Michael Fouchet Jr. wants to be the very best, like no one ever was — at least when it comes to Pokémon. And when it comes to the popular media franchise’s long-running Pokémon Trading Card Game, the 25-year-old Southold native may be on to something.
A former Southold High School salutatorian now working as a math teacher in New Jersey, Mr. Fouchet has become a well-known player in the competitive Pokémon card scene, recently earning his way back to the World Championships next month in San Francisco.
“Like most people in the 20-to-28 age bracket, I enjoyed Pokémon as a kid,” Mr. Fouchet explained. “When all of my friends kind of moved on from the fad, I was so engrossed by the actual strategy and the actual game behind it, I kept going with it.”
It wasn’t just Mr. Fouchet who fell in love with the game. His younger brothers played, too. Soon, Pokémon was part of their family, said Mr. Fouchet’s mother, Judi.
“Pokémon became our family activity and it was decided by our children,” she said. “Parents would say, ‘You’re taking your kids to play Pokémon?’ I say, ‘You take your kids to play soccer!’”
The Pokémon Trading Card Game uses cards featuring different Pokémon, collectible friendly creatures that each have unique elemental powers. The competitive game, Mr. Fouchet said, uses a more complex form of rock-paper-scissors that causes some cards to be more or less effective against others.
“Imagine chess and you still have to use eight different types of pieces,” he said. “But you don’t just get the eight normal pieces. You have 100 different pieces and they all do different things. And you have to choose eight pieces for your chessboard.”
Mr. Fouchet said much of the game happens outside the table itself, as players use “mind games” and psychological tricks to psych out their opponents and predict what kinds of cards they’ll choose to play.
The game also releases a new batch of cards every few months, meaning players need to constantly reform new decks to take with them to tournaments in order to be effective.
“The thing that really entices me about the game,” Mr. Fouchet said, “is at some point there is a skill cap or a level really good players reach and they get comfortable. But every three months, the game totally changes.”
Mr. Fouchet likes to play a “control-oriented” style, coming up with new combinations of cards to beat popular decks by disrupting and forcing his opponents’ moves. He finished 39th overall out of 1,100 players at the national Pokémon tournament, earning his way to Worlds later this summer.
Mr. Fouchet became fascinated by the game when he was just 8 years old. He and his younger brothers played constantly and bonded over the card game, Ms. Fouchet said. When he was in seventh grade, Mr. Fouchet started playing in smaller local tournaments and did well.
By the time he was 13, he had already been declared the winner of the Rhode Island State Championship. His parents were always supportive — especially after his winnings included a $300 prize and free trip to Florida
“My parents were like, ‘He’s winning money and free trips out of it, so why not?’ ” Mr. Fouchet said.
The family drove and flew to events across the country, including regional tournaments in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio, according to Ms. Fouchet.
One of those trips stands out, Mr. Fouchet said: the 2005 World Championships. It was the last major trip the family took together, he said.
The Fouchets traveled to San Diego when Mr. Fouchet was still in high school to attend the Pokémon invitational event. Four of the five tickets were paid for by Pokémon organizers as part of his and his brother’s invitation, Mr. Fouchet said.
By then, Mr. Fouchet’s father, Michael Sr., was battling liver cancer. Ms. Fouchet said her husband’s illness was well-known among the tight-knit Pokémon community. To accommodate the family, the event’s organizers gave them extra stays in a hotel during — and even after — the tournament.
At the tournament itself, Mr. Fouchet went into the final rounds ranked top overall. But in a heartbreaking twist, he was knocked out by a string of bad luck. Ms. Fouchet said her son took a moment to compose himself, then came back to cheer on his friends.
The family spent an extra week on vacation in San Diego, she said.
Pokémon taught her children resiliency, Ms. Fouchet said. They would use that strength just a year later, when their father died. Their San Diego Pokémon vacation is a happy memory the family shares, Mr. Fouchet said.
“That’s always something that I’ll appreciate,” he said.
Today, Mr. Fouchet uses his Pokémon knowledge to write for online magazines dedicated to card games when he isn’t teaching math at Doane Academy in Burlington, N.J.
Mr. Fouchet’s classroom is adorned with Pokémon memorabilia, he said, and all his students know about his hobby. He’s even taught a few of them how to play.
Mr. Fouchet said the new mobile app Pokémon Go — which combines real-world locations with the creature-catching fad — has become a hit. Even though he’s not “super hyped” about the game itself, Mr. Fouchet was grateful for the chance to discuss his hobby with others once again.
“If I get to talk about Pokémon more on a daily basis, it’s a good thing,” he said.
Back on the North Fork, hundreds of miles away from his current residence in New Jersey, a small memorial to Mr. Fouchet’s father rests in Southold, not far from his family’s home. Without their knowledge, that memorial was included in the latest Pokémon game as a special location players can visit to team up and play.
Photo: Michael Fouchet Jr. competes in the Pennsylvania State Pokémon Championship this past March. A competitive Pokémon card player, Mr. Fouchet will participate in the World Championships in August. (Credit: Doug Morisoli, courtesy)