The Ugly Truth: Understanding Cheaters, and How to Combat Them

There are some bad eggs out there…

The rise in live-streaming coverage of Pokémon Trading Card Game events has revolutionized this game, at last bringing it closer to par with the “serious” treatment other card games such as Magic: The Gathering get, or even E-sports like Starcraft and League of Legends. However, with that new coverage is the realization, or perhaps reaffirmation, of a very ugly truth:

People cheat.

The Pokémon Trading Card Game has a solid reputation as being one of the friendliest competitive games out there, and for good reason. For the most part, bad apples in our game get “weeded out” over the years; that is, the community is very unforgiving of thieves and cheaters, so you see them chased away for the most part.

But this alone does not eliminate the cheating dilemma. Good cheaters are like good magicians, in that they can go without their tricks and deception being seen for a very long time. Sure, while every cheater slips up sooner or later, that’s not enough to save the person being cheated against. Therefore, the goal of this article is to help put a stop to that, and to arm you with the best defenses against people who would hope to cheat you out of a win or a tie.

Disclaimer on the Contents of this Article

I am not trying to teach people how to cheat; I am trying to prevent cheating.

There are a lot of ways that the natural result of a game can be twisted, distorted, or otherwise “cheated” by undue outside influence, so being made aware or further educated on how that can happen should make players more keenly aware of what to do in case they play against unsavory types.

The facts and methods discussed in this article are going to be very uncomfortable for some of you. Parents, if you deem it a good idea never to share the contents of this “ugly truth” article, I certainly wouldn’t blame you. However, as a reminder:

I am not trying to teach people how to cheat; I am trying to prevent cheating.

When more of us know the truth, we’re put on a level playing field with those who exploit and denigrate the concept of having a match decided by gameplay, rather than gamesmanship and deception. Knowing telltale signs of stalling, for instance, frustrate the staller’s attempt to force a free win or a tie. This article is intended to be read as a toolset.

But in spite of that disclaimer, a third time never hurts anyone…

I am not trying to teach people how to cheat; I am trying to prevent cheating.

Cheating: What is it?

Before we move on to the meat of this article, it’s important to do some quick housekeeping and define our key term. For our purposes, “cheating” means any intentional effort to frustrate or violate the spirit of Play! Pokémon’s rules.

Cheating can be executed in a variety of ways, and by anyone. Although my list is non-exhaustive, we’ll discuss these following broad categories of cheating:

While some of these can apply to any card game, the slant of this article will obviously be to Pokémon. In each section, I will address methods ranging from the easiest to combat (located at the top of a section) to the hardest (located at the bottom). Also, I must reiterate that nothing about this article is exhaustive: people find new ways to be dishonest every day, so my attempt to help you fight against this is to address general principles to keep in mind while playing your game of cards.

An Extremely Brief Synopsis of All the Methods You Will Learn in This Article

The recurring theme behind nearly every defense discussed below is being INSISTENT. Part of being insistent means that you learn the COURAGE to protect yourself, the CONFIDENCE to know what to do, and the CAPABILITY to say, “no” to letting suspicious activities fly past you. An unsung reason why cheating is such a big problem in this game is due to players not being INSISTENT, which this article will indirectly help you do.

Bear in mind that these are character traits – traits that can take a while to develop in most people, and took an especially long time for me to realize. Being shy in general is fine, but in the face of people trying to lie, steal, and cheat from you in a game of cards, you are your best and only advocate.

With all of that housekeeping, let’s move on…

Sleight of Hand

melvin the
Watch out for these “tricks.”

This is by far the most traditional idea we have of what “cheating” means in the context of a card game. Whether it’s the guy who sneaks cards through his long sleeves, perpetually keeps his hand below the table, or just someone who scarfs up his discard pile while you’re not looking, the “sleight of hand” cheater is a particularly hated, destructive figure in our playing community, because this person combats our own knowledge of the game state.

