Sevierville seventh-grader is a Pokémon champ

Feb. 10, 2014 @ 12:53 PM

In the Haas household, Pokémon is a family affair.

Well, nearly.

“Mom doesn’t play,” said Keith Haas, referring to his wife, Amber.

Keith and Amber, both defense attorneys who live in Sevierville, are the parents of Zachary, 13. Zachary is a champion of Pokémon, the Japanese gaming phenomenon that claims a worldwide following.

One version of Pokémon is played on videogame consoles, and another is played with intricately decorated cards. In December, playing the card game, Zachary won first place in his division at the 2013 Pokémon City Championships event in Gallatin, northeast of Nashville.

“I was pretty nervous when I was playing, and then, when I won, I was excited,” said Zachary, a seventh grader at Sevierville Middle School.

He was modest about his triumph.

“I was surprised,” he said, “because the other guy should have won, because he won more matches. But I had ties, and that made a one point difference.”

Zachary competed in the Senior Division, for kids ages 13 to 15. Children younger than that play in the Junior Division, and older players are in the Master Division.

In addition to the City Championship title and trophy, Zachary earned points “that count toward a potential invitation to compete at the 2014 Pokémon World Championships in Washington, D.C.,” according to a Pokémon press release. Regional and national Pokémon tournaments also are held.

Keith is more than a proud Pokémon dad. He plays the game, and he is the Pokémon organization’s official tournament organizer for eastern Tennessee. “I organize events between Sevierville, Knoxville and Cleveland,” he said.

Also in the Haas family is Zachary’s brother Alex, a University of Tennessee freshman who is, Keith said, a member of the UT Pokémon club.

Pokémon is “sort of like a chess game with cards,” Keith said. “There’s strategy. But there’s also a random luck factor. You try to eliminate the luck factor by constructing your deck.”

In Sevierville, Pokémon is played at noon every Saturday at Iron Clad Comics, 504 W. Main St. About 40 people attended the Feb. 1 gathering, according to Iron Clad owner Alex Rodriguez. The event draws participants as young as 8, he said, and some who are in their 20s.

“It’s pretty big,” Rodriguez said of Pokémon. “There’s a lot of parents who really get their kids into it.”

Zachary has been playing Pokémon about five years. “A very long time,” he said. Playing the game is, he reported, a good way “to have fun and meet new friends.”

Keith likened organized Pokémon to little league baseball: the children have fun, and the parents can be involved. He touted the activity’s benefits.

“Typically, the kids who get involved have better GPAs and start doing better in school,” he said.

“I really encourage kids to try to do it.”