A Ragged Race

Defending Yourself Against Shady Tactics and Tricks (Cheating) in the Pokémon TCG

Hello everyone, Kenny Wisdom here once again. As I sit down to write this on a Sunday afternoon here in the most beautiful place in the country, Harrogate Regionals has been wrapped up for a few hours and the Expanded players in Anaheim have reached the elimination rounds. I don’t have much of an interest in talking about Expanded at the moment, and I’ll leave the analysis of Philip Schulz’s Harrogate winning Zoroark-GX/Gyarados deck up to one of my fellow writers over the next few days.

Instead, I’d like to talk about a topic that impacts all of us: Cheating, as well as slowplaying, angleshooting, and everything else in the realm of dishonesty or shady play. This is a topic that I wish I could say wouldn’t always be relevant, but this is where we are, and I think talking openly about the problems our community is a good thing.

I first want to preface this by saying that I’m not writing about any specific player or situation. I’m not interested in creating drama and I have faith that those who cheat at the game will be punished eventually. Everything I’m about to write could have been written a year ago or a year into the future. These are all general thoughts that I hope will service as a positive in the long run.

Why People Cheat


I first want to talk about the reasons why people cheat, as I think this is extremely misunderstood by the majority of Pokémon players. Whenever a rumor circulates about a player—particularly if this player is well known and generally liked—the immediate response for some is to ask why this person would cheat, and shout about how being shady in this situation doesn’t make sense. Whether it’s because they were playing against a great match up, they were on camera, the match didn’t mean anything to them, or they have too much to lose by getting caught cheating, I’m sure you’ve heard all of these responses if you engage with the competitive community on social media even occasionally.

Before all else, I want everyone reading this to recognize that cheating is theft. When we register for, travel to, and finally sit down to play a tournament, we are all agreeing that we will play by the rules for our chance at leaving with some amount of cash and Championship Points. By breaking this agreement, cheaters are directly stealing from others who are playing clean and trying their hardest within the rules to win. Cheating goes beyond simple dishonesty, especially when tens of thousands of dollars and livelihoods are on the line.

To fully explore this topic I think we have to separate people who have cheated at tournaments into two distinct categories. This is how I classify this kind of behavior and I think most who cheat fall into one of these two camps:

The Opportunist

These are people who don’t intend to cheat in every tournament they play in. They don’t wake up in the morning thinking about all the ways they can cheat, and they don’t practice stalling or drawing extra cards at home. These are players who succumb to a moment of weakness, perhaps on more than one occasion. These are the types of cheaters who will palm the game winning card from their discard pile while their opponent is distracted, or who will attack, hoping their opponent will forget it won’t be a KO without a Choice Band. They take advantage in a moment(s) of weakness, but shady play is not necessarily the most used tool in their repertoire.

The Full-Time Cheater

These are the people that go into a tournament expecting to cheat their opponent out of wins. They have practiced what they’re going to do, how to do it, and in some cases how to feign ignorance or forgetfulness if they get caught. These are the serial cheaters who we’ve all heard about, who have been banned before, who constantly have rumors circulating about them. These people are not just taking advantage of an opponent’s mistake or letting something slide by, they are actively looking to cheat and it’s a solidified, constant part of their game plan.

And that’s exactly it. It’s part of their game plan. The next time you see someone do something sketchy on camera or in a match that means nothing, don’t brush it off because of the circumstances. Instead, understand that this is just how these people play the game. They can’t turn off the cheating under the bright lights for the same reason that you can’t bring yourself to cheat no matter the circumstances: Their understanding of the game is different and they’ve been cheating for so long that this is just how the game is played to them.

Once we internalize and recognize this truth, we are able to move forward in speaking with honesty about cheaters, rather than defending them. We must reach a point where we can look at a video or read an accusation of someone cheating, no matter who they are or what the circumstance, and view the situation with an objective eye. Until we are all genuinely able to reach this point, cleaning up the game and encouraging fair play will be stunted by our inability to be honest with ourselves and each other.

The answer to “why do people cheat?” in the macro sense has a ton of different answers. Some people cheat because they cannot separate their self-worth from their match win percentage, some do it because they want the money and attention that comes from winning large tournaments, and some do it simply because they feel entitled. It would be impossible for me to thoroughly answer these questions from the perspective of anyone who has ever cheated, but I hope that this section has helped you to understand the motivation behind cheating, even when the situation doesn’t seem very opportune.

How People Cheat

larvitarr.tumblr.comIt’s not my intention to list every possible way that someone could cheat. I’m sure that even if I sat down and thought about it for hours and hours I would still miss something, and if you’re subscribed to SixPrizes I’m willing to bet you don’t need to be talked to about the basics of cheating. Instead, I would like to touch on a few concepts I think are a little less obvious and harder to nail down.

First of all, in a very general sense, I don’t think most people are going to have the audacity to cheat in a way that is directly trackable. Drawing an extra card off of an N or miscalculating damage is going to happen some percentage of the time, but I don’t think it’s what you want to focus on. I would of course recommend that you make sure your opponent has the correct number of cards in their hand at all times, but you should be doing that already.

The type of cheating that is much more prevalent is a little bit harder to catch. It’s using Zoroark-GX’s Trade ability one more time than they’re supposed to. It’s attaching an extra Energy card after a very long, convoluted turn. Sometimes it’s even going to be something like only discarding one card off of an Ultra Ball and doing so quickly in hopes that you won’t notice. These kinds of cheats have two things going for them:

Difficult to Track

Like in the Energy card example above, this is the sort of thing that can be difficult to remember after a long turn and if a specific attachment wasn’t relevant. It’s easy to see that your opponent drew eight cards off a Sycamore, but it’s harder to remember whether your opponent attached that Psychic on turn 9 or 10, especially if they’re a deck that attaches a lot of Energy, or where one Energy attachment won’t be particularly relevant. These sorts of things are easy to miss.