Long Sleeves

One of the oldest tricks in the book is wearing long sleeves, slipping cards hidden in those sleeves into one’s hand. The solution here is fairly simple: If it seems that your opponent is holding his cards in an awkward manner that would facilitate this sort of cheating, insist that they hold the cards correctly. Physically, a vertical card won’t have as easy a time slipping in or out of a sleeve as a horizontal one, so an opponent simply can’t do this when his or her hand is facing upright, as opposed to tilted diagonally or horizontally.

Admittedly, this is a pretty easy thing to catch, and unless the venue is cold, long sleeves will stand out like a sore thumb in a room full of tees.

Cards Below the Table

In addition to people wearing long sleeves, they can also just keep their hands below the table. An opponent could keep a hidden card on his or her lap, reach down to the ground to replace one card with another, add cards to the hand outright, and other similar tactics. The main idea in any such attempt is to exchange bad cards for better ones while obscuring your view of their hand.

Play! Pokémon has formally banned this, yet people still do it anyway. As a result, your number one best bet to counter this bad habit is to request – politely – that your opponent raise his or her hand of cards above the table, and keep it there. I emphasize that you do this “politely” because many perfectly innocent, honest amateur players do this. These sorts of plainly honest mistakes are part of what makes this community so reassuring, but it’s also why it’s harder to catch legitimate cheaters.

An indirect way to counter this is by taking note of the opponent’s hand size. Although impractical, and truthfully somewhat annoying, the “how-many-cards-are-in-your-hand?” line is one of the most useful in fact-checking, and can be used in case you suspect foul play.

Finally, in case you have a strong, reasonable suspicion that your opponent has added cards to his deck mid-game, feel free to execute a quick deck count on your opponent in the middle of the game. Make it non-obstructive, and non-accusatory, or else you yourself may end up frustrating the goal of a good, clean game.

How can this be done? In a few simple steps:

  1. Since hand switcheroos would be more likely to happen mid or late-game, ask how many cards are left in your opponent’s deck.
  2. Then, ask how many are in the hand (see above).
  3. Count up yourself the combined number of cards on your opponent’s side of the board.
  4. Add these three totals: If it equals 60, then you’re good; if it is more or less than 60, then you’re either very sloppy at math, or your opponent is violating the rules.

General Field Manipulation

Last, but certainly not least, is general manipulation of one’s deck, discard, and field. In Pokémon, there is a lot you have to keep track of: the deck, the discard, hand sizes (discussed above), the board, and all of the same for your opponent. What makes this a uniquely troubling issue for Pokémon players is that there is so much more going on in our fields, specifically damage counters and coin flips.

Naturally, the methods of manipulating the field are as expansive as, well… the field itself. From removing damage while the opponent is not looking, to looking at the bottom of his deck, the cheater is a resourceful virus that just keeps on mutating into new, unexpected forms. Here is one player’s account of how this takes place in real life practice:

“…[A player] began showing me how easy it was to cheat. …Besides using hand signals and intimidating his opponents into conceding, one trick [the player] showed me in particular involved pulling a card out of my discard pile (“palming” it) after distracting an opponent.”

Yes, all it takes is one momentary distraction, and as the poster says, it is “easy” when your opponent isn’t paying attention. The event in question was a perfect opportunity for him, as it was the ignored, disrespected “Last Chance for Championship Points” event this past year, lacking the sort of judge support Nationals or Worlds receive.

So, what can you do in one of these situations? If a player feels he has everything on the line and is perfectly willing to cheat against you, the only thing that you can do is maintain focus on your game! Cheating is made easy because players get distracted, but when they keep a hawk-eye’s focus on all aspects, from board position to damage counters, the advantage is shifted back in the honest player’s favor.
Wear your Focus Band, if necessary.

We’re all human, so it’s difficult to maintain that sort of focus on a game. But this is an interesting way in which real-life practice can be superior to the online testing many of my friends and I do. You not only get the chance to play with the physical cards; you also get the chance to interact in an organic physical environment with a real opponent.

