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She plays her cards right

When Piper Lepine came home with a few colorful Pokémon cards, she and her family little suspected that the game would quickly turn into a hobby that engrosses the whole family and takes them to competitions around the nation — and out of it. She’s even earned prizes of as much as $500 — in the form of a travel stipend to help pay her way to the next level of competition.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Building a deck of Pokemon cards for tournament play is one of Piper's favorite parts of the game. When she returns to Sunset Primary as a fourth-grader this fall, she will gear up for another season of tournament play.All of that didn’t happen at once, of course. At first, the Sunset Primary School student just admired the cards, sharing them with friends on the bus and enjoying the colorful images on each.

“She just liked how it looked,” Piper’s mom Marcy said. “A few months later a friend mentioned that there were leagues, so we went to a Saturday afternoon league.”

And with that, a Pokémon champion was born.

Piper now is the second-ranked Pokémon player in Oregon. She is one of two junior players, meaning 10 and younger, from Oregon to qualify for the world championship this year. Ranked 49th in the United States, her next stop is the world championship tournament in Washington, D.C., next month.

Although many kids only collect, admire and trade the cards, Pokémon is first and foremost a card game. Each player builds a deck of 60 cards that includes characters, trainers, supporters and energy cards. The complicated rules govern the play, and the game can seem incomprehensible at first.

After a year and a half, “I’m still learning,” Marcy said. Her husband, Brian, is Piper’s chief partner. Brian is a “gamer,” and that makes the rules a little easier for him to follow.

“Dad is the big player in the family,” Marcy said. “It’s a game of chance, but also a lot of strategy and a lot of math.”

The strategy starts with assembling a deck of cards for tournament play. Piper can’t count how many cards she now has to choose from: “Lots,” she said, when asked to estimate.

“We come home with lots of cards from tournaments,” Marcy said.

“Yeah, because I’m really, really good,” Piper said.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Piper Lepine's interest in colorful Pokemon cards like these has turned into a hobby that involves her whole family and takes her to tournaments around the country.From one tournament alone, Piper brought home 360 cards as a prize. That’s 36 packages containing 10 cards apiece. From the bounty of cards in her collection, Piper must assemble a winning deck of just 60 cards, picking ones she knows will play well together and also trying to guess which cards her opponents are likely to have.

The cards’ date of origin play a role in her choice. Each year, newly released cards use a certain format, and cards rotate out each year after the world championship.

“You never lose your cards to another player, and it’s a really fun game,” Marcy said. “Players have to use math skills and strategy skills while developing a sense of fair play and friendly competition. They all play in their age groups in tournaments, but at league you’ll see the older players playing against and mentoring the younger players.”

Piper qualified for the world championship by accruing 400 points in local and regional matches. She plays in one or two leagues each week, and the family has traveled to tournaments in Salem, Eugene, Vancouver, Wash., Seattle, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The traveling is stressful, but it’s worth it,” Marcy said.

“I’m probably going to do this for a very long time,” Piper said. The new competition season will begin Sept. 1, just as Piper is entering the fourth grade.

It’s not all Pokémon, all the time, though. Piper also participates in activities including softball, tae kwon do, violin lessons and Girl Scouts. The lessons she has learned playing Pokémon will be an asset in all those areas, her mother said.

“It’s taught Piper to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser,” Marcy said.

Piper’s Pokémon group meets in Milwaukie every Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. Contact the group’s sponsor, Epic Gaming, at 503-850-4756 for more information.


By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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