I was away from home five days in the last week, traveling to Indianapolis with my son for a Pokemon trading card game (TCG) tournament. I wrote the recap below for a Pokemon forum, but have decided to repost it here. This is not a wine post; it is a one off, complete departure from what I do here. I post it to give you a tiny glimpse into who I am, and what I do, outside of wine. Thank you in advance for indulging me.

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I started playing Pokemon in 2003 with my then very young son, Charlie. We traveled to California’s Silicon Valley where Susan Bartlett, Premier Tournament Organizer filled with love, coerced me to play in a tournament on my first visit to league so the kids could get prizes – I was the necessary Xth to run a tourney.

We started traveling to Susan’s events, pre-releases, tourneys, and the occasional league visit. Charlie and I were welcomed by all of NorCal’s players, the members of Team Invasion. Charlie won a $500 scholarship in one of only 13  Regional Championships.

In 2005, we traveled to San Diego to attend the Pokemon World Championship, where players from over 30 countries competed. My son made it through the grinder, a last chance qualifying tournament, and I did not. Watching my son play from the sidelines made me far more nervous than he could ever be, and I didn’t want to pass my energy to him. 2005 is the last time I watched Charlie play in a tournament.

My son Charlie and I with fellow Pokemon enthusiast William Hung

At Worlds in Anaheim in 2006, I offered myself to Ronae and Patricia (Ronae gets bodies and Patricia puts them to work), asking please use me, just use me anywhere the Juniors aren’t. I started on Masters crowd control for the grinder, and was sent home by Patricia when my son was successful grinding. On Saturday and Sunday, I was moved to character duties, putting on the Pikachu costume. I danced, jumped, ran, and tried to bring Pikachu to life. Looking back, I shake my head in amazement that a short, old, fat man with a smoking habit (I quit last year) was allowed to get into a heavy, hot, largely unvented sweat box to run around with children. I still wonder how the four year olds would have reacted if Pikachu keeled over with a heart attack.

Charlie and Pikachu. When I was in this costume, Pikachu was taller.

By now, my play was limited to play testing with my son, and Chris Silver and Chad Harris were helping me help Charlie with his deck choices. In 2007, I got to judge Juniors at our Regional, volunteered to help teach a new Trading Figure Game at the Nationals, and snorkled in the lagoon at the Waikoloa Village near Kona in Hawaii instead of volunteering at Worlds that year. In 2008, I was moved to judging Masters at our Regionals. At 2008 Worlds, I got to facilitate for the Australian Master National champion who is sight and hearing impaired (I was so moved that tears ran down my face later when I told my son’s mom how I spent my day); I didn’t see it as work as much as an opportunity to watch seven great rounds of Pokemon. I was given my red staff shirt shortly after and helped Bob in the product room. It was great watching so much product leave the room, each item representing a smile.

The crew on stage, after the event, getting our picture taken

Last year, I judged Masters at Regionals, I received my first invitation from TCPi, The Pokemon Company International, to help judge the Juniors at the US National Championship (I also got to Head Judge a side event bigger than many State and some Regional events – certainly my biggest HJ event), and at Worlds I ran my short little legs into nubs as a volunteer runner for three days.

Judge meeting, between rounds, at the 2010 Nor Cal Regional Championship in Santa Clara

This year, I received my invitation from TPCi to rejoin the US Nats Junior division judges at about the same time I was asked to help judge the NorCal Regional Masters. I am not particularly religious, but I say a little prayer before judging any event, from a Battle Road to the US National Championship: Please let no game enter into irreversible error, please let my rulings be correct, please let the players have fun. At our Regional, my prayers were answered, we had the top 4 Masters in California play and come in, surprise, 1-4. My circle of friends within Pokemon has grown over the years. Team Invasion, Susan’s league, will always be my home league, no matter how far I have to travel to get there. As we traveled northern California, we also played in tourneys run by Dale and Lianne, and we made more friends. We have played in Oregon and Mississippi tourneys. We have made many friends, we have many people to cheer for.

I still remember walking in to the convention center at San Diego’s Town & Country resort in 2005, the dedication to organized trading card game play so evident. Banners, inflatables, table cloths, wall coverings. I have a marketing background, I have awards from Exhibitor Magazine over three consecutive years for trade show excellence. I am not easy to impress. It is fun to see each and every parent attending a major Pokemon event, National or World, experience the same exact thing I did. Awe and marvel at the excellence on display.

