The Amateur’s Mind

Hello readers!

amazon.comIt’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ll try to make up for it with a (hopefully) thought provoking article. Many people don’t know that I’m a relatively high rated chess player. Presently I’m somewhere in the top 3% of all rated chess players in the country (and about top 5% of all rated players in the world). It wasn’t always that way, however, and I had to put in a ton of work to improve my game.

One book in particular helped change the way I viewed the board and pieces, and it’s one that I now share with my students that are ready to reach a higher level. The book is “The Amateur’s Mind,” by IM Jeremy Silman, and it’s no more than a collection of games played by amateur players along with their thought process and commentary by coach Silman.

You’re probably thinking, “Ok, so what does this have to do with Pokémon?” Plenty, actually! While it would be hard to argue that Pokémon TCG is as complex as chess, there’s some striking similarities in the way I’ve approached and played the game, and I’ve had some slight success thus far. I started playing the game earlier this year, in May I believe, but have been able to adapt to the game and have 29 Championship Points currently and #1 ranking in AZ.

Some players have approached me at tournaments and asked me “How are you doing it!?,” which is very humbling. The truth is that I don’t have any particular secret strategies or secret decklist (anyone that wants it is entitled to it, as I’m happy to share), but I think maybe there can be some benefit to sharing the way I approach the game at and away from the table.

The insight I gained from peeking into the minds of amateur chess players helped me immensely, and perhaps the mind of this amateur Pokémon player can help some of you out as well!

1. Enjoy the game

pokemon-paradijs.comThis is probably the most important one to me. I truly believe that the only one way we can improve at something is to actually enjoy what we’re doing. While I believe that most players that play the game enjoy it, I’ve met a handful of people that seem to play for the wrong reasons (they’re trying to make someone else happy, they’re too competitive and just want to win at something else, etc).

Pokémon isn’t a game that will make you rich or famous regardless of how much you win. If winning is more enjoyable than meeting interesting people, being creative in building decks, and just going out and playing the game you’re probably setting yourself up for failure. Just have fun and the improvement will come.

2. Don’t give up

I don’t believe in giving up. Sure, there’s some instances where scooping is appropriate (saving time in a match comes to mind), but I take every game as a learning experience. If I’m losing I like to play the game to the bitter end because you never know what you can learn about your deck and about yourself sometimes. Sometimes it’s in these “desperation” modes that we find the brilliant combinations or flaws in our decks that make us better moving forward.

I also don’t feel any disrespect if you keep playing a game that is probably lost, and I don’t see why anyone should. If you’d like to make me earn a point and learn from the experience by all means do so, I appreciate the fighting spirit!

3. Calculate and calculate some more!

pokemon-paradijs.comThis is one that I’ve certainly carried over from chess, but one that anyone can get better at. Shortsightedness rarely pays off in anything, and the ability to see deep into a game is very beneficial. I’ve been able to win Blindfolded Chess Tournaments and plenty of Pokémon games on this skill alone! We can never see our opponent’s hand, but we can often rationalize from what’s on their side of the table and the way they play what they have in their hand.

If anything we can figure out what our opponent’s best move is by putting together what their best possible hand is (or can be if they possibly hold a hand refresher). They may or may not be holding the hand we believe they have, but if you always expect the best play then you’re always ready when they play it. If they don’t make the best play then we gained a slight edge there as well! It’s important not to gamble during a game, and simply make the strongest calculated move.

4. Learn from your mistakes

Learning from one’s mistakes (either yours or someone elses) is a great way to improve at something. When you make a misplay or see a misplay try to remember it so that you don’t make the same mistake again. The best way to do this is by forcing yourself to live with your mistakes. Don’t even think about asking to take something back during a game, as this will get you into the habit of being careless. Acknowledge that you made a mistake, live with it, and move forward.

I’ve had plenty of opponents ask me if they can take a move back and I always let them, even when I know that it can turn the game in their favor. I always want to take their best shot, and having allowed them to take a move back I know they’re more likely to make a mistake again.

5. Be prepared

Be mindful of your meta! Sometimes the game is won not by the best deck, but by the player that was better prepared. That’s just the name of the game and it’s completely fair. If you perform really well, but don’t prepare your deck for a certain weakness it makes no sense to blame luck or the format. You just have yourself to blame for not doing your homework! A player that wins because he dominates the weakness of his meta isn’t a “bad” player, he’s a smart player.

6. Be a good sport

Being a good sport is beneficial during a game as well as away from one. If you know you’re not well-liked in your community every play you make feels watched-over. This can feel heavy and add extra pressure that you don’t need, often opening up the path for a misplay. Why not have the crowd on your side?

In a Cities top cut match I played this year one of my opponents was clearly upset after I swept him. He wouldn’t shake my hand and quickly picked up his belongings, progressing to complain about everything from “luck” to the format among other things.

