PLEASANTON -- Chris Silver started playing with Pokemon trading cards in middle school, finding fun in the world of Pikachu and other pocket monsters.
But what keeps the 25-year-old Hollister resident stacking his deck is the camaraderie he has formed with players from all over the world at "Pokemon" competitions such as the one to be held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds this weekend.
"It's just the social experience that I really enjoy that keeps me going," said Silver, last year's California state champion.
The 2012 Spring Regional Championship, one of eight in the nation but the only one on the West Coast, is expected to draw about 300 players from throughout the state, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington.
Players will compete in round-robin type of play in one of three divisions: juniors for the 10 and younger set, seniors ages 11 to 14 and masters for those age 15 or older.
And for the first time, a video game competition, in which players compete in a modified round-robin fashion on their Nintendo systems, will take place.
The winners from each division will receive a travel stipend to attend the national competition in Indianapolis this summer.
Meanwhile, there will be drawings, opportunities for trades and the chance to purchase "Pokemon" paraphernalia.
Pokemon Premier Tournament Organizer Kim Cary -- who became involved in the "Pokemon" world because of his son's interest in the game -- said
But he said playing in the older divisions -- and especially for those who still like to compete beyond the college years -- requires more thought and skill.
"There is a very deep strategy to building your deck, playing your deck and gauging your opponent," he said.
Cary also credits "Pokemon's" success to the notion that it is one of the few true family-friendly intellectual properties around. While the characters may be monsters, there is no blood, gore or killing involved.
The game's family-friendly nature is what drew John Cesano to begin hitting the competitions with his son. Cesano, who now staffs some of the events and will judge this weekend's junior competition, said while at first he may have held back, he now plays as hard as he can against his son, Charlie.
"It's something we can do equally," he said.
And watching other parents experience the joy of sharing the game with their children -- either as competitors or spectators -- is what keeps him coming back for more.