Ever since my experiences at UK Nationals I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I completely lacked preparation for the event. Not for the matches themselves, as I only lost a single match in Swiss rounds, and that was to a friend and teammate who also made Top 16 – rather for the atmosphere and play style in top cut.
My sole match there was infuriating in a number of ways, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. The more I looked back on it in the few days following the tournament, the more I started to feel quite strongly about that match.
One thing became glaringly obvious:
I got played.
Oh sure, I misplayed extensively. I was anxious, and under the pressure I made noob moves – no argument from me there. However what I mostly lacked preparation for was knowledge of when to call a judge. If you’ve never participated in a big event before, let me tell you the single most important rule of thumb I learned at Nationals:
If you’re wondering whether or not to call a judge… call the judge.
Judges are there to ensure that the rules are being followed, and you are always welcome to ask them for a ruling.
Even with the experience of acting as a Tournament Organizer and judge, I didn’t call a judge. I was making excuses for my opponent for the entire game, presuming the best about them and putting off involving the officials.
As a result I got rushed, slow played, and a variety of other borderline or outright illegal behaviours in the course of the game. I can recall that moment where I considered calling a judge, and I know that if I would have lost my match with a judge present, I wouldn’t have felt so bad about losing.
pokemon-paradijs.comIt’s easy for more experienced players to take advantage of those of us that are new to the game. It seems almost expected, for the most part – you can see it in John Kettler’s excellent article on “mind games” from back in 2010. I would recommend that everyone reading this article actually read that one, because I believe it is an essential piece of information for players new to competitive play.
However, I can’t help but find that type of play leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I, and other people like me, enjoy playing Pokémon. We play to win, but also recognize that this is a social game, and as such it’s a good opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, and have fun together. I talk to my opponents, and chat, and am friendly.
If they need mental space to contemplate a play, I try to give it to them. If they’re shy, or not keen to socialize, I also respect that – there’s no obligation here, but games like that, no matter how good strategically, always leave me a bit cold, because the social aspect of the game is important to me. Without that part of the game, I may as well be playing solitaire or a single-player video game.
However, lack of social interaction is not really what I want to help people prepare for. Inevitably, you will come up against a player that goes beyond that. A player that will do or say whatever it takes to put you off your game.
Maybe they’ll pressure you to make a move, or insistently suggest which play you should make, as happened to me. Maybe they’ll flick their dice at you across the table, as happened to a friend of mine at US Regionals this year.
In both cases, my friend and I should have called a judge, but we were so thrown off and unprepared for these behaviours that we didn’t react as we should have. I’m hoping that these steps can help you avoid the mistakes that we made in reacting to these players!
Always watch your opponent’s plays. I know it’s easy to get caught up in planning your next turn, or in trying to anticipate your opponent’s long-term strategy, but it’s also important to watch the actions your opponent makes. Nothing sinister even needs to be afoot – players make mistakes, and it’s our job to keep one another clear and playing correctly with regard to the rules.
Always Cut or Shuffle when Offered
Some players decide not to cut their opponent’s deck in tournament play, as a sign that they trust you or are respectful of and believe you shuffled well. I used to believe this, and act in this way.
However, now I feel differently – not because I have dealt with people that have used this to their advantage, but rather because of this thread on PokéGym where a Masters player very clearly controls his top card with careful shuffles, and then when his opponent declines to cut, the player draws the card he placed there.
Nothing is wrong with further randomization, and all it takes is a single player with bad intentions to ruin your day.
If your opponent sighs whenever you take even a moment to consider a play, if they ask you if you’re finished the moment play turns over to you, if they spend ages shuffling your deck, if they grab your discard pile without permission – this should set off warning bells.
There are many ways to metagame your opponent like this, and what’s worse many of these techniques are difficult to prove and therefore unlikely to result in censure from the judges. Nevertheless, it’s important to take note of and report these behaviours to the judges, as they are not legal in this game!
So what happens if you do encounter some of these behaviours from your opponent?
1. Keep Your Cool
pocketmonsters.netMaybe this is easier said than done. In the heat of the moment, especially under the pressure of a high-stakes tournament, it’s easy to get flustered. Just remember that there are rules that govern your match, and that you should not resort to parroting your opponent’s questionable behaviour.
2. Check Your Gut
You’re keeping your cool, and looking at the situation. Obviously all of this has to happen quite quickly so as to not disrupt the tempo of the game, but you should consider now how you feel about calling a judge to the table. If you feel anything but certain that you don’t need a judge, you should call one. It really is a simple as that.
3. Call the Judge
So you get a judge to come over to the table. If your concerns are unfounded, or the judge feels that everything is above board, you’ll at least feel better knowing that you took the steps you felt necessary. That’s the job that judges are there to do, and calling a judge is neither an extreme action, nor something to hesitate over.
– A Note for Seniors
Seniors, you are likely to also experience some of these behaviours. I want you in particular to understand that they’re not a good way to be – you can maintain the camaraderie and fair play that I see so often among the Juniors, and embrace the more complex strategies of your age division without resorting to dirty tricks.
Be confident, not cocky, and accept failure graciously. You’re the future Masters, after all, and you determine the near-future of our community and the game we love in so many ways.
4. Be an Adult
filb.deObviously this can read “be mature” for Juniors and Seniors!
But seriously, I think all reasonable competitive players should look at their play and consider that even though we’re playing what many consider to be a “children’s card game,” we need to stand up and play the game like the adults we are, with respect, sportsmanship, and magnanimity.
We need to reinforce the “Spirit Of The Game” and think of it as a compass by which to plot our course. We can compete, and strive, and succeed without resorting to questionable methods.
The more of a positive social experience we make this game, the better it will be for everyone involved, regardless their age division. Masters should be setting this example.
May the best player win.