A Brief History of Losses – Part 1

My name is Calvin Tahan and I’m one of the inaugural members of YGOrganization’s Competitive Team. I’ve never been one for flashy introductions, but to keep things brief for those that may not know – I’m an American Yu-Gi-Oh! player based in Northern Virginia who, at the time of this writing, is a three-time championship finalist, boasts 1 premiere event win, and has netted 19 premiere event tops. Perhaps my most unique accomplishment throughout the years is that I was (sadly) the first player in the history of Yu-Gi-Oh! to have been reverse swept in a best of five grand finals (up 2-0 needing only one more win to take the series, but ending in a loss 2-3 by losing three games in a row straight). I bring this up not because self-depreciating humor is funny, but because a fundamental part of my approach to the game today is based on my vast and vacuous string of gutting career losses. The aforementioned blow was particularly heavy, but there have been countless other losses of significant relevance; a portion of this article details one of said losses to showcase how I learned from it and, more importantly, moved onward in spite of it to become the player I am today.

This is my first ever article representing YGOrg, and I cannot think of a more appropriate thesis than this: Losing is part of the game. It seems obvious, but while I’m in no way claiming to be this generation’s next Confucius, it is a quote I am going to aim to drive home throughout the remainder of my tenure on this team. Besides, if you’re remotely familiar with me before my writing this, you already know I’ve been going out and proving this theory event after event for the last decade. It shouldn’t be a new concept to anybody. The truth is simple: I’m not one of the greatest players to ever touch a Yu-Gi-Oh! card because of my successes. I’m great despite my failures, and believe me, there have been quite a profusion. For every premiere event top I have, I’ve scrubbed out of another ten or so. If there’s one thing I’m better than anybody else at, it’s losing. I’m the greatest loser I’ve ever known. And, if you’re reading this, so can you!

Let’s start with a seemingly-unrelated but nonetheless entirely true story. Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series Charlotte 2011 was the first premiere event I ever topped, but it was by no means the first event I’d ever been to. Remember, I lose a lot. This event stands out particularly in my memory not just because I finally broke through the barrier I knew I had been on the cusp of for months and proved myself to the world, but also because the events that transpired with my close group of friends directly after the event are perhaps among the most absurd things that have happened to me to date.

In 2011 I was still a teenager and still had many friends – two things that are both equally untrue today. The YCS was around the corner and it was Spring Break for those of us who were in college, so the timing was perfect for a road trip. We piled seven people into my mom’s old minivan and trekked six hours across our state into the foreign kingdom of North Carolina. Though this was not the furthest I had traveled for an event, it was the first time I was personally in charge of driving – a rite of passage for us all, as many seasoned traveling duelists know. Technology wasn’t then what it is now; nobody had a smart phone and certainly none of us, being idiot teenagers, had thought to bring a GPS. So, it was a printed out copy of directions from MapQuest that had to do! While we managed to get to the event without much issue, it’s the drive back where our story begins.

Time for introductions! Keep in mind there are seven of us in the car total, but I’m only going to bring up those who are directly relevant to the interactions that follow. In the passenger seat beside me was my friend Gus, who I had met through the game at locals a year or so prior. We were barely more than acquaintances then, which is worth mentioning because today he’s one of my closest friends in the entire world. Gus and I got along well because we had similar senses of humor and both had strong leadership skills – we butted heads often, but always laughed it off. The combination helped us through many hardships in the past, but this would be the most trying yet.

Behind us in one of the middle seats sat my friend David. David was actually my first best friend growing up in elementary school. We went to different secondary schools but were reunited towards the end of high school and found similar passions in our love for the game. Today, in contrast, we barely speak – not through any ill will by either party, but because we simply took different paths in life. He spends his days leveling his account on Path of Exile, and I spend mine traveling the nation losing at Yu-Gi-Oh! events. David is relevant to this story because he is a particularly vocal individual who is not afraid to speak his mind without filter. More on that later.

In the far back seat, we have my friend Joey. Joey was one of the first friends I ever made purely through Yu-Gi-Oh!. Joey is one of the kindest, genuinely good-at-heart individuals I know. I still see him at locals from time to time, but he isn’t as competitive as I am, and we haven’t traveled together for quite some time as a result. It’s kind of cool to look at the duality of the relationships between then and now. A thing I’ve always admired about the Yu-Gi-Oh! community is how the competitive nature of the game can sometimes bring the most unlikely people together.

