Card Handling Habits and Poker Faces and a Tournament Report, Oh My!

Hey everyone!

Today I’m going to talk about two aspects of self-composure that can affect matches that I find can be overlooked sometimes: card handling and the importance of keeping a poker face. I’ll also at the end give a tournament report of my run at Spring Regionals.

Card Handling
Giving you clairvoyance into card handling.

First, I’ll be talking about the simple gestures that we, as players, sometimes make with our cards that can allow our opponents to know our hand strength, know if we have a response to their last move, and even give them a good guess of what cards may be in our hand!

Obviously it’s not good to give any information about your hand or deck to your opponent. So why do players still do these actions?

The reason is because of habit.

Players develop habits of handling their cards over time. Usually these habits will be kept since if a player tried to forget them, he or she would have to concentrate on habit correction during a match rather than the match itself.

I’ll be listing off, in no particular order, five of the common card handling habits among players. I’ll give a example scenario of when they may occur in games, and what opponents could learn.

All of this information is just coming from personal experience, opinion, and observation so feel free to add on in the comments!

Hand Organization

Some players will organize their hand by different types of cards (Items, Energy, Pokémon etc.) or by specific cards.

Depending on the type of player, having an unorganized hand could be distracting and/or confusing. So those players have no choice other than to organize their hand. However hand organization can let opponents take better guesses at what is in the player’s hand.

Say it’s my opponent’s turn. He just Juniper’d and then proceeded to organize his new hand of seven cards. I see he takes two cards and moves them both to the left side of his hand.

After organizing his hand, he then proceeds to play one of the two cards that I had mentioned previously. It’s a Catcher, which he uses to bring up something on the bench and KO it.

It’s now my turn. I have a N and a Juniper in hand. The way that he organized his hand is suspicious, could that other card be a Catcher? If it is then I’ll be in a lot of trouble next turn.

“I’ll play N.”

I’m not saying to rely on this theory as it won’t always be right. This would be a good thing to keep in the back of your head if your opponent organizes their hand though.

If that was a second Catcher in my opponent’s hand, and if I decided to Juniper instead, his next turn could have given him a good lead in our match.

If he had maybe made his hand organization a bit less obvious, the outcome would have been different.

562px-Red_on_computerThis is more a situation of precariousness than habit, but is still something that is seen among players.

Say I just had to Computer Search for a basic Energy since I whiffed one off the Supporter that I played this turn. This would be valuable information for my opponent to know and could be game changing.

“Since Computer Search doesn’t make you reveal which card was searched for, my opponent won’t know a thing , right?”


If I were to just take the basic Energy into my hand for a few seconds and then attach it, my opponent could simply watch the back of the card that was searched for (in this case the Basic Energy). Then, as soon as I were to attach it, my opponent would know exactly what I searched for.

“My opponent seriously had to Computer Search for the Energy? Wow, I’m definitely not playing N next turn.”

However, there are ways to make sure that your opponent stays clueless about what cards are in your hand.

It would be smart to quickly shuffle your hand for a few seconds so your opponent no longer knows which card was searched for with Computer Search. Even if your opponent wasn’t looking at the back of your cards, I believe it would still be great to shuffle your hand just as a precaution.

One thing that I find really irks me is when players don’t even put the card into their hand before playing it because “they are going to play it down anyway.” They are literally showing their opponent what they didn’t have in hand.

I understand that there are some situations where there’s no reason to put the card back into your hand, but most often, just flat out playing it down can give an opponent information.

If you do reveal what you searched for with Computer Search out of habit, I suggest trying to stop the habit immediately. It shouldn’t be too hard to fix, just a few casual matches along with some reinforcement should do the trick.

Here are a few ways to reinforce yourself out of this habit:

  1. Realize the advantage that your opponent could be getting.
  2. Ask your opponent to remind you when you play Computer Search during casual matches.
  3. Have a reminder written down somewhere near where you are playing so you will frequently see it.

Like how I said before, this habit isn’t too hard to fix, so it’s nothing to worry about as long as it’s dealt with.

To play it down or not to play it down

I find this to be by far the most popular habit that I have seen. I am one of the many people that have this habit.

“To play it down or not to play it down” is when a player is undecided if he or she should play a certain card down or not. Usually the player will start to put the card down, but then will bring it back up again. This can go on a few times before the player finally decides what should be done.

A player’s opponent won’t gain any extra information if the player decides to play down the card that they were previously undecided about. However, if the player decides not to play it down and has this habit, their opponent could gain valuable information:

1. There are cards that could be played down in his or her hand

This would give your opponent a very vague guess of what was in your hand, since most of the cards in your hand could be played down, but wouldn’t necessarily be the right play.

