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Kevin Kobayashi

Philosophical and Psychological aspects of the Pokemon Trading Card Game

Kevin Kobayashi brings you a unique piece highlighting crucial information on what it takes to become a stronger, more focused player.

09/04/2016 by Kevin Kobayashi

Pokémon, like other strategy card games requires extensive knowledge and investment to succeed at the highest level. In this article, I want to emphasize qualities that make a strong player, and provide examples to help guide you to becoming a better player through logic and reasoning.

Foreword: My campaign after 7 years of Pokémon has finally come full circle, and I am just about retired from competitive play. This past nationals has me convinced that I am drifting apart from the game, and while I am not devastated or excited about this shift, I am truly grateful to have competed in such an atmosphere. I was able to “grind” through the LCQ at Worlds 2011, which was grueling and one of the most stressful competitions I have ever competed in. I was also able to place 26th at Nationals in 2012, which boasted 1005 players, the largest tournament at the time and certainly my most impressive finish. Aside from these placings, I have also become an excellent deck-builder, crafting winning lists such as the Trevenant deck that won Florida regionals. I spent 2 months on that deck, crafting it and testing it to perfection. The deck became a staple in the metagame immediately. I also built a very nice Manectric/Crobat deck which I am quite proud of. I built this particular deck minutes before a City Championship and lost in the finals of game 3. Other players took these decks and dominated their respective areas. I think that it is important to highlight that aside from being a good player mechanically, if you can build decks you give yourself a powerful advantage over the rest of the field.

Other accomplishments are quite typical, of course I have numerous City Championship wins, Regionals and States placings, and local tournament wins in strange formats, win-a-boxes and the like. I take this time to reflect, introduce myself and establish credit as to why I am able to deliver such unique information to you. While most articles seem to be highlighting the same thing with a different combination of words, I decided that I would like to provide a useful piece that many players could benefit from, instead of an opinionated mess that lacks depth or truly beneficial information. My credibility in this subject especially stems from courses that I have taken in college, such as logic, philosophy of mind, and numerous psychology classes. These classes have sharpened my mind, and I hope to sharpen yours once you are finished reading. 

Something that is often overlooked when discussing qualities that make a strong player is established attitude, otherwise known as mindset. This will be the first thing that I touch upon. The way you choose to view something, the way you form an attitude around something often stems from your prior collective experiences in that matter. These viewpoints are subjective and often times fail to properly assess what is being perceived. This is known as qualia. Qualia is defined as “the internal and subjective component of sense perceptions, arising from stimulation of the senses by phenomena.”(Google). For example, if you often misplay when playing the “N” supporter card (shuffle you and your opponents hand into their respective deck, and draw cards equal to number of Prize cards), you may find that during high pressure scenarios, you fail to find the appropriate time to abuse the window when playing “N” is most effective, and find yourself misplaying with “N”, perhaps playing another Supporter instead and making a suboptimal move. This leads you to the belief that you are “bad” at playing “N.”  The actual truth is that you are simply inexperienced at playing “N” but you are not necessarily “bad.” You can certainly improve, as long as you have the will to, and can create the right mindset towards improvement.

Mindset: The development of an established sense of attitude

I have been obsessed with developing mental strength since I began wrestling in high school. In wrestling, you have no one to rely on except yourself, and the only factors are you and your opponent. In Pokémon, it is quite similar. As important as it is to practice mechanics, it is equally important to develop, nurture and establish mental fortitude. Developing a strong mindset is often times more than half the battle. I find that the best way to form a strong mindset is to work hard, practice intelligently, ask questions, and realize that you can always improve, no matter how good or bad you think that you are. Most players may become confident after a few tournament wins and start to fall apart mid-season. This typically happens when players come off of a big win, they may have simply gotten extremely lucky and variance fell into their favor. After this happens, they may feel justified, and become too confident in themselves, begin to make assumptions and assure themselves that they are better than they actually are. They will begin to test games less, ask less questions and then in tournament play they make errors. It really is quite simple. Stay humble, work hard and be confident in your abilities. These small habits will develop you as a person and player, and you will begin to see progress. Let me note that it is also important to give yourself credit when you make an intelligent play. I see it too often, and I have also struggled with trying to forget about my losses, instead of analyzing them to the highest degree. It is quite important to be able to highlight where things began to go wrong, instead of blaming them on bad variance (although this happens, it is still a bad habit). You will succeed more when you analyze your games and even in your wins, find areas where you can improve. Awareness is the first step to greater focus.

