Orland man a triple-crown winner in Pokemon
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org August 27, 2013 8:54PM
Jason Klaczynski, of Orland Park, recently won an unprecedented third world championship in the Pokemon Trading Card Game tournament held in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was introduced to the game while a student at Jerling Junior High in Orland Park. He's seen with his championship trophy, featuring the Pokemon character Pikachu. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 29, 2013 6:34AM
When he was in seventh grade at Jerling Junior High in Orland Park, Jason Klaczynski and his friends were caught up in the latest Japanese export — Pokemon.
The video game had been introduced in the United States in September 1998 — Klaczynski received it as a gift for his 13th birthday the following month — and the trading cards arrived in stores a few months later.
“Pokemon cards were flying around the school,” Klaczynski, now 27, said. “Teachers would be trying to teach and kids would be passing (trading) cards around.”
Later, while at Sandburg High School, sometimes instead of taking notes in biology class, Klaczynski would instead be writing Pokemon game strategies in his notebook.
He recently parlayed his studies — of the game, that is — into an unprecedented third title as world champion of the Pokemon Trading Card Game at the 2013 World Pokemon Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia. The event drew participants from more than 25 countries.
The Orland Park man also was crowned world champ in 2006 and 2008, and no other player of the trading card game has achieved such a distinction. The world championships — first held in 2004 — also produce a first-place winner in the Pokemon video game, and one player has reached that pinnacle three times.
To be invited to the world championships, Klaczynski and other players compete throughout the year, accumulating points at smaller tournaments, then at the U.S. National Championships, which has been held in Indianapolis the past four years.
“We probably see people from all 50 states” at that tournament, he said.
Klaczynski said he took part in roughly 20 tournaments, held in Illinois as well as states including Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Virginia. He fell short, however, of the total points needed to be a participant, rather than a spectator, in Vancouver.
“I had a really disappointing season,” he said. “I didn’t even expect to play (at the world event). I was going to watch some friends compete.”
The first day of the world championships offers the chance of a reprieve in the form of a last-chance qualifier. Competing in that, Klaczynski was able to overcome his points deficit and earn a seat at the table.
“I was ecstatic even to play” in the championships, let alone win, he said.
Players for both the card game and video game are split into different divisions based on age — junior, senior and masters — and Klaczynski won all three of his titles in the masters division.
As a world champion, he’s guaranteed entry to the 2014 championships, which will be held in Washington, D.C.
Along with an impressive trophy topped by well-known Pokemon Pikachu, Klaczynski received a $10,000 scholarship. He is studying biochemistry and makes a living playing poker professionally.
“Cards encompass my life,” he said.
In competition, players assemble a deck of Pokemon — like “deer,” it stands in for both the singular and plural forms — and each Pokemon has advantages or weaknesses depending on what other Pokemon they’re facing in battle.
There are 650 different Pokemon, with more set to be issued this fall.
“There is a lot of skill and strategy that comes into deciding what cards to use,” Klaczynski said.
As a younger player, Klaczynski was in awe of the “veterans” of the game, and now the roles have been reversed. At tournaments, Klaczynski said he’s “often flattered” when other players approach him for autographs or strategy advice, which he’s happy to give.
He said that many of his best friends he’s met through Pokemon, and he describes it as “a game based on friendship.”
“It’s a uniquely inviting and friendly community (of players),” he said.
While the video game was his first introduction to Pokemon, he prefers the trading card version.
“I think the cards are more social,” he said. “There’s a lot more interaction back and forth.”