This will naturally make you more sensitive to “out of place” body language common to these sorts of cheaters, so you’ll in turn be more apt to deter shenanigans. It’s good to be prepared, because with judge resources being stretched thinner and thinner (see below, in “Callback to ‘Winning the Mind Game’”), it’s crucial to be sharp yourself.

But what if your opponent is doing something particularly unusual, such as riffling in a manner where he could reveal the bottom card of his deck to himself? In general, riffle-method shuffling is allowed, but if they do shuffle in such a way that they could see cards in their deck, you should look to their eyes… Is the player looking at those cards, or is he looking away? If he is, then this is at the very least a very unfair advantage; if he is not, then he’s probably avoided a nasty situation.

While this is the most unusual behavior to catch, our judges are on the move to combat it: In a recent Regional Championship, a “name” player was apparently doing this, but was eventually caught and punished. Still, the judges aren’t always going to be there for you, so I urge you to look to their eyes, and stay alert.

Card Manipulation

Of course, the cards themselves are highly susceptible to manipulation. In this section, we cover two points: the often-discussed shuffling abuses, and the rarely-addressed matter of curling holographic cards.

General Notes

There are a ton of great resources on general card manipulation, and a simple Google search of terms such as “shuffle cheat,” “double nickel,” and so on is definitely worth your time as a competitive player. Although I’d like to spend our time discussing card manipulation in Pokémon specifically, here’s some key terminology:

“Random” – Fair and accurate representation to your opponent that cards not made known quantities to either player remain unknown quantities. This includes non-rearranged cards in the deck, and unrevealed Prize cards.

“Manipulation”– Any intentional effort that frustrates the above meaning of “Random.”*

*Note that the word “manipulation” used in other contexts does not necessarily mean cheating.

“Double Nickel” – Any perfect distribution which yields an unfair advantage.*

*Note that this is a special definition we’re using only for the purposes of this article.

“Stacking” – Using either cards in a deck or adding/removing cards via sleight-of-hand methods, producing a manipulation of a player’s draws.

Shuffling Abuses – Pokémon-specific Concerns

Now that we have a starting point for discussion, let’s consider how shuffling concerns impact us Pokémon players…

First, there is a disparate impact in our game caused by double nickels. Unlike Magic, where the predominant shuffling abuse involves dishonest randomization known as “mana weaving,” our game involves so many ways in which an unchecked double nickel could prove disastrous. Whether it’s Rare Candy in a deck with Stage Two Pokémon, Dark Patch in a Darkrai list, or “weaving” an unnaturally perfect distribution of your Pokémon/Trainer/Energy lines, the problems caused by this are exponential.

Fortunately, the solution is just as simple: SHUFFLE YOUR OPPONENT’S DECK!!! Do not take it personally if an opponent wishes to shuffle your deck, as it is his or her right to do so. However, do not back down if your opponent takes it personally – just shuffle away. My only request is that you shuffle your opponent’s deck carefully, as it is still his or her property.

Second, shuffling abuses and issues often fail to reach our or Play! Pokémon’s definitions of cheating because the intent element is not there. In order to break the rules, you merely have to fail to conform to them; but in order to reach the level of “cheater,” you must have intended to do so. Our game is plagued with situations where players directly or indirectly manipulate their decks without realizing the unfair advantages they gain from it.

A particular hot-button issue this applies to is the great “de-clumping” debate. Basically, de-clumping is when a player – while searching his deck – moves cards that have “clumped” together, away from each other. This becomes muddy when you apply current Poké-law, which tolerates this activity so long as the following shuffle sufficiently randomizes the deck.

Therein lies the problem: Per our definition of random, the cards you draw – the “quantities” – must be unknown after a shuffle. But if that’s the case, then why would you de-clump in the first place? Thus, we have a huge squabble over what counts as sufficient, what counts as intent, and so forth.

I believe that the solution to this problem is also shuffling, but I would advise that you shuffle more thoroughly depending on the extent of the de-clumping: If it was very minor, then a couple light riffles should do; but if it was so bad that you felt your opponent was merely rearranging his deck instead of shuffling… shuffle that bad boy until your fingers bleed.

