A poke is an attack used to safely interrupt the opponent's attacks and movement. A good poke is both fast (to interrupt slower moves) and has short recovery (so it's difficult to whiff punish). Most moves in Tekken are not both of these.
When to use pokes
Pokes aren't useful for new players because:
- They can't react to the poke hitting and convert the frame advantage into tight pressure.
- Their opponent won't punish stronger but less safe moves (e.g. strings, throws, and launchers) effectively anyway.
When riskier moves don't get whiff punished, there isn't much point in using pokes.
Pokes often don't do much on their own beyond dealing a little damage and giving frame advantage. Because their reward is low, using pokes excessively can lead to feeling like you're winning (because you're getting a lot more hits in), but still losing in the end to a couple well-placed counter hit launchers. They're a means to an end: enabling you to use your more powerful moves, and preventing your opponent from doing the same.
As such, the time to use a poke is when the situation is unclear. Are you unsure what your opponent will do here or there? The poke is a safe option while you get more information. Is your frame advantage somewhere between -4 and +4? If the advantage is yours, pokes can cover both movement and challenges. If the advantage is theirs, pokes can be a safer choice to challenge with.
But if the situation is clear and you have a read, or the frame advantage is more significant, pokes can squander an advantage.
Pokes make up a lot of the standard moves, and it's rare for an effective poke not to fall into one archetype or another. This is mostly because pokes are quite oppressive and thus a key part of Tekken's system. If a character lacks any key poke, it's usually by design with a serious tradeoff. Conversely, if a character has an abnormally strong poke, it can easily make the character overpowered.
The jab is the gold standard of pokes:
- It's the fastest move most characters can do, so it's likely to win an exchange if the opponent attacks.
- Using it leaves you vulnerable for only 27 frames, so even if it whiffs it's not likely to be punished.
- It gives advantage even on block, so even if it doesn't interrupt anything it still adds pressure.
The downsides of the jab as poke are:
- It's a high.
- It has weak tracking.
- It has short range.
- It does almost no damage.
- The recovery is so short it can be difficult to hit confirm. What you do at +8 should be very different to +1. (This is even more of a problem for Akuma, Eliza, Noctis, and Geese, whose jabs recover faster.)
Other pokes can be compared to the jab as making a tradeoff to improve some of these downsides at the cost of speed or safety.
Jab strings make a tradeoff of safety for extra damage, tracking, range, and being substantially easier to hit confirm. As is the case with all strings, throwing out a bunch of hitboxes is an easy way to interrupt your opponent and takes tight play to punish effectively.
The nature of the added risk depends on the string, but typically it's being evaded by a sidestep or high crush. If the string is evaded, then unlike a jab on its own there's enough time for the opponent to react and whiff punish accordingly.
Shadow cutters are dangerous for jab strings, since they crush the first hit and then get a counter hit from the second. And unlike whiff punishing jab strings, using a shadow cutter against them is super easy.
Mid checks make a tradeoff of speed to upgrade from a high to a mid. This allows it to deal with the jab's biggest weakness: evasive moves. They also typically track better, dealing with sidesteps in at least one direction.
Unlike jab strings, mid checks are mostly too fast to whiff punish on reaction. Instead, the core weakness of a mid check is that it's slower: A faster poke will often beat it, and a counter hit launcher can beat it with big upside.
Crouching lows are similar to a mid check in that they tradeoff some speed to upgrade from high to low. More critically, crouching lows also high crush, which means they'll beat out most challenges that would beat a mid check. When combined with mid checks, this allows pokes to function as a weak mixup against guarding while also being robust against challenges.
The downside of crouching lows is that they're unsafe on block and can be low parried for a potentially huge punish. Worst of all, they're minus on hit. This seems like a big problem, because are your pokes not supposed to get you an advantage? Well, yes, and they do—interrupting your opponent, and the truest advantage of all: damage. Frame advantage is great and all, but it's only a means to an end. Damage is ultimately what wins the game.
For most characters, their main crouching low is the generic crouch shin kick. This move is notable for also having good range and tracking, making it effective against just about anything except guarding.
Crouching lows can be a bit slower than a usual poke and still work as one, because fast moves are usually highs. Similarly, crouching lows have a long enough recovery that they can be whiff punished on reaction, but they usually have enough range and tracking that they're not likely to ever whiff, so it's not much of a concern.
- Transition to r24 with f
- Transition input can be delayed 16f
Crouch jabs are strictly useful for interrupting the opponent. Like crouching lows, they lose hard to low parry but are difficult to whiff punish. Unlike crouching lows, they have poor range and tracking, and they don't work as a mixup.
- What is ONE JAB and why is it important in TEKKEN 7? (JDCR, 2019)