Charlie playing in his first Pokemon World Championship, in 2005

Pokemon has allowed me to play a game with my son as near equals. Originally, I held back a little, then I was playing as hard as I could, and for a number of years my son is the best player in our family; but we can play together and have fun with an equal opportunity and passion. When he was little, I couldn’t drill a football pass to him; and now that I am little, he can run me into the ground on a basketball court as he puts the ball into the hoop. Still, we have Pokemon. Games, friends, travel, memories that we share. Pokemon has given me a lifetime gift.

I share all of this because I want to be clear that I will always feel an incredible gratitude to Pokemon. In my business life, I sometimes work to combat cynicism, weeding through hyperbole; in Pokemon, I am constantly moved by the innocence and pure joy of a young child when receiving a pack of cards. I am thrilled at the opportunity to give back to the game that has given so much to me and my son.

We flew from San Francisco to Indianapolis, by way of Chicago, on Thursday, arriving late in the afternoon. After catching the direct (green) line bus downtown, we checked into our room at the downtown Marriott. After putting my bags in my room, we made our way across the street where I checked in. I was put into a Staff shirt, and I did deck and sleeve checks for anyone that wanted to take advantage of the service. Meanwhile my son went through pre-registration, then met up with Chad Harris who brought some cards from Chris Silver to complete Charlie’s deck.

I know of at least two tournament changing penalties that might have been averted by a deck check. I always take advantage of the service when it is offered, and I can not recommend taking advantage of it strongly enough.

I hooked up with Susan Bartlett and we caught the end of a judge workshop before placing our lunch orders for the next three days.

Charlie and I walked downtown to place a to go order at Buffalo Wild Wings. We had 36 boneless wings, 12 Medium, 12 Honey BBQ, and 12 Asian Zing. My son is developing a better palate and found the Medium as lame, vinegary and unsatisfying as I did. We love BW3, and I bring their sauces home from my travels.

On Thursday morning, I met with the Junior judge team: Steve Arena, Chris Boutcher, Chris Clanton, Heidi Craig, Mitchell Davis, Doreen Kamada-Fujii, and Catherine Sargent. I was grateful to be included on the judging team so loaded with experience and talent. I learned so much as a member of the team, I am grateful for your sharing, support, and feedback. Together, you helped make me better.

Prior to the actual games, I found myself answering questions at the information area in the center of the hall. I had a blast answering questions, or finding the answers, for folks.

This picture captures less than half of this year’s US National Championship event. Over 1,300 TCG players!

Our six Swiss rounds went incredibly smoothly, we actually had to slow down to let the other age groups catch up. Together, we managed to execute a fluid zone judging offense, with fixed point support, and a central free safety. The coverage was stellar, with support from amazingly hardworking green shirt runners as additional team members.

After the days main event matches, I reported to John Latham to help out in side events and ran a 4 round modified tournament using the new 30 minute plus 3 turn time format. All games in all rounds finished in time and I did not see the “plus three” in effect.

I had a Poke Walker that I borrowed from my son, and it recorded 23,000 steps or so on day 1. Very leg tired, and mentally exhausted, Charlie and I walked to Steak and Shake and placed a to go order. When we got back to our hotel, I found one item missing and another with an errant substitution. I called Steak and Shake and a note was put in an “oops” file.

Saturday came early, I had been told to be back in the convention center by 7:00 am, and although we didn’t need to meet until 8:00 am, that news never reached me.

Our final two rounds of Swiss play went seamlessly, although the zone coverage collapsed at times due to increased judge demand in the top tables. In the final round, on one of the last tables, two players who had not had many wins played while smiling, carrying on a conversation as they played. It was nice to see the experience was special for everyone, no matter their win-loss record.

As the players left for a long lunch break, the judges did random deck checks for a decent percentage of the top 32 decks and sleeve checks for all in the Junior division. I consider myself a good deck/sleeve checker, but I learned a lot during the process, and the discussions that the checks led to. Let me simply say it again, if you are offered deck and sleeve checking services, take advantage of the opportunity.

After a quick lunch and some rehydration, I watched the Juniors go from 32 to 16. The top cut matches in Juniors is the toughest part of judging for me. I love working with the Juniors, they give back energy and are the best part of the game for me. At Nationals, with big scholarship money, trophies, prizes, and paid trips to Hawaii to play in Worlds on the line, I think the Juniors take a lot on their shoulders, not just their own hopes and dreams, but often the hopes and dreams of their parents. Inevitably, a match loss is accompanied by tears, an emotional breakdown, profoundly intense feelings of loss. I think 13 of the 16 Juniors who suffered a match loss had an immediate melt down. I understand the reason, I empathize with the little ones, I feel their pain.