Where you suspect foul play, I would recommend calling a judge. But the reality of most de-clumping situations is that intent is muddy, and as such, a judge can’t go off of what you are saying unless he or she was at the table while it happened. Therefore, you’ll need to exercise some of your own justice, and for the most part be content with shuffling.

Stacking – Pokémon-specific Concerns

Heart of the cards… or stacking?

Going hand-in-hand with the above topic is stacking. Unlike shuffling, though, stacking is ALWAYS cheating, because manipulation is always an intentional act, so it needs no discussion of mistake.

When an opponent appears to stack, the solution is “shuffle.” But what if your opponent stacks your deck? Yes, it’s actually possible, and your opponent making an attempt to make you draw poorly is much more likely than he is to make himself draw well. This is because, during the course of a Pokémon game, you shuffle a lot, so in at least one of those shuffles, there’s a good chance you may reveal the location of a key card. The opponent will exploit this, either cutting you “out” of a card you need, or cutting you “in” to a card you don’t need. I’ll illustrate these through a couple of examples:


Example One – Bunicula is playing Blastoise, pulled a fast lead, and needs only one of her four Superior Energy Retrievals to win the game. Her opponent, Wishbone, plays N. As Bunicula completes her shuffle, Wishbone notices that near the middle-point of the deck was the game-winning Retrieval. Therefore, Wishbone cuts Bunicula out of the Retrieval, reducing her odds of drawing it.


Example Two – Bunicula is playing Blastoise, has a Tropical Beach in play, and pulled a fast lead, drawing 5 Prizes against Wishbone. Her opponent, Wishbone , again plays N. As Bunicula completes her shuffle, Wishbone notices that near the middle-point of the deck was another Tropical Beach, which at this point is worthless. Therefore, Wishbone cuts Bunicula into the Beach, and she is virtually guaranteed of a lost turn.

In both instances, this behavior is actually cheating. However, it is cheating easily dealt with so long as you shuffle correctly, taking care not to reveal anything to the opponent. Generally, a person will become more tempted to violate a rule if he or she has almost no chance of being caught, and while this goes against spirit of the game, there’s little a judge can do to stop it. Therefore, you need to take responsibility, practice your shuffling at home, and avoid letting your opponent stack your own deck.

Curling Holographics

Every year or two, at least one competitive player – even a top-caliber player – will come up to me and start a conversation, going something like this…

“Hey, did you know that Pokémon holographics bend?”

“Yeah, that’s common knowledge. What about it?”

“Well… Did you know that when holographics curl, you can tell them apart from regular cards?”

“So I’ve heard…”

“Well, if I’m playing a game, and I can tell the difference between the two cards, I’ll use that knowledge to my advantage. How can’t you?”

…And there’s the crux of our issue: Would you do the same if put in a similar situation?
One year, a player was disqualified in Top 32 of Nationals for using curved Shedinjas.

Well, don’t feel too much stress answering that question – it’s only there to get you to think about the sort of huge advantage that can be gained simply by knowing this.

To be fair, Pokémon has largely created this problem itself: Because it has a far greater obsession with “sparkly cards” than Magic or other games that use strictly reverse-foils, we see bulkier, “curlier” holographics in the form of cosmic-foil promo cards, regular holographic cards from boosters, Pokémon-EX, and of course, those really fat Full Arts.

Worst of all, because some cards come in only one form, there really isn’t much of an option “but” to use that curling, fat card. A perfect example from the olden days was Luxray GL LV.X: You could practically run only one or two copies per deck, and since it was unavailable in reverse or non-holographic forms, it stuck out like a sore thumb in the Prizes. I bet countless players faced this temptation during that format, and – whether they thought of it as wrong or not – went with or against it.

But again, my earlier question was just to get you to think about the moral dilemma. What would you do if, through absolutely no fault of your own, you could actually tell which Prizes were which? This is precisely why the curling holographic issue is not contemplated under the rules as a strict liability cheating scenario: because intent to gain an advantage is really, really impractical in situations such as the Luxray GL LV.X one described above.