Difficult To Prove

Let’s say the Energy attachment situation comes up, but for one reason or another you’re 100% sure your opponent attached this turn. What are you going to do when they attempt to attach a second time? If you’re anything like most players, you’re going to tell them they have already attached, they’ll put the Energy back in their hand and make an overly dramatic show of apologizing, and you’ll say that it’s okay, thinking that it’s been a long day/event/turn/whatever, and that no harm has been done. This is actually one of the most harmful mindsets to have, but we’ll get to that a little bit later.

In addition to this kind of play, I think the number one issue of shady play plaguing our community at the moment is slowplaying. In reading the Play! Pokémon TCG Penalty Guidelines, I don’t see any mention of the word “stalling,” as all actions that affect the pace of play seem to be categorized under “slowplay.” For this reason I’ll be using the term slowplay to mean gaining an advantage by taking up too much time or otherwise manipulating the clock in your favor.

Slowplaying is the most common form of cheating for two reasons. Firstly, round length and end-of-time rules have often been insufficient or have created an incentive for one player to use up the majority of the clock. In addition, slowplaying falls perfectly under the difficult to track/difficult to prove combination that we outlined above. There are perfectly good reasons why someone might have to spend extra time thinking on a certain turn, or may need to thoroughly examine both players’ discard piles. It takes a player willing to speak up and a judge well-equipped to handle this sort of thing in order for the offending player to ever suffer more consequences than a warning.

How To Protect Yourself (And The Community)


The most important way to protect yourself from any kind of abuse of the game rules is to pay attention to what’s going on. This is not an attempt to victim blame as it is never the fault of the person getting cheated and it’s easy to slip up and miss something no matter how much mental energy you’re using up trying to make sure the game is being played fairly. With that being said, I would recommend that you take a little bit of extra time to make sure that your opponent has the correct number of cards in hand and has already used their Abilities for the turn. I know that some companies are making products to help track when Abilities have been used, and I think this is great. I’d love if we as a community could reach a point where everyone used some sort of indication that once-per-turn actions had been taken where appropriate. Even if you don’t want to buy another product to carry around, orienting the cards on your bench a certain way or using some sort of already existing marker—as long as it isn’t compromising the clarity of the game state—is a great way to track everything.

Unfortunately these sorts of things do have diminishing returns and every little bit of time and energy you’re focusing on this is taking away from playing the game at your best. But I believe that with enough practice and diligence, you can easily weave asking cards in hand or putting some sort of marker out for an Ability having been used into your routine. Just make sure to do these kind of things at home or at low-stakes events so you’re not finding yourself inundated by them in tournaments.

For a personal example, I know that if my opponent takes a particularly long turn, I can get distracted and focus on the cards in my hand or even sometimes on the games/players next to me. I’ve been putting a lot of effort into putting my hand down and just watching my opponent make their actions. I want to note that you shouldn’t do this in an aggressive or accusatory way, but both sides of the table should understand that making sure the game is played fairly is a benefit to two honest players.

The number one way to protect yourself and others is to call a judge. I know that some players are hesitant to do this because of a lack of faith in the judging system or because of time restraints. However, I think that getting accustomed to calling a judge (and asking for a time extension when you feel it is necessary!) is the most important step to making sure that the game is played the way it’s supposed to be played.

I think everyone knows by now to call a judge when the game state is broken or when your opponent has clearly cheated. However, what I’m advocating for here is calling a judge in the times that innocent/simple mistakes are made. Sure, you caught Player A trying to attach, believed it was an honest mistake, and just let them put the Energy back into their hand. But how many people have been less aware of what’s going on? How many times have they run that play hoping their opponent wouldn’t notice? From the perspective of a cheater, why wouldn’t they run that play if they know there’s no downside to getting caught? By calling a judge, you are making sure there is some kind of record of this behavior. Even if the player isn’t given a warning for the first offense, these sorts of things will be noticed. If a player does accumulate multiple warnings, harsher penalties will be given. Most importantly, by calling a judge in these spots you are signaling to both the judging staff, your opponent, and other around you that tight, clean play is important, and is worth spending a few minutes on.

The other way that you can protect yourself is something that I’ve talked about before, and something that doesn’t take place at the tables: Hold those around you accountable. The next time you see a Tweet or Facebook post about a potential cheating scandal, look at the situation with an objective eye, and think about the risk that the person making the post is taking on. Certainly mistakes have been made and intentions misjudged in the past, but would someone put themselves through the scrutiny and harassment that comes with calling someone out if they didn’t truly believe something was wrong?

Additionally, if suspicion is constantly raised about a player or even worse, they are outright caught cheating and punished, make sure they know that it’s not okay. Even if —and especially if—these people are close to you. It amazes me how many players cheat, get caught (whether by their fellow players or TPCi) and then are welcomed back to their social circles with open arms. If we’re going to repeatedly show via our actions that there are no consequences for cheating, how are we ever going to change anything?

I know that this isn’t easy, but it’s what has to be done. Eradicating cheating requires a cultural shift that is going to be difficult, sometimes uncomfortable, and for the most honest members of the community, is unfortunately going to take a lot of work.

But I think it’ll be worth it, and I hope you do as well.


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