The Rookies' Race

Posted in Event Coverage on May 9, 2003

By Josh Bennett

Pro Tour – Yokohama looks like it might be the deciding stop in the Rookie of the Year race. With just a handful of Grand Prix before World Championships, a strong finish here could make all the difference. Interestingly, the number one and two rookies have both managed to 4-0 their first pod, ensuring that the race will be close.

Currently heading the race is Masashi Ooiso of Japan. He first came to the scene when he joined up with the members of Hato Beam, a strong team from his home town Hiroshima. Led by Takao Higaki, at the time they were a collection of Japanese players looking to make their mark.

They got a kick start, where Higaki, Ooiso and teammate Kazuki Ueno managed to make Day 2 and pick up three PT points. That was all the incentive Ooiso needed to make a run at the title. He'd seen Katsuhiro Mori rise to Rookie of the Year status, and now he wanted to perform the same feat.

Their return came with it a good omen. Higaki placed second in one of Japan's most prestigious tournaments, The Finals. Then came the setback. Their local store closed down. Suddenly they had no place to test. They weren't about to take it lying down, though. The members of Hato Beam banded together and rented a space they could use to playtest. The expense of it made sure they had incentive to be serious about their practice.

Ooiso felt the dividends almost immediately. While he made Day 2's of Pro Tours he also posted a pair of Top 4's at Grand Prix – Utsunomiya and Grand Prix – Kyoto. Ooiso clearly had the fire to make it happen. No wonder he's on top.

Five points behind him and his closest competitor is American Craig Krempels. Though Krempels is just a few points ahead of Jun Ishihara, Craig Stevenson and Valentin Moskovich, but none of them are playing at this event, so a big showing here will go a long way to deciding the title.

A year and a half ago, Krempels was new TOGIT recruit and not the first name on anyone's list of rising stars. After all, TOGIT has a lot of talented undercarders on their roster. His first points came courtesy team events, just like Ooiso. He, Patrick Sullivan and Adam Horvath came fifth Grand Prix – New Jersey, then went on to put up a ninth place finish at Grand Prix – Boston.

His singles breakout came soon after, at Grand Prix – Philadelphia, where he Top 8'd. He continued to impress at Pro Tour – Chicago, starting the event 6-0 and then losing his last round to miss Top 32. Not much of a Constructed player, Krempels has many players singing the praises of his talent at Limited.

They've got their work cut out for them in their quest for one-upmanship. Ooiso took down Kai Budde in round three, and as round five drew to a close Krempels had handed Jon Finkel his first loss of the tournament. If they can keep the pressure up, they might be deciding the Rookie Race during the Pro Tour Finals!

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