Your opponent would know though that you have a card in your hand that you think may be the right play. Therefore perhaps giving away that you have multiple options and that your hand is not completely dead.

Like how I said before, this isn’t giving your opponent a superb guess at what’s in your hand, so this isn’t something to worry about too much.

2. He or she has a certain card in their hand

This is when a player who has this habit is deciding if or if not to play a card but then accidentally tilts the card too low and reveals the card to their opponent.

Unlike reason one, this is something to strongly worry about. It could change the way the opponent plays out his or her turn knowing that the player has a certain card in hand.

The whole match can change, just because of a small card handling mistake.

What to discard?

This has the same principal as the play it down or not to play it down scenario. Although, the “what to discard” scenario can give more information to the opponent.

In the what to discard scenario, the player is undecided on what to discard from their hand.

Let’s say the player has an Ultra Ball in hand and is deciding what to discard. While contemplating, the player may do a “to play it down or not to play it down” gesture with the Ultra Ball and the two cards that he or she is thinking of discarding.

Their opponent, by seeing that three cards may be played by the player at the same time, can start to narrow down the possibilities of what those three cards may be.

One of these possibilities is that one of the cards needs to have two cards discarded. So this can be narrowed down to two cards: Ultra Ball and Computer Search.

Say that the player’s ACE SPEC is already in their discard. With that in mind, the opponent can easily figure out that there is a good chance that the player is contemplating playing an Ultra Ball!

The other thought that the opponent may get by seeing three cards possibly being used is that the player is about to do a big play (such as three Crushing Hammers).

So just by the player simply taking the three cards for Ultra Ball from their hand to contemplate playing them down or not, the opponent can narrow down what the cards may be within just a few seconds.

Do I have a response?

This is more of a common initial reaction than a habit that has been developed. However, I feel that it is important enough to mention.

Say I’m playing Garbodor and it’s my opponent’s turn. She just Catcher’d up a Garbodor to try to buy herself a few turns. I know that if next turn I can get a Switch, I will be able to get a crucial knockout.

However, I do not have the Switch in hand. It would be good thing to check my discard to find out how many I have used.

If I check my discard immediately, I could be hinting to my opponent that I do not have the Switch in hand currently.

If I wait until after she does something else or perhaps at the beginning of my turn to check my discard pile, my opponent may not make the connection that I am checking my discard pile because I do not have any Switches in hand.

Poker Face

sunglasses machamp
Wooper is exhibiting the quintessential poker face.

When a player keeps a “poker face” he or she shows almost no reaction to situations, good or bad, during a match.

Someone who doesn’t keep a poker face is basically a river, which can be calm or hectic, depending on the weather. However, a player who can keep a poker face is like a rock, which will stay still unless something extravagant happens.

During tournament matches, Swiss or top cut, it is crucial in so many ways to keep a poker face. Not keeping a poker face may not give away as much as card handling, but enough can be given away to change a match.

Say a player gets N’d by a opponent into a bad hand with no draw support. The player may show mental pain out of natural habit. If the player shows mental pain he or she might tense up, sigh, and/or mumble.

If the opponent can pick up that the player is suffering from mental pain right after the N, he or she may be able to figure out that the player might have a bad hand.

When trying to keep a poker face during a match, we don’t just need to hide mental pain, we also need to hide joy.

I’ve noticed that sometimes when players either have a good hand or think that they are going to win a game, they will be more happy/friendly with their opponent.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that when losing or when there isn’t any visible lead, players are unfriendly to their opponents.

If a opponent remarks that the player is happy, he or she could analyze the match to try to figure out why the player is so happy. Could it be their board position?

If the player clearly has a good lead in board position compared to the opponent’s, the player may just be happy about that.

If the player doesn’t have a particularly good board position compared to the opponent’s, however, it may be that the player has a great hand and will be able to get into a great position to win once it is their turn.

season5_ep26_ss4 team rocket
Bad poker faces.

I strongly advise though not to rely completely on your opponent’s happiness. Maybe they are just a really happy person or, vice-versa, perhaps they are naturally someone who seems more pessimistic.

Personally, I won’t try to judge my opponents’ hand strength by their reactions too much. I will however focus more on my reactions. Since I know that if I can keep a good poker face, my opponent will only be able to know that which is public knowledge.

Keeping a good poker face may be harder for some than others. If you are one of the players that has a harder time keeping a poker face and want to be able to keep one, you can learn by practice. We naturally get better at something the more we do it.

Tournament Report

The Regionals that I attended was the one in British Columbia. We had six rounds, 42 in Seniors (I think) so to secure getting into top eight, without relying on resistance, a 5-1 finish would be needed.