The Penalty Guidelines combat this through the Section 7.2: “Marked Cards” (to be discussed further in our “marked sleeves” discussion). However, their most significant guiding language are just a couple examples that don’t directly apply to dilemmas like the above:

“[Included in 7.2.1, Minor] Several of the player’s cards are parallel holo versions of the card, causing a slight bend down the center of the card. However, while the cards are identifiable as parallel holo cards, there is enough variety in which cards bend that no pattern can be determined.”

“[Included in 7.2.2, Major] All of the Basic Pokémon in a player’s deck are parallel holo, causing a slight bend down the center of the card. This creates a pattern which allows the player to identify Basic Pokémon when the cards are face-down, at rest.”

Although the penalty guidelines are smart to issue tough sanctions (game losses) regardless of intent, those same guidelines – and the inflexible judges who treat them like the end-all be-all – are heavily constrained by the language’s emphasis on pattern. This means that a single card curling is enough to give its user an unfair advantage.

Our only surefire way this problem can ever be remedied is through a correction in the way TPCi prints its cards… which isn’t happening anytime soon. So for now, your options are limited to:

A. Observing a type of patterned marking similar to that described in the guidelines. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and while smoke can suffocate you, not putting out a fire (i.e., not calling a judge on patterned markings) is guaranteed to burn you.

B. Calling out your opponent on highly irregular Prize-drawing, such as starting from the middle rather than the top or bottom. Unless a Town Map has been played, there really isn’t a good reason for this at all, so I suggest you be highly skeptical of it.

C. Insistence on stronger judge enforcement. Where the card game can’t be corrected, a more aggressive judge can lay the smack-down on an opponent taking an abnormally long time to decide which Prize card to draw. Remember that guidelines are just guidelines, and examples, just some of many possibilities, so good judges who can tell when a player is milking this can issue an appropriate penalty.

Supply Issues

Marked Sleeves

If in doubt, question the sleeves.

Also contemplated by Section 7.2, Marked Cards, any significant variations in sleeves can yield a game loss or greater. Note that I don’t use the word “manipulation” because, as stated previously, marked cards are hardly always intentional, but rather unintentional results of shuffling, ignorance, and the sort.

The most common example of this is actual wear-and-tear, such as dents, tears, dirt, and similar damage. Although the ideal is that players will vigorously replace their sleeves when they become irreparably damaged, several minor flaws will go unnoticed or, more commonly, neglected.

I’ll use myself as an example. To my detriment, I am a notoriously lazy, neglectful player when it comes to sleeves, having used some sets for as long as four years (rest in peace pink Dragonshields, 2006-2010). In a sense, I am on the opposite end of the spectrum from those obsessive-compulsive guys who buy new sleeves for every tournament. Essentially, I am the cheap student looking to keep his hobby as inexpensive as possible.

The above describes a huge chunk of the playing population. But as the player protecting him or herself from possible cheating, it is fully within your rights to insist that your opponent’s sleeves be reviewed by a judge if they seem questionable. I encourage you to use your gut on this one, and not overreact at every little instance; otherwise, you’ll be known as that sleeve freak nobody wants to be around.

Nevertheless, you DESERVE to protect yourself, no matter what others might say, so when in doubt, I’d rather play it safe. The worst case scenario isn’t when you inconvenience an innocent, albeit lazy guy like me; it’s when you get heated out of a win by the guy actually looking to do harm.

What about those unsung situations, though? You know, indirect card marking – namely upside-down cards? With pseudo-opaque sleeves, this happens a lot more than you’d think: Some guy ends up riffle-shuffling half of his deck the opposite direction, resulting in many cards facing the wrong way.

This sort of mistake is still marking, and can result in a 7.2 penalty. You’ll see it happen most commonly among newer players, who are usually the people with the least appreciation for what it means for cards to go the wrong way. Like every other bit of marked cards discussion, take it with a grain of salt if you’ve done this before – you’re probably not trying to cheat me…and if you are, then you’re doing a bad job at it!