So, here we are – car full of duelists driving back home through the depths of the Virginia wilderness the night following an event. We still have several hours to go and are, certainly by no fault of my own, irrevocably lost. Remember, I’m good at losing! The only way of a GPS we have is the one programmed into my mom’s minivan, which was built in like 2002 and wasn’t exactly regularly updated. Basically, we’re in the middle of nowhere, entirely uncharted– the Appalachian to the west, and an endless field of undefined crop to our east. We’ve been driving in a straight line on a long and narrow country road for eons at this point. It’s nearing midnight and people are beginning to correctly lose faith in my abilities as a navigator. Tour Guide wasn’t released until later that summer, but boy could we have used one. I began to wonder if I should ask God for some sort of sign.
Moments later, we start to make out a yellow rhombus-shaped placard in the distance. As we draw nearer, we make out the words ‘School Bus Stop Ahead’ marked on the sign. “Well that’s a relief”, I chuckled. “See guys, there are things around here after all. I’m sure if there’s a school somewhere along this road, it’ll lead to a main highway eventually.” The car was thrilled. Unfortunately, ten or so more minutes passed, and no school. We were beginning to lose hope, and I feared talk of mutiny had already begun. Just then, another sign! I thanked the skies. As we passed, we read the words, again, ‘School Bus Stop Ahead’. “At least we’re getting closer to something relevant”, Gus pipped. In hindsight, I’ve never seen any one person be so very wrong.

Ten more minutes pass and we fly past yet another ‘School Bus Stop Ahead’ sign. I receive questioning looks from my traveling companions. Finally, David speaks his mind. “Calvin, are you going in circles?” I begin to explain to him that I had not yet made a single turn and was just following the same road the entire while, but am cut off mid-sentence by the blinding burning of headlights directly on our tail. Seemingly out of nowhere, a 16-wheeler tractor trailer had flanked us. I’m not even sure how it happened; we were literally going in a very straight line on a very straight and very flat and very long road for quite some time. If there had been any other cars sharing the road with us, I would’ve noticed them approaching with several miles of notice. It was so bizarre. How did it manage to sneak up on us like that, and, better yet, why was it belligerently tailgating me? I merged into the vacant oncoming traffic lane to our left to allow him to pass us, but the truck immediately followed suit. “Uhh…” I merged back. It followed again. “Alright, what in the world is happening!”, demanded David. This is where the fun begins.

There I was – riding on the coattails of my first ever YCS Top 8 finish, and there we were – riding on the coattails of our potential demise. I didn’t know this very angry semitrailer driver, nor did I know why they wanted to kill us, but I certainly wasn’t going to find out. I accelerated to about as fast as mother’s suburban minivan could take us as I began to think aloud. “If this truck follows us for much longer, we’re doomed. However, I imagine that it can’t follow us beyond the main road. The driver likely has a delivery quota to make and will have to exit upon the next highway entrance…” My friends looked worried, but they knew I was right. We’d been looking for the entrance to the main highway for the last hour, and skipping out on it intentionally seemed entirely counterproductive to our overall journey, but very necessary for our overall continued existence. “I’m going to make a play.” Surely enough, within several minutes, the highway exit appeared and I sped directly passed it, moving onto what was now the start of a half-paved half-dirt road. We all watched in my rear-views as the truck correctly took the exit and collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

The road winded sharply and as we rounded the bend and gradually ascended in the direction of a house atop a hill in the distance. “See guys, we’re not entirely in the middle of nowhere! People DO live here!” I sarcastically chimed. As we approached, we noticed the house was entirely void of any signs of life – broken down shutters, no cars anywhere to be seen, etc. “Guess no one’s home”, Gus remarked. This marks the second time in one trip that I had never seen an individual be so very wrong about any one thing in my entire life. Right as we passed the house, every single light blasted on at full voltage. We’re not just talking lamps and porch lights. Think more along the lines of government level alien-tracking high beam-esque bright. The light was so bright and dizzying that I was seeing Star Boys in every direction, which is typically not ideal for someone behind the wheel of an operating vehicle.

I can’t recall who in the car to directly attribute to the following quote (it very well could have been everyone in unison), but I distinctly remember being demanded to “Go! Go! Go!”, and so I go go go-ed right on out of there. By this point, mass panic had ensued, but the house was safely behind us in the distance. It didn’t help that another street sign was coming up that read, sure enough, ‘School Bus Stop Ahead’. “Alright guys, where on Earth is this so-called school?” inquired David. We never did find that school. What we did find, however, was God’s Country.
As we advanced into the darkness, things got dramatically quiet. Our vessel seemed to be edging into somewhere entirely devoid of life; even conversation within the car had reached a stark halt. To put it plainly, we were nearing a place where the world stood still. To confirm this suspicion, my co-pilot Gus very suddenly and nervously began repeating, “guys…there’s nothing to our left. Guys! There’s nothing to our left!” I rolled my eyes, trying to keep focus on the road ahead. “What do you mean there’s ‘nothing on our left’?” “Dude just look man, there’s nothing there!” he shouted. I sighed, turned my head to the left, and sure enough, there was nothing there. No mountains. No field. No stars. No sky. Just, nothing. Undeterred, I pressed on. Today was not that day I died. Eventually we escaped the nothingness but our lovely, once very pleasant and peaceful dirt road slowly dwindled and decayed into a heavily forested ominous gravel path.

