I had originally planned to write an article about contributing positively to the Pokémon community both in and out of the game, but I quickly discovered that such a topic is far too extensive for the limited time and attention I have to give it in one column. Instead I will address points separately across several articles, which will allow me to delve deeper on each topic and hopefully attract more viewership. This is the first article in the series.
Today we’re going to focus on cheating in the Pokémon TCG, why it’s wrong, and what we can do to protect ourselves and others against it.
Cheating in the Pokémon TCG
Cheating happens. We’ve all seen it, and it has been a regular topic at the forefront of Twitter and Facebook, especially with the rise of streaming over the past few seasons. Players are now regularly being scrutinized on camera, and even if they’re not playing a feature match, the rise of social media has certainly given way for more discussion and openness about the topic.
With that being said, I would like to make it clear that I don’t think a lot of people cheat. I would argue that maybe 2 or 3% of players enter a Pokémon tournament with the intention of cheating wherever they can to gain an advantage. Usually, these people quickly build up bad reputations and are blacklisted by the community (though not as often as should happen, but that may be a topic for another article entirely!).
I think there is another kind of cheater though, who probably encompasses close to 5% of players in tournaments. That is the opportunist cheater. This player doesn’t come into a tournament thinking that they will cheat every round. Instead, this player engages in cheats of opportunities to varying degrees in each tournament. This is the type of player who will not correct a damage miscalculation in their favor or say anything after drawing one too many cards, often using the excuse that it “wouldn’t have mattered anyway.” These types of infractions are less severe, but happen far more often.
So, if I’ve just explained that I think 8% of players maximum at any given tournament are cheating, what’s the big deal? Why would we focus any effort on protecting ourselves from those players, or stopping those players in the act, when there is such a small chance that they’re actually cheating?
Because cheating is stealing. There is no other way to think about it. Whenever you engage in cheating at a Pokémon tournament, or whenever you enable cheating, you are directly stealing from another player. You are stealing money, flights, hotels, invites, Championship Points, packs, other prizes, etc. Even if there is nothing on the line, you are stealing their entry free from them, as they paid to enter the tournament assuming that each of their opponents would be playing by the same rules as them.
This may sound harsh, but it is absolutely the truth.
Tips to Prevent Cheating
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are some tips for making certain that you don’t get cheated, and that no one thinks you’ve been cheating them.
1. Watch your opponents and keep track of hand sizes.
I know that it’s tempting to let your opponent go through the motions of their turn while you’re shuffling your hand, looking through your discard pile, and thinking through your next few turns. However, unless these actions and this time to think is absolutely crucial, I believe it is very important to make sure that your opponent is only taking legal actions.
That’s not to say that you should be accusing everyone of cheating. Like I said, most players don’t cheat, and being overly anxious about the potential of being cheated is not becoming of a positive community member. There are plenty of ways that you can ensure a fair game without making your opponent uncomfortable.
One of those ways is to keep a constant count of cards in hand. Not only is this a good strategy for actual gameplay, as it will allow you to know how many resources your opponent is working with and what they could possibly have, but it will also ensure that there is no funny business going on. It can often be difficult to keep track of everything in the current format with so many draw and discard cards, but there should always be a point of reference from which you can determine how many cards should be in your opponent’s hand. Whether it’s the Juniper for 7 or the Magnetic Draw up to 4, always remember and refer back to these checkpoints in the game.
2. Play precisely.
The technically correct player, called a “rules lawyer” by some, is mostly regarded negatively by the community. However, I don’t think this should be the case. Provided they are courteous about it, you should have no problem with your opponent making certain that actions happen at the right time, that plays are announced properly, and that the game is flowing as designed. In fact, you should be happy that this person has a deep enough understanding of the rules to hold you and themselves to such strictness.
That being said, I do understand why this type of behavior is frowned upon. It is often taken to the extreme and into the realms of “angle shooting” and whatnot, but let me make it perfectly clear that is not what I’m talking about in this article. Attempting to trick you into a situation you clearly didn’t mean to get into is worlds different than not allowing take backs and making sure that hand sizes are correct.
3. Call a judge.
This is probably the most important point on this list and the one that is followed the least. Players should feel comfortable calling a judge at any time, for any valid reason, and should never be shunned by their opponent for doing so. Building a culture that encourages calling judges will play a huge part in cutting down on cheating, and as long as you’re against cheating, you should also be in favor of calling judges.
Additionally, calling a judge yourself is a fantastic idea for settling disputes. I’ve been in many strange situations where my opponents clearly don’t understand the rules and are getting frustrated with me, and in these spots I’ve learned it’s important to kindly and politely tell them that you’re calling a judge to clear all of this up, because they can probably explain the rules better than you can.
4. Don’t be an enabler.
The best way that you will reduce the likelihood of being cheated? Denounce cheaters. Make cheating so looked down upon in your local community that no one would dare to do it out of fear of being shunned from the entire store, city, or state. Make it clear to your friends, teammates, and other local players that cheating is absolutely not acceptable under any circumstances, and be willing to back up your words with actions if and when the time comes to confront a friend who cheats.
This is harder said than done, for sure, and I’ve been there myself, but I can promise you that the game of Pokémon will be much better if everyone adopts this attitude.
If you have ever cheated in a Pokémon tournament and want to be forgiven and accepted back into the community, it is possible. However, what many cheaters fail to realize is that forgiveness is predicated on an admission of wrongdoing and a promise to change for the better. I am more than willing to give second chances, but not to those who will not admit that they made a mistake in the first place.
I’m aware this isn’t how the majority of the community feels, and in some way influencing those people was the point of this whole article. I hope that if you’ve been an enabler in the past, reading this has given you some insight to the other side of the argument. If you’re a cheater, I hope this article has taught you the error of your ways. If you fall into neither of those camps, I hope that reading this has taught you a few ways to protect yourself from cheating and overall improve the tournament experience of yourself and others.