When you watch a strong player, you may notice their poker face (lack of emotion while playing), and the way they cease to react to plays that their opponents make. Hiding your emotions can rupture your opponent’s game plan, and exposing emotion will almost certainly damage your chances at success. When a player makes a devastating play on their opponent, most often the strong player will not react, which may confuse the perpetrator. They may wonder “why didn’t my opponent frown or wince? I just put them in a terrible spot!” Truth is, a strong player has already telegraphed your play and is many steps ahead of you. When you play against someone who you normally lose to at events. You may “feel” that you cannot beat that player no matter what you do, and eventually expect to lose which ultimately will cause losses before the games begin. I have experienced this during the past season. A lesser experienced player was matched against me many times throughout the Cities season. I never lost to that player, not even a single game. In fact, I was so confident that I would beat this player despite any odds. We played over 10 games during Cities, including two Top 8’s, where I demolished him every time. In one game, the player was able to set up 2 Mega Manectric-EX and a Genesect-EX before I even attached a single Energy card. I was still able to win that game decisively.

This particular opponent made many mistakes throughout each game and was extremely careless with his attachments. He failed to capitalize on my slow start and I punished him for this, despite him getting a huge lead on me in the beginning of the game. In his eyes, he got “lucksacked” defined as a player in a game of skill who wins as a result of luck despite poor play. (UrbanDictionary). This player went on tilt. Eventually, just seeing my name on the pairing sheet already had him wanting to forfeit before the match even began. He gave himself no chance from the start. Do not fall into this "trap." Give yourself the chance to win each and every game without subjective viewpoint. The reason why he could not understand why he was getting so "unlucky" was because of a few things. He was not accountable towards his misplays, failing to address the real issue. This player instead chose to deny and blame circumstances (which ironically enough were due to his own actions). Unfortunately, a player like this will never really improve, because the real issues are diverted on beliefs, opinions that do not really exist. He showed me that he was on tilt by his excessive use of body language, and I picked him apart by playing aggressively. 

Something that I notice at high levels of competition is the lack of excuses towards why a player fails to accomplish their goal. High caliber players do not blame others for their mistakes. Instead, they hammer each and every scenario into their skull until it is impossible for them to make a mistake; they recognize many things including both players win conditions, statistics, they practice to provide physical feeling “what it’s like to start poorly against a bad matchup” or “what it feels like to start strong against a good matchup,” “what the opponent is thinking during each play,” and things that go far beyond the physical cards, skills that are only developed when you desire perfection, and refuse to settle for anything less. I see this in pro athletes, professional gamers, and the like. Successful people do not blame others for their mishaps. Instead, they look to minimize their mistakes and maximize their opportunities to ensure that they give themselves the best odds. When their mind is in “flow”, they see nothing except for what matters in the moment, the focus is so powerful that nothing can disrupt it. This will bring me to my next point, which is the art of flow.

"Flow is the art of being in a state where you are completely absorbed in an activity. During the flow state, you feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of your abilities."(

While Pokémon is not an athletic endeavor, the flow state still applies, and it is crucial to unlock this Zen like consciousness if you want to play and compete with the best of the best. I like this TED talk on the flow state ( If you have 20 minutes, I highly suggest it. I personally unlocked this state at a young age, around 16 years old, but was never truly aware of what was really happening until a few years later, when I read an article about LeBron James, where he discussed entering the state. It feels like a trance, and will improve your play more than anything else that I discuss in this article. I don’t want to babble, because I linked two great pieces discussing flow. 

Tilting: A common theme of competition is tilt. "Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive" (Wikipedia). The truth is, everyone that competes goes on tilt at some point or another. Tilt is essentially the opposite of the flow state, where you become hyper critical and stressed due to unforeseen or unexpected circumstances. Every TCG player has opened seven dead cards in the first turn of the game. Some players will be more tilted than others when this happens, especially if you fail to recognize another important aspect of the game, which is variance via statistics. Players who recognize statistics will be able to predict how many turns it may take for them to draw into a useful card that can get them out of a dead hand. In some cases, you may never be able to draw out of the dead hand in time and lose the game immediately. If it is your first loss, you may go on tilt especially since the opening was unforeseen and therefore unexpected. It is important to recognize variance and provide logical reasoning as to why this happened. Is your deck constructed poorly, or was it just bad variance? These are important aspects to be aware of in both deck building and playing in tournaments. 

Remember variance. Variance is a large majority of what decides matches in a trading card game. Thanks to best of three, variance is not as dominant as it would be in a best of one, however things will still happen that you cannot account for, so you must be vigilant and comfortable in changing your strategy on the fly if you cannot continue to apply pressure in the way that you had originally planned. An important part of this is being comfortable with your deck. This is also why it is so critical to grind many games with the same deck. Focus on weak points and ways to make the deck fall apart. This allows you to play more comfortably in harsh conditions, and certainly gives you chances to beat the odds when bad variance strikes.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope that you were able to learn a thing or two. If you were, give me a thumbs up and/or leave me a comment highlighting what you enjoyed most about the article. It has been awhile since my last article and I am glad that Martin has given me the chance to write once more. Until next time,

-Kevin Kobayashi

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