It was the advent of Spring, but every tree in the area was stripped bare, and through the naked thicket we began to see something. At first there was just one, but as we delved deeper they grew greater and greater in presence: bed sheets, strewn up in the shape of ghosts. As we continued into the forest, the sheets began to look more and more human-like and were all marked in various shapes and drawings using some kind of deep red paint. At least, I hoped it was red paint. Regardless, this was no Halloween party. The figures multiplied so dramatically as we delved deeper that eventually they outnumbered even the trees. White ghosts with red markings, surrounding us on both sides. Ghostrick Jackfrost had come to deliver our souls to the shadow realm.

Ahead, the road turned sharply and we couldn’t see what was around the bend without committing entirely, but I definitely wasn’t going to stay where I was. We veered the corner, and there right in front of us, dead center of the road, stood a wooden shed, with letters in the same shade of red ‘paint’ as the bed sheets. The words “God’s Country” dripped freshly down the wall. Joey, who had been relatively quiet during this entire ideal, simply wasn’t having it. “I’m not going to God’s Country Tonight!” Joey protested, and our entire car was in unanimous agreement. I shoved the gear stick so far in reverse you’d think I accidentally accessed another dimension, slammed the gas pedal harder than I previously thought humanly possible, and backtracked several miles in full reverse at speeds I can not condone for even the most strategic pilot in this entire quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy until we made it back to our original highway exit, which I heartily took. Behind me, I noticed the first instance of an actual road sign I’d seen the entire night – we were apparently on a stretch of road southeastish of Blacksburg VA called “North Fork Road”. It was around this time that our car’s ancient GPS kicked back in; we hastily navigated to the first gas station we could find and collectively threw our guts up in the bathroom sink.

The next day, I woke up and Googled what I had seen. There were no traces of the existence of a ‘North Fork Road’ or any similar variant anywhere near where we had been. Years have passed and I’ve been to Charlotte through way of Virginia many times in my travels, and have never once been able to come close to replicating the conditions of that experience. The seven of us remember the experience vividly, but never again have we encountered that same stretch of road or crossed paths with any other person who had. We were, as far as I can tell, literally lost in the upside down.
Let’s fast forward back to present day. This is an article about losing, and as you can see, on the very first ever day I found success in this game at a national level, I still ended up remarkably lost. This loss is one that will stay with me for as long as I live, and I wanted to share it here not just to chronicle it in writing for the first time, but also to remind us all that the life on the road is not always a safe and easy one. To be the best, though, risk is sometimes a necessary step we have to take; with risk comes inevitably comes loss. Everybody loses, and everybody gets lost. For every event I’ve topped, I’ve lost ten more. For every good memory I’ve made, I’ve experienced the unbelievable. For every friendship I’ve fostered, I’ve lost a love. I’ve been playing this game since 2008, and for nearly ten years now I’ve taken a continuous beating to get to where I am – and I’m not done losing yet.

Let’s be honest just for a second: this article probably taught you absolutely nothing you need to know to better yourself as a duelist. The truth is, there’s no quick and easy way to become good, but I do believe I have discovered a tried and true method to become great. You see, in the game and in life, there are always things you could have done differently. Instead of milling over my misplays and my regrets and pointlessly agonizing in a hole of my own self-loathing, I enfold the conditions of each loss into a palpable step that I use to climb. Time after time, step after step, I rise. Now, I know it’s easy for me to stand there from atop my staircase of triumph and shout things like “just learn from your mistakes, silly”. Most people are smart enough to not need to be reminded of that. Every single exchange in life is a learning experience if you let it be; my only actual advice is to let it.

We are all born hard, sheltered, and protected. We are naturally unwilling and afraid of change, and it takes a special kind of bravery that cannot be taught in a word document to allow oneself to become malleable and new. I’ve become a successful duelist across many formats using skills I attained through not just experience alone, but through teaching myself to value awareness and seek understanding necessary to be able to observe my mistakes and learn from them. Circumstances surrounding a loss are often universal, and once you learn to consistently spot them, you can transition that insight into almost every situation. A deep understanding of game sense, gained through assessing and advancing past your losses having learned something new, will provide you with the most consistent path to victory. Victories in and of themselves are meaningless; in Yu-Gi-Oh!, at least, there is no knowledge truly gained in winning. The best you can walk away with is some degree of self-validation and the drive to win more. Losing, however, is everything; it is the tried and true instigator of growth, and without it we would be forever lost.
Learn from your failures and fail a lot. Until next time,

– Calvin Tahan.