Ask The Experts: Ben Kyriakou on Practice Sessions

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Ask The Experts is a column where we interview respectable players and try to get their opinions on the basics of competitive Pokemon. Read on to hear their insight! 

This time, we’re talking with Ben Kyriakou, hailing all the way from Norwich, Norfolk across the pond. Ben has won the UK Nationals (and come second in another!), and has qualified for the World Championships for 2012, 2013, and 2014, placing in 32nd, 13th, and 15th respectively. He has also competed in other tournaments, getting 5th in this year’s Italian Nationals and third in the Manchester 5 tournament from 2013. Today, he’s going to give his expert advice on making the most out of your practice sessions between tournaments. 

Chalkey Horenstein: What does a normal practice session look like for you?

Ben Kyriakou: I’ll be honest, I never really stop, it’s quite annoying really! I suppose for me a normal practice session would consist of sitting down on Pokemon Showdown, or on Battle Spot, and having maybe 5 or 6 games where I’m really concentrating on what I’m doing. Making sure I’m making the right plays every turn, and really just taking my time over games to think them through. That said, I spend most of the rest of the time making relatively arbitrary moves that make some initial sense, and really just absorb how the games play out. I think it’s important to be able to train your instinct, and improve your understanding of what happens when you’re not playing perfectly just as much as you need to learn the best moves to play – at the end of the day, something will go wrong eventually, and you need to be able to know how to play from behind too!

CH: What is, in your opinion, the best way to get the most out of your practice sessions?

BK: I’m going to try really hard to avoid the really cop-out: ‘You need to do whatever works for you ‘ line here (although unfortunately it is actually a decent, albeit not helpful answer)!

Interestingly enough, for me it’s about actually not trying to get anything out of them at all these days. Really the best way I find to approach both practice and competitive play is to take a really relaxed approach, and not be bogged down too much by ‘what if I don’t win’ or ‘how can I win games in that tournament if I can’t win consistently in practice’. In doing so, I find that my mind is very clear to take in exactly what is going on in the games I play to see what things I’m not doing so well, or things that I’m missing that I shouldn’t be. This means that when tournaments come around, I’m not stressed going into it, and that makes a huge difference – even better if you can take in the ‘not worried if you don’t win a game’ attitude.

CH: What is something you do to prepare for events that you don’t think many others do?

BK: Would it be cheeky to say that I build my teams in advance?

If it wasn’t clear by now, I’m very chilled out about competitions, and very much go into them with a philosophical view that whatever happens happens, and other than play well when I’m there, there’s not much else I can do. I guess I would say that, going back to my initial cheeky comment, early preparation is the key for me. All of the teams I’ve used that have been successful have been build at least 6 months before a main event like nationals, and have been tinkered, and perfected over time and with a lot of practice – luckily I’ve always stumbled into something with potential early!

CH: Europe in particular has a lot more downtime than other countries due to the absence of lower level tournaments, like in the US, Korea, Australia, and Japan. What do you do to stay in shape during the down time?

BK: Going back to my previous point about not really stopping, I think that really summarizes how I maintain form over the long season without any tournaments to speak of. We’re actually pretty lucky in the UK in that we have a couple of fan based tournaments, as well as this year having some organised by TPCi themselves (not part of the VGC circuit), so they help a lot. Really, I play the game a lot because I love the game, and that keeps me interested and motivated throughout the year. Worlds too, that’s worth working hard to get to – I wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay my way there on any of the years that I’ve been, so I make sure I qualify no matter what.

CH: Followup question: you work so hard. What do you do during rest time, and how do you balance the two?

My rest time usually ends up as maybe a day or two not playing, or not playing any high level games for a little while – one of the benefits 0f enjoying the game so much is that it’s not really any effort for me to train, so I don’t need to worry about making sure I have a break from it so regularly. Usually I just play as much or as little as I feel like on the day!

CH: What are some common misconceptions you think others have about training for events?

BK: Having to play up to their best in every game they play in training. It’s a complete farce. Don’t try it. You will fail.

When you play, you’re always managing probabilities in specific situations, and adding in your predictions for what your opponent is going to do, and you’re not only not going to get it right all the time, but you’re going to be BSed at some point. Your training is all about understanding all the different options that you have available to you, the good and the bad, and knowing how to really be in control of the flow of a battle at all times when it comes down to the real thing – not necessarily about playing at your ‘best’.

CH: Many players say that they practice all the time but don’t really get any better. What advice do you have for them about how to get more out of training, or to make their time playing more effective?

BK: I think first and foremost it’s important to have people to train with that you know regularly, and can talk to about the games. Things as simple as ‘Why did you make that move?’ are so critical in learning how to predict your opponents effectively, which in turn betters your own thought process. Moving on from there, you can’t get much better without playing better people, and this communal working makes both players better and better over time. It’s either that, or challenge more known people to battles!

I’d also note that the team makes a big difference to success – it doesn’t matter how good you actually are at the game, if your team can’t handle a certain threat, there’s not a lot in a game that you can do about it, so learning new techniques for improving your team is a great way to get the ball rolling!

CH: Unrelated question just for fun: if you could make one pokemon real to help you with your day to day work, which would be the most useful?

BK: Ditto all the way – what could be better than another me helping me with what I need to get done? I could give it all the boring jobs!

CH: Do you have anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?

BK: Not really, just stay frosty, and pay attention to the games you play. And of course the most important advice of all for tournaments: Just win.

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About Author

Chalkey Horenstein is the Editor of Team Magma. In his spare time, he also writes for Retroware TV. When not playing pokemon, he works for a homeless shelter in Boston, and enjoys traveling, running, and eating as much food as possible.