I won’t be giving my opponent’s first or last names since I didn’t get permission and also I forgot more than a few of them (oops, my bad)! Also I wasn’t taking notes during any of my matches since I didn’t know if it would put me on tilt or not. This entire tournament report is from memory, so I may get little bits and pieces wrong here and there but I do, however, remember most of the important game changing plays.

Before the Tournament

I was on tilt almost the whole week before the tournament since I was on a losing streak. There was two possible reasons why I was having a losing streak: it was either the deck that I was playing which was Darkrai Lasers or it was me.

I was really scared at the thought that it was me, since a mere three weeks ago I had made it to the semi-finals in Toronto with the same deck. How had I suddenly become such a bad player?

Over the week I started to convince myself that I wasn’t a bad player.

The night before I ended up getting help with a Big Basics list that I was going to run for the tournament the next day. I played about five games versus the mirror match and then had to go to bed since it was almost midnight.

So I was under tested (yet again) but oh well, YOLO!

Now on to the actual tournament report!

Round 1 vs. Darkrai/Hydreigon

deino-dragons-exalted-drx-93pokemon-paradijs.comI believe I may have mulliganed once, but I remember I started with a Landorus-EX in the end. I win the dice roll, and then we wait.

Once we are allowed to start, we both flip over our Pokémon in play. He has a Mewtwo EX active and a lone Deino DRX on bench. I attach a Fighting to Landorus, Catcher up the Deino and then play either an N or a Juniper.

In my new hand, I managed to draw a Laser and a Virbank. So I play both of them down and then proceed to KO the Deino and put 30 on the Mewtwo.

During the rest of the game he never manages to bench anything else so I win the game in a few turns with the help of another Laser.

He then looks at his prizes and sees that six Pokémon were prized!


Round 2 vs. Klinklang w/ Lasers

I win the dice roll to go first. He starts lone Klink to my Landorus-EX. While searching through my deck, I learn that 3 Lasers are prized!

I attach a Fighting and then proceed to Hammerhead the Klink for 30.

During his turn, he Computer Searches for a Cobalion-EX, benches it, perhaps attaches to it and then passes.

During the next few turns I bench a Bouffalant DRX, Tornadus EX, and a Landorus-EX. I also have a DCE in hand which would allow me to get a carefully timed Gold Breaker for the KO on the Cobalion-EX next turn .

I was planning to pull that move off with a Scramble Switch which I had in hand but he played N. Fortunately though, I draw what I need to accomplish this move next turn even without Scramble Switch! That turn, he benches a Klink so Knocking Out the Cobalion-EX won’t give me the win straight out.

During my turn, I still take the KO on the Cobalion-EX with Bouffalant and draw a Laser off one of my prizes.

He is forced to bring up the Klink. He evolves it into a Klang, plays a Laser, gets heads for sleep, and passes. I roll tails for the sleep flip.

This could have been game changing in his favor. However, I had two Switches in hand. So I Switched into Tornadus EX, Switched back into Bouffalant, played the Laser, and Gold Breaker’d for the KO.


Round 3 vs. Garbodor

He puts his lone active on board and doesn’t look too happy about it. I start with a Tornadus EX and win the dice roll.

He starts with a lone Trubbish. I have a DCE in hand, which I attach, Skyla for the Virbank, and then Blow Through for 60 which KOs the Trubbish.


So I’m currently 3-0! I’ve never had this great of a record after the first few rounds so I felt pretty good. Although there was still a possibility of me losing the next 3 rounds, so I wasn’t ready to celebrate yet.

Round 4 vs. Garbodor

Unfortunately, I don’t remember as much as I would like to of this match, I only have random bits memorized but I’ll try to string then together the best that I can.

I start with a Landorus-EX and win the dice roll (again).

I’ve taken 2 Prizes so far, I have a Landorus-EX active, and I am just about to KO a EX of somesort which was poisoned with Virbank out. My opponent has Exp. Shares attached to some of his Pokémon on bench so when the EX got Knocked Out, he would get a tad of energy excel, or so I thought.

I know what Exp. Share does, however I wasn’t sure if the effect would apply if the EX was KO’d by poison. So I asked if I could see the card, he didn’t object. The text stated:

“When your active Pokémon is Knocked Out by damage from an opponent’s attack, you may move 1 basic Energy card that was attached to that Pokémon to the Pokémon this card is attached to.”

So I now have two options:

  1. Let the EX get KO’d by poison and have Exp. Share not be activated.
  2. KO the EX with a Hammerhead and get a 30 snipe to the bench. However that would activate Exp. Share.

