STAR-BULLETIN / 1999
The Pokemon trading card championship this weekend features more than 190 top players. Moeko Matsumoto from Japan is shown here playing in a previous year's tournament. CLICK FOR LARGE
Pokemon card masters descend on Big Island
This year's world tourney drew players from 28 countries
KAILUA-KONA » It doesn't matter what language they speak. Bust out a pack of Pokemon cards and everyone understands.
More than 190 world-class Pokemon players arrived on the Big Island this week with their playing decks, secret strategies and hopes of winning a world championship.
The annual Pokemon Trading Card Game World Championships attracted national champions and competitors this year from 28 countries, from Argentina and Austria to Mexico and Malta.
"There's two groups of Pokemon fans -- those who play and compete and those who collect. What you have here are the best, all seeking fortune and glory," said Mike Ryan, senior editor of the Pokemon USA Web site.
Pokemon USA estimates more than 35,000 people of all ages compete in organized events around the world, so the world contest boasts fierce competition, Ryan said.
The top 16 finishers in each of the divisions will receive a slew of prizes, including a total of $100,000 in scholarship money. More than $1 million has been doled out to winners over the last four years.
Champions also receive an invitation to next year's tournament in Orlando, Fla., a vacation and a box of the most current Pokemon cards.
The three-day event kicked off Friday with a last chance qualifier tournament, which saw 25 players scoring slots in the main showdown.
Among the young players on the sideline this year is Eric Bryan, 11, of Marin County, Calif., who fell short in the qualifier tournament.
That didn't stop him from joining in the just-for-fun side tournament and sharing his love of Pokemon with anyone who would listen.
"There are so many people from around the world. It's like we all have the same cards but we all have different languages. It's pretty cool," he said. "The main idea is to have fun and win and play fair."
While Bryan is explaining his philosophy, dozens of competitors in light blue T-shirts fill up the tables, plop down their decks of cards and size up the competition.
Some shake hands and chat, some just stare across the table looking for a competitive edge. Others carefully place good luck charms along the edge of the game board -- coins, key chains, action figures, and a myriad of stuffed Pokemon characters in every hue of the rainbow.
Boys outnumber girls at the competition tables about 10-to-1, but that doesn't deter 14-year-old Elsina Mantzel of Stuttgart, Germany.
The national champion in her age bracket, she is at the world competition for the fourth time. Last year she ended up ranked 34th and is hoping for a top 16 finish this year.
"This is not a new experience for me, but the mix of boys and girls is not so good," Mantzel said through an interpreter. "I want more girls to compete. This is a girl game, too. But once you start to play, it is all the same,"
As the round of games winds up, judges in white lab coats gather the score sheets, then post the scores and matchups for the next round. A sea of light blue T-shirts swarm around the postings before dissipating and heading off to the next challenge.
Parents, siblings and Pokemon fans hover around the edges of the competition corrals.
Anne Cohel of Vienna, Austria, pushed up against the railing watching her son, Daniel, 17, play his fourth match of the day.
"I've played, too. Last year, I won the qualifiers and competed, but my son has won the qualifier seven times," she said. "He has won two times today and has a little chance to play again tomorrow."
The final rounds of competition begin at 10:30 a.m. today, with the closing ceremony at 5 p.m.
Pokemon was originally a role-playing video game when it was created in the mid-1990s, but it has since expanded to include cartoon, trading cards, toys, books and other media.