Before heading to work side events, the Junior judges had one more deck check to accomplish, this time for all top 16 decks. I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but taking advantage of voluntary deck checks when offered is a great idea.

Here’s a quick Vid from Nats

I was genuinely knackered, a bit brain dead, I left it all on the floor, my Poke Walker was around 13,000 steps, and when John Latham offered me an early release from side events, I willingly took him up on the offer. Charlie and I returned to Steak and Shake, referenced the “oops” file entry, and enjoyed a perfect meal that was comped completely.

Sunday, we were back in the hall by 8:00 am for the final day’s events. We borrowed Vince Krekeler from Masters for the first two rounds of the day, so the Juniors matches could start with one judge per table, watching two matches, then one match, with our Head Judge Steve free to offer aid as needed. Again, match losses were largely met with tears, and hugs and support was called for in liberal doses.

Active Judging a Top Cut Match

With so many judges with Head Judging experience at Nats or Worlds, I was not needed in Juniors and moved by request to Side Events where I could continue to contribute, and took over judging a modified tournament in the Senior division.

After the tournament ended, my usefulness did too. I checked in with the players and staff of NorCal, Ali, Chad, Charlie, Daniel, Frank, James, Jason, Joe, Kyle, Lianne, Murat, Reed, Shaggy, and Stefan. Murat earned an invitation to Worlds with a top 8 finish, so congrats and good luck in Kona Murat.

I stuck around and watched the final matches, having actively judged games between the final two Juniors.

I want to thank the parents who came up to me to thank me for being good with their kids. In hallways, on the floor, in restaurants, at the hotel, on the bus back to the airport, unexpectedly, someone I didn’t know would approach me and thank me for my attitude or contribution. These random and surprising thank you’s were a rich bonus reward, unexpected but soul warming. Thank you for taking the time to go out of your way to thank me, you didn’t have to. If anyone reads this far into my recap, and is going to Kona, Hawaii for the Worlds Championship, thank a green shirted volunteer, white coated judge or translator, or red shirted staff person. Your thank you will resonate with the person you give it to.

I caught an early dinner at Steak and Shake with members of Team Invasion, it was nice to sit and relax. I put another 9,000 steps or so on my Poke Walker on Sunday. My body was tired and my brain was mush. Correct word choices became an effort.

After dinner, Susan and I picked up some staff support gifts from Pokemon, and chose some of the banners that had hung in the hall to take home. I was so happy to secure a Chimchar banner because my son is nicknamed ChimCharlie; I truly was out of it, because I actually grabbed a Monferno, Chimchar’s first evolve. I also got a Totodile banner and a half dozen children’s shirts with the Nats artwork.

Looking at a first flight out Monday morning, packing everything for an early check out, and up against heavy Thunderstorm rain and wind, I did not attend the staff dinner. I missed seeing you all one more time in Indianapolis, out of uniform. I hope you all had a terrific time.

The three day tournament format was a huge improvement over the previous two day tournament formats. Columbus and Saint Louis might be great places to live, but Indianapolis was an incredible host city. All of the externals were near ideal to ideal. The logistics were in place to allow success, and with a perfect combination of planning, practice, and execution the experience Pokemon offered the players was just about as good as could possibly be asked for.

Thanks to the folks who invited me to help again, you have only to ask and I’ll come running. Thanks to the folks from NorCal who help me in the game. Thanks to the Nats Junior judge teams from last year and this, you all have taught me so much. Thanks to the parents for raising such great kids. Thanks to the Pokemon players for showing such great spirit of the game, you are all winners.

That’s about it; I am just filled with thanks to everyone. Dave, I made a mistake (a wine guy making a wine mistake), the Port I loved was tawny. Oh, and I expect to see a link to the picture of Michael Ivy on my knee that was taken Sunday posted by Momma Ivy into this thread at some point. Cheers.

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Thanks to my regular wine blog readers for indulging me, reading through a completely off topic post on this wine blog. I appreciate that you waded through phrases and names that may have meant little or nothing to you, but are meaningful to the participants of Pokemon tournaments; I added some phrases that were unnecessary when this post was originally put up on a Pokemon forum board, Pokegym.com, my hope is that the meaning of obscure references was made clear by context.