To solve these problems, we return for the umpteenth time to our theme of insistence, be it insisting on a judge to examine the situation, or taking the matter into your own hands. I’ve played against countless players in the past, and found it more efficient to just ask those players if I could correct their deck by turning it the right way. This is usually met with serious confusion, as well as perhaps some surprise I’d ask to do something so outlandish, but hey… I insist! This isn’t Magic, where either side is good – you need it to be all up, or all down.

Blaine probably uses weighted dice.

Unlike sleeves, I believe that the worst of our days are long gone when it comes to randomizers. When we first saw real exposure to the world’s metagame in 2004, competitive players speculated for fun as to the true meaning of coin flips and dice rolls according to the Japanese creators: Were they intended as randomizers, or as strange games of skill?

In turn, you saw several crazy people (myself included) thinking that they could perfect the art of coin flips down to a predictable science… something that, bar an automatic flipper, is simply not the case.

However, there are those players who took steps beyond intellectual curiosity, and attempted to find ways to rig randomizers beyond physical capacity of a regular randomizer. People here thought of adding sides to their dice, weighing their randomizers, and so on. Fortunately, the rules establish an excellent, uniform standard for randomizers: 2003-and-beyond official coins, and clear, six-sided dice for both rolling and damage counters. This all but eliminates our biggest threats from unscrupulous players.

What do we have to worry about now?

I suggest that as long as we abide by those rules, the only issue to concern ourselves with is how well individual players execute their rolls and flips. It’s required that players actually let their coins fly in the air for a bit, or their dice bounce for a while, yet for some odd reason, you always have “that guy” at tournaments who just… drops them.

Since a coin flip is supposed to rotate at least three times in the air, and a dice roll is supposed to “bounce,” you should really request a re-roll or re-flip if neither of these occur. While the people who do this, as is said so often, tend to be relatively innocent newcomers who don’t know any better, it’s a strong early lesson that the quality of flips matter, so don’t be afraid to teach it.


Here it is… the one topic so controversial, it gets its own section. However, I define this pair similarly: two different methods of depriving your opponent his or her right to play the game. When a player stalls, he takes an ordinate amount of time to make moves, thereby depriving the opponent; and when that same player rushes, he browbeats the opponent to finish his turn prematurely… thereby also depriving said opponent. They are, in essence, two sides to the same coin, which the Penalty Guidelines understand well.

Now that large events operate on best 2-of-three match play with 50 minute time limits, the incentive to stall is greater than ever. Stallers and rushers will attempt to turn their ties into wins, losses into ties, and even losses to wins. For you to get the better end of stalling, though, it’s important to recognize some fundamental aspects of stalling with regard to rule enforcement:

slowpoke ekans pikachu
Slow play or playing slowly?

A. Stalling is a “muddy” area. A judge being called over (or a table judge) is a necessary element of getting back your lost time, let alone penalties incurring. Getting a judge’s attention eats up a lot of time from the clock as well, so guaranteeing that you get your time back is not easy.

Furthermore, there’s a very blurred line between “slow play” and just… “playing slowly.” As a result, this makes enforcement a challenge, and advocating for yourself even harder.

B. Rushing, on the other hand, is crystal clear, but is enforced less harshly than stalling. This is probably because rushing isn’t a direct deprivation, but more of a form of impolite encouragement. It’s also less premeditated and malicious, since usually it’s just caused by someone wanting to see a long game actually come to a close, rather than end on time.

Between the two, rushing is far easier to counteract: Just say, “No” when an opponent tries to make you prematurely end your turn. Now, if you’re politely requested to be mindful of your pace of play, that’s one thing… But if your solitary three-second pause to think sends a person into a frenzy, don’t let it suck you in.

But what can you do to counteract stalling? As said previously, it’s far murkier, and far more challenging to deal with in events. You’ll have to make many sound judgment calls, so listed below are some of the following direct and indirect ways to combat stalling.

