsequent time you see this mention in your note, put a “|” beside it on the blackboard to count them. The mentions that will get the highest numbers will be your natural play style.
In competitive play, it is essential to know yourself and to play to your strengths.