I decided to go with option 1, since there was nothing on the bench that could be snipe KO’d and getting to use Exp. Share could’ve been game changing in his favor.

Turns later, we are tied for prizes, two left for both of us. I get a Landorus-EX set up with a fighting and a DCE I believe. I needed the F Energy to get a Land’s Judgement off to win the game.

One of us plays an N, I’m pretty sure it was me, getting us both a 2 card hand.

Do I draw the F Energy? Nope! So if it was my turn, I must have Hammerheaded.

When it’s either his turn or back to mine, an N gets played.

Do I draw the F Energy? Nope! So again, if it was my turn I must’ve Hammerheaded.

He then proceeds to Knock Out my active, with the help of an Laser to win the game.


Although I was slightly disappointed to have lost that match, at least it was close.

Round 5 vs. Big Basics
I basically played as if all my opponent’s Pokémon had this Ability.

I actually went second this game.

I remember hardly any of the actual game play of this match, since a bit of an in-game trauma occurred:

I had just KO’d my opponent’s Bouffalant, however I forgot to take a prize. I realize this a few turns later and call over a judge, a prize penalty and a warning were issued. So obviously this made me go on a bit of a tilt.

How did I make such a silly mistake?

I however, a few turns later, I do start to see a bit of a game plan to win the game in the next few turns. It involved Knocking Out my opponent’s Bouffalant and then KOing an EX with a Land’s Judgement for 150. My opponent has 1 Prize left.

I KO the Bouffalant as planned but forget to take a prize! I realize this a turn later and call over a judge. My opponent gets to take their last prize.


I was so demotivated after this. How did I forget to take my prizes? I felt like I was going to perhaps tear up a bit, however no tears came.

I thought of how I might have ruined my chances at making cut because of my silly mistake, and how it would be hard to forgive myself if that were the case.

Round 6 vs. Big Basics

In my opening hand, I start with two Mewtwo EXs and no other Basics which I was not happy about at all! I decide to put one active and keep the other in hand.

I noticed that my opponent didn’t look very happy about his starting Pokémon, so all that I was thinking was “Please be a Trubbish, please be a Trubbish! since I had the DCE and I was going first.

It however was a Mewtwo EX. So donking was now completely out of the picture.

ash vs. mewtwoI definitely didn’t want to start a fully fledged Mewtwo EX war, and I don’t think he wanted to either, since it would be very risky. So throughout the next few turns, we diverged the match into a stable phase.

We then proceeded to do the usual of benching Pokémon over a number of turns, going “pew pew” with Lasers, exchanging prizes etc.

The game was at or close to time when we were at 2 Prizes each, although I’m thinking that he might have been at 1 Prize.

I had a Landorus-EX active, which had a F Energy attached and a Tornadus EX which had a DCE attached (Virbank was in play) on the bench along with some other Pokémon. If I could hit his active Pokémon for 60 , I would win the game.

I knew that there was one Switch left in my 12 card deck. I also had a Juniper in hand. If I were to get the Switch, I would Switch into Tornadus EX and do Blow Through for 60 to win the game.

So I Juniper’d hoping to get the Switch. I unfortunately whiffed it, but instead I drew a Laser and ended up using it to add the extra 30 so a Hammerhead would be enough.


So with my 4-2 finish there’s a possibility of me making cut but it’s more likely that I would bubble.

When the results were posted, I looked at 9th and then started to look up the list and much to my surprise, I saw that I had placed 8th by 0.27%!

My thought process was basically:

“Wait, I placed 8th? I’m in top cut! WOOOOOO!”

When all the Seniors that had made cut were being called, I made sure to see who had placed 1st seed since they would be my opponent for tomorrow. It turned out to be my opponent from round 4.

The Next Day

hoothoot-heartgold-soulsilver-promos-hgss05pokemon-paradijs.comI unfortunately woke up at 3:30 AM! So my memory of my top cut matches is a bit weak.

Me and my mum arrived 15 minutes before we were required to be there. I went to a table to sit down and calm myself.

I got in line when it was time to check in. I look over to see where I would be sitting, which was closest to the wall so furthest away from possible distraction. Good.

I then see that my decklist is face up on the table! I was kind of concerned, since my top eight opponent was sitting right there and could see my list if he wanted to! Luckily though, my deck/deck box was covering up most of the trainer part of the decklist.

Usually the decklists are taped around the deck box, I’m sure the list just wasn’t taped on correctly.

Once I was checked in, I sat down, gave the decklist to the judge, shuffled, set up, lost the dice roll, and waited for the game to begin.

Top 8 vs. Garbodor

Game 1

We both start with a Landorus-EX.