DIRECT Ways to Combat Stalling

1. When an opponent gives first hints of milking the clock, or otherwise having questionably laggy pace, you immediately, albeit politely, ask that they pick up their pace. Don’t ask this if you yourself are being slow, and don’t ask this based on anything less than objective standards. Point stated, this is best exercised by counting in your head (no speaking): If an opponent ever takes longer than the guidelines to make a move, then it’s reasonable to ask for quicker play.

2. For a player displaying a demonstrably disproportionately slow pace, don’t be afraid to call the judge. There’s really no polite way to do this… I just ask that you please, please, please do not accuse your opponent of stalling. You may feel that way, and you can’t change the way that you feel, but your best friend in tense time-sensitive spots is to remain calm.

Admittedly, judging resources are getting stretched thinner and thinner, especially since the new match play rules require that more people stay behind to play longer. Be that as it may, I’m still floored at how few people actually ask judges to watch their games for pace of play.

When do you call a judge to observe the pace of play? Obviously not at a moment’s notice, but also not after it’s too late. This is where you have to develop your intuition, and figure out a good middle ground. An anti-stalling tactic I employ is mentally counting each second a non-move takes: If my opponent is taking 30+ seconds to do absolutely nothing, or takes the maximum number of seconds in the guidelines every single time at least five times, I will usually call a judge without hesitation.

3. Players and judges make this mistake every year, but remember that the guidelines are just that… guidelines! There is NO excuse past a brain fart to explain why a blatant draw-pass turn should ever take 15 seconds… Yet I have seen it happen many, many times. I’d like to think the best of people, but when you’ve top decked an unplayable evolution card, and you have nothing on your side of the field except for that one card, the only possible action is “pass.”

Recognize that you will lose or tie on time, and that generally speaking, those losses will be fairly innocent. But for those that do not, I hope your comfort with the judging staff, as well as comfort in your own insistence, can shine through in rough spots.

INDIRECT Ways to Combat Stalling
Don’t whine; keep playing.

1. Keep playing the game anyway. If players are angling for a win or tie on time, they’ll often lose focus on their actual gameplay. Exploit these gaps in actual in-game skill, and mount a worthy comeback.

2. Play a deck that takes the time win advantage away from your opponent. This can either be a very fast deck capable of finishing three games before time, or a very slow deck that will usually not even let time become an issue past the first game.

For Fall 2013 Regionals, I was torn between precisely these two kinds of decks because of how well they mitigate the time factor. I ultimately went with the fast option, which I can safely say protected me from MANY ties I otherwise would have received. And for those two matches that “did” end in draws? They were so back and forth, I felt they were both very much worthy of draws.

“Other” Methods

This is the section for a few miscellaneous topics I felt weren’t worthy of their own segments.

1. Team play is when a pair or group of players work to facilitate unfair match results. Recent allegations arose about a team of Pokémon players issuing hand-signals to one-another, indicating the contents of an opponent’s hand. This could be as simple as a thumbs up/thumbs down to indicate that person’s hand quality, to spelling out specific contents via sign language. These are some gross shenanigans, but nearly all of them can be handled by keeping your hand concealed when you feel a whole group of adversarial spectators are hovering over your match.

If you for good reason feel that team play is going on, I would get not just the judge, but as much judging staff (plural) involved as you can. I’ve heard a lot of hearsay about this, but words aren’t proof like sights or actions, and you can’t certifiably identify the cheaters without having someone to back up the sights and actions.

2. Collusion is when one player trades something in exchange for an agreeable match result. Collusion IS throwing a match for money, packs, and the like; collusion is NOT intentionally drawing, or randomly deciding who wins (the latter of which is handled under the penalty guidelines). If you reasonably suspect something fishy is going on, even if it’s not in your game, then that’s yet another moment to involve a judge.

3. Rules Lawyering is an unnatural insistence on following in-game procedure. This person will keep you from time-saving multi-search shortcuts, demand you re-flip when your coin falls on a wavy playmat tilted 43-47 degrees, and so on. In short, this is what you do NOT want to be as a self-advocate, and is what a player could easily become if they took the advice in this article without flexibility.