Many people congratulated me after that match for beating a poor sport, and I can’t say I won’t be happy when I beat that player again. That’s one pair of shoes I wouldn’t want to be in!

7. Stay humble

pokemon-paradijs.comStaying humble is much more than just putting on an act. Acting polite is certainly better than the alternative, but truly feeling this way through everything is very important. Success is a roller coaster ride, and you should treat it as such. When you’re winning you have to remember that it wasn’t long ago that you were on the learning curve, and when you’re losing you have to remember that you’ll be improving soon enough.

You should also remember that even when you’re a strong player luck can play a part in any game, and not get upset when the luck isn’t on your side. Walk into every game knowing that you can beat anybody, but that anybody can beat you as well. This isn’t to lower your expectation, but rather to respect every opponent. When you respect every opponent every win is sweeter, and every loss less painful.

Hopefully some of this advice will help some of you out!

Reader Interactions

15 replies

  1. Dave Enzo

    Wow This is a nice article i love chess and of course pokemon tcg lol. I feel everyone should be respectful…i hate sore losers.

  2. Anonymous

    I think this article is missing about 75% of the “Amateurs Mind” part.

    Only #3 was interesting.

  3. Dakota Streck

    In Pokemon, there’s kind of two parts; the strategy part (deck building, predicting your opponent’s moves, making calculations, etc.) and the emotional part (don’t give up, don’t be intimidated by better players, keep trying, only play pokemon for fun, etc.). This article was mostly about just the emo stuff, I was hoping for more on the strategy aspect, especially after reading all the stuff about your Chess record (which is amazing, btw).

    It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but I still really enjoyed it and thought it was great nonetheless. I’d give it a 4/5.

  4. Aaron Minjoot

    Hello from a fellow chess and Pokemon TCG player. :)

  5. Anonymous

    “We can never see our opponent’s hand”

    Lies. We can if we use Mr. Mime.

  6. Rattata Joey

    Love this article. Simple, compelling and highly informative. A strong mix of psychological gameplay and simple etiquette displayed in an easily managed format.

    Keep up the fine work

  7. Adam Capriola

    Awesome article Miguel! A couple questions:

    1. How long have you been playing chess?

    2. I found it interesting that you will never ask for a takeback on a misplay, but will allow your opponents takebacks if they ask. Is that also what you do during testing?

  8. theo Seeds

    It’s always nice to see an article like this, good job!

    On the “Don’t Give Up” part, I couldn’t agree more. I have played in about ten games in this and last season where I have been in a seemingly hopeless position or have been down 5 prizes and came back to win. I know that’s not what you were trying to say, but it’s what I thought of.

    I want to see more of this stuff, Adam.

  9. Josh Norem

    Fabulous stuff! It is a rare thing to find life lessons buried in a TCG article. I enjoyed this article so much that I called my son into the room so we could read it together.

  10. Ed Mandy

    I really liked this one. I really identified with much of it. I have to comment on #2 in particular. I read reports and hit the “so I scooped” or the “my opponent scooped” and just don’t get it. Yeah, it can be a strategic move in best-of matches, but otherwise I don’t see it. Why are you playing the game if you don’t want to play the game? Let it run its course. Maybe you’ll learn something. You’re just gonna have to waste time until the next round, anyway.

    Along the same lines, I feel like players that want to win should always play like they can win. This may mean not getting nervous when playing a top-ranked player. I think that’s a big problem that the younger players seem to especially have issues with. I also think this applies to thinking the game is out of hand. You might think you have a bad matchup or are down on prizes or whatever. If you only have one way to win, play like that’s going to happen. When it does, then you win. Otherwise, you did all you could. People think topdecking is all luck, but it’s slightly skill. If you know that there’s one card that can save you, put yourself in position to use the card. Then when it comes, everyone will think you’re ultra-lucky, but you’ll have earned the “Be Prepared” patch above.

  11. Gage

    Great article! I am extremely stubborn in the don’t give up department! I will play to the bitter end no matter what. At my first states I was playing Gothitelle against a reshiboar deck. I was extremely new to the competitve scene and while I was pretty decent with Gothitelle I only play tested against a few friends and had never heard of Reshiboar prior to the game. He set up first and KOd everything that I put energy on until I finally got set up with no energy in the deck. I simply played the game out hoping to hit an energy retrieval or super rod that was left in the deck and charge something on the bench. But more importantly it was round 1 of swiss and wanted to learn how the deck worked as I watched him play out his turns and learned about how scary Ninetales is. XD I may have had him under trainer lock but I was still able to learn a lot about the deck in general as well as how important it is to manage resources effectively. I walked away smiling as I signed the loss slip from my 2-6 prize loss from the match going to time. My opponent was confused but not overly angry. :D Luckily I have gotten a lot better at the game since then, from playing out (occasionally to my opponent’s dismay) games where I clearly can’t turn things around and continuing to improve my game.

Leave a Reply

You are logged out. Register. Log in.