During a few turns, he misses Energy attachments and I however don’t which lets me get into a decent board position compared to his. I was drawing into supporters such as Juniper instead of N, so I was still refreshing my hand.

I take 2 Prizes, which got rid of one or maybe two of his Energy, which were the only ones in play. He then has to Juniper away his Scramble Switch, which couldn’t have been used since there was no Energy on his side and the Pokémon that he wanted active was active.

His Energy drought stops and there is some Exp. Shares on his other Pokémon so he could start to make a comeback. I however negate a comeback by using Max Potions. He did manage to take 2 Prizes though.


focus-band-neo-genesis-86pokemon-paradijs.comWhile shuffling, I look over to where spectators are allowed to watch and I see one of my friends in the crowd. He looks at me wanting to know what happened, so I give him a quick nod and then turn my concentration back to Game 2.

Game 2

I literally have no recollection of this game. I only know that there was some Bouffalant action, that the match went for about 20 minutes and, that I lost.


It’s decently hard to remember a long match of Big Basics vs Garbodor (which will do the same thing as Big Basics, if it’s with Fighting and Colorless attackers, only with a few less cards and more Tools) since there is really no set strategy compared to decks like Blastoise.

Game 3

I choose to go first since I lost Game 2. We both start with a Landorus-EX with nothing on bench.

I don’t draw in to any Pokémon, so I start to power up my active Landorus-EX for a Land’s Judgement, since if my opponent didn’t bench anything else, I would be able to bench him.

However, then Laserbank shenanigans start to happen from his side, along with the usual attacks, I had to get another Pokémon so I wouldn’t get benched.

I Skyla’d for an Ultra Ball, played Ultra Ball having to discard Skyla and another card, and then decided to grab another Landorus-EX. Unfortunately by doing this, I was left with no Supporter in hand. It had to be done though.

I then Hammerhead.

He benches a Terrakion NVI, so he is safe from being benched, plays a Max Potion on the active Landorus-EX then attaches a Fighting and Hammerheads which KOs my Landorus-EX.

Unfortunately, I am not able to KO his Landorus-EX so I end up losing because of time.


Oh well, it would’ve been nice to make it up to top 4 and maybe even finals but there’s nothing I can do about that.

I’m quite happy with my performance, considering how much I was on tilt the week before and how I under tested I was. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing, other than forgetting to take my prizes round 5, although I did learn from that mistake, so it’s all good!

The Good

  • Getting into top 8
  • Hanging out with friends all weekend, and even making a new one
  • Pulling 5 ultra rares from the packs I won
  • The macaroni and cheese I had the night before Swiss

The Bad

  • The amount of stress that I had the week before the tournament
  • The amount of stress that I had during my 6th round


Mandi has great self-composure.

I find it quite intriguing how much self-composure can affect matches. It just goes to show that to be a good player, one must not only be good at the game itself, but must also have good self-composure.

So yet another format comes to a close, which I’m a little sad about. I actually grew to like this format (despite the heavy luck factor), since there was a variety of different decks with very different concepts.

Plasma Freeze will definitely change things up, but I’m sure I’ll learn to like it!


Reader Interactions

12 replies

  1. Stephen Botha

    A very well written article. I think you made some very good points and gave everyone something to think about and work on. Thumbs up from me.

  2. Jack Stensrud

    Great job on the article again! I got 35th in the tournament, and was the lowest-ranked 2-4. Ah well, i’ll try to do better at battle roads.

  3. theo Seeds

    One thing I do when my opponent N’s me is I don’t even look at the cards I got until it’s my turn to keep my opponent from getting a read on me.

    • Adam Capriola  → theo

      That could be good or bad. It can help to know what your cards are so you can start planning your next moves during the remainder of your opponent’s turn and aren’t as rushed when it’s your go.

      • theo Seeds  → Adam

        Honestly I don’t feel like this format is one where you need to take time to think that often. I think one opponent I’ve had all year has told me to hurry up.

  4. Amanda Kovs

    Very well done article. I’m guilty of pretty much all the hand things you discussed, so I think it will be interesting for me to be more aware of that as I continue playing!

    Also, hooray for more fellow girl players. :)

  5. Pokemonguy

    If you cant make a straight face all the time just smile.

  6. SamanthaNorrieFan

    So I’m new to Pokemon, and I was wondering what a top tier player like yourself would be testing for the upcoming season. I’m really on the fence about either running Bucket Hats in my list (as I know it’s a great tech) or just cutting it out all together as tins won’t be as heavy in this format seeings how buttons are dominating the format. It would be cool if we could test together some time! Anyways, love your work, keep it up. Cha!

Leave a Reply

You are logged out. Register. Log in.