Still, it’s pretty easy to realize if you’re a rules lawyer: If you insist on things obviously immaterial (unimportant) to be played out simply “just because,” then you’re probably a rules lawyer; but if you insist on each proper step to occur in the right order, to avoid any incorrect playing, then you’re just a smart and careful player.

Callback to “Winning the Mind Game”
Mind games are as relevant as ever.

Finally, there’s a whole variety of ways your opponents could get into your head to gain an unfair advantage. These ways, known popularly as mind games, have been addressed before in my first Underground article, “Winning the Mind Game.” To summarize, I talk about aggressive and defensive mind games, as well as offer up a sort of structure for legal, morally kosher mind games you can play in the context of our community.

This is the muddiest area of them all, so rather than restate it, I’d just suggest you read (or re-read) that article. Just know that there are some mind games that are fine, and others that are anything but.

However, I felt a particularly great way to end this spiritual successor to “Winning the Mind Game” was to invite back my amazingly helpful resource, Expert Judge X, for a little Q&A. Expert Judge X is one of the most experienced judges in the game, with a pretty good pedigree at all levels of play. I asked him about his feelings regarding the state of the game, illustrations of cheating, and what you as players can do to combat it.

Most importantly, you all deserve to see what it’s like from the judge’s side of the table, looking to balance a well-organized event with fighting against the people who’d seek to frustrate it.

1. What is the worst form of cheating that you caught and had to deal with?

The worst form of cheating I had to deal with was seeing someone intentionally drawing extra cards and then swapping them in their hand for unneeded cards. I saw the whole scenario and was able to correct it, but it ended in a game loss.

2. What is the worst form of cheating that you as a judge viewed, but for whatever reason could do nothing about it?

At Nationals I saw a player clump draw [draw more than one card at the same time] and stopped their match. Because of the continued uncertainty of how this is ruled, I involved the [Head Judge] for Masters explaining the situation. The player had actually taken 3 additional cards and I was able to identify them and knew the Water Energy was in the middle. Knowing that Claydol GE was straight draw and the placement of the Water would alter the game state entirely, I requested the shuffle technique. The Head Judge determined [we use] the Reveal-Replace method.

The player was able to play 2 cards from hand, attached a Tool to a Pokémon it would have no relevance for, and burned a Warp Point so he could draw the 2 cards. He was able to retreat and then use the Water Energy and took the last Prize because of Dragon Pump (Kingdra LA) hitting the Bench. He only had 1 Water in hand at the time and no Supporter.

3. With attendance in many areas increasing, and judge resources being stretched thinner, what are some ways that players can arm themselves when the judges can’t protect them?

It is something I have always encouraged everyone close to me, including you… ask to see the supporting rules documents. Whether it be a Compendium source or actually written in the rules documents, a player has the right to see the referencing for the judgement being levied. I see too many judges handing out rulings with no support and a LOT of interpretation. This is the worst kind of judge in my honest opinion. Sadly, players do not ask to see it in writing nor do they ask for the time extension when a ruling takes longer than it should. I witnessed this occur at a Regionals this year where the judges continually allowed game play moves to be made though they had no bearing on the match.

7.6.2 in the Penalty Guidelines clearly states that “Making legal plays which have no effect on the game in progress to manipulate the time remaining in a match” is a game loss. If players do not call a judge to witness this happening, and appeal to the Head Judge if needed, then I see the changes this season taking a toll on the game.


melvin magician
Cheaters need to be exposed and penalized.

Cheating isn’t pretty, and sanctioning cheaters isn’t fun or entertaining in the least. But it must happen, and the better equipped that we as a community are to catch cheaters, deprive them of their advantages, and get them penalized, the happier we’ll all be in the end.

Don’t let this starve your trust for players. The Pokémon Trading Card Game community is awesome, and if not for that community being great, I probably would’ve quit a long time ago. Just remember that this is YOUR game as much as it is anybody else’s, and so long as it’s your game, you have a right and duty to make sure that it’s played correctly. So until next time, I wish you safe and happy playing.

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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