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Pokemon Go: Advanced tips from people who play too damn much

You know the basics. Here's how to become a Pokemon Master.

So you want to be a Pokemon Master.

You already know the basics of Pokemon Go, and now you want to catch 'em all. Perhaps you'd like to have a snowball's chance in hell of conquering your neighborhood Pokemon gym as well.

You've come to the right place. Here's what we wish we knew (updated every so often) before we started playing this ridiculously addictive game.

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Don't you dare power up those Pokemon (at first)

It's the single hardest thing to explain to people playing Pokemon Go: you can't get attached to any of those cute pocket monsters if you want to succeed in this world.

Three reasons:

1) The vast majority of Pokemon you find aren't worth powering up -- because if you continue to play the game and increase your Trainer Level, you'll automatically start to find stronger ones.

2) The fastest way to increase your Trainer Level is to harvest and evolve loads of weak Pokemon, then grind them up into candy. We're only slightly kidding.

3) The coolest, rarest Pokemon you find are usually worthless for battling, because you won't find enough of them to harvest for candy. (The new Buddy System helps, but oh-so-slowly.)

Let's assume that's OK. You're happy to become a cold, soulless monster for the purposes of this game. What's the best way to reap those poor, delicious Pokemon?

  • The single fastest way to level up is to crack a Lucky Egg (which doubles all experience points earned for 30 minutes), then evolve as many Pokemon as you can in a row for 1,000 XP a pop. You get a free Lucky Egg when you hit levels 9 and 14, and you can buy more with real money if you want.
  • Typically, a Lucky Egg will last long enough to evolve 60 Pokemon at once for a total of 60,000 XP, enough to earn you between three and six of the early trainer levels in one fell swoop.
  • Pidgeys, Weedles and Caterpies are the easiest to evolve, requiring only 12 candy each. (This trick is sometimes called a "Pidgey party.") You get 3 candy each time you catch one, so it takes just four Pokemon to get one evolve. 100 XP per catch plus 500 XP per evolve equals 900 XP each time you catch four of these Pokemon, not counting the Lucky Egg bonus.
  • If you don't have enough 12-candy evolutions to maximize a Lucky Egg, you can fill in with common 25-candy evolutions like Rattatas and Geodudes, or Zubats if you really must.
  • You can use the site pidgeycalc.com in order to calculate if you have enough Pokemon and candy to make good use of your Lucky Egg, or if you should catch more first.
  • Have more than 60 Pokemon to evolve? Here's a nifty trick: you can use two different phones logged into the same Pokemon Go account to evolve them more quickly. Start a new evolve with one phone while you wait for the other phone's evolve animation to finish.
  • If you can, time your regular Eggs to crack at the same time you're using a Lucky Egg for bonus experience there, too.
  • Don't bother powering up your Pokemon until you reach Trainer Level 20 at the very least. That's the point when it starts getting much harder to level up your trainer. (You need 25,000 XP to go from level 19 to 20, but 50,000 XP to get to level 21 and 75,000 XP for level 22.)

Update, August: The August update seems to have made Pidgeys and Rattatas (the most common city-dwelling Pokemon) much harder to catch, because they run away more often. Pidgeys are still one of the best ways to level up, but it'll be much harder now.

Update, October: Now, the more Pokemon you catch of each type, the easier it is to catch more of them.

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Catching Pokemon gets harder

But you might run out of Pokeballs before you ever manage to catch that many Pidgeys. Here are a few tips that kept us from wasting our balls.

  • Flicking the ball the same way every time won't work. Different Pokemon are different distances away, and you need to throw accordingly. Pidgeys are very close, while Zubats are far.
  • The first time a Pokemon jumps out of a Pokeball, they'll be even further away. You'll have to throw further.
  • If you're not good at catching Zubats, maybe stop trying. They take 50 candy to evolve, and they're just not worth all those Pokeballs.
  • Don't waste Pokeballs on the evolved forms of common Pokemon, particularly starting out. The first time you discover a new Pokemon, you get a 500 XP bonus -- which you'll probably want to double with a Lucky Egg. Plus, you don't get any more Stardust or candy for a Pidgeotto or Pidgeot than you do for a common Pidgey.
  • Does your Pokeball typically bounce off the top of a Pokemon's head before you catch it? That might work at the start, but as your trainer level increases, Pokemon (even weak ones) will escape those near-miss throws more often.
  • To land a "Nice," "Great!" or "Excellent!" throw instead, imagine an underhanded throw, or a basketball 3-pointer, that drops to hit the Pokemon square in the chest, inside the colored circle. You're not pitching fastballs here.
  • It's better to land a Pokeball inside the colored circle than to throw when the colored circle is small.
  • Razz Berries will increase your chances of catching a Pokemon, but they can make your balls tend to curve. Combat this by intentionally throwing curveballs -- an intentional curveball won't be affected.
  • As you level up, your balls will start to randomly curve regardless. Best learn the curveball technique while you can.
  • Don't try to throw a Pokeball the moment you see the Pokemon. You might throw it with superhuman strength way, way past them as of August.
  • Another reason to focus on leveling up your trainer ASAP: you get Great Balls starting at Level 10, and Ultra Balls starting at Level 20. They'll help you catch more difficult Pokemon.
  • You can't pick up Pokeballs after you've thrown them. That's a myth.
  • The $35 Pokemon Go Plus wearable makes it super fast and easy to catch common Pokemon, without even pulling out your phone. But it isn't without issues. (Read our full review.)

Update, August: Thrown balls no longer seem to randomly curve as of the new update, Razz Berries or no -- we've done quite a bit of testing and straight throws always seem to go straight now.

Update, October: The Pokemon Go Plus wearable, achievement badge bonuses, and some other fixes seem to have made Pokemon easier to catch than they were in August.

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Always be hustlin'

Even if you're catching Pokemon that help you level up fast, it's going to take a while. You may need to catch 180 Pidgeys before you can evolve 60 of them at a time! That's an awful lot of play. Some tips:

  • Keep the app open and your phone screen on whenever you're walking around. If Pokemon Go isn't on the screen, your phone won't vibrate when you encounter a Pokemon and the game won't track your steps toward hatching an egg.
  • Walk to work? Plan your route so you pass the most Pokestops and the most lures. Pinch to zoom the screen (or tap and drag on the screen) to see where they are.
  • Catch every Pokemon you can, as long as you don't waste Pokeballs. Even if you don't need another Zubat, that's 100 XP and 100 Stardust you can save toward future upgrades.
  • You always have one incubator. Always keep an egg inside it so you don't waste any steps.
  • Make sure to choose a buddy Pokemon so every step will also earn you candy towards your favorite pocket monster.
  • If the game's loading sign is spinning for more than 30 seconds, don't wait. Force-close the game ASAP.
  • Don't try to catch a Pokemon while the loading sign is spinning. The game might crash.
  • As long as you can see a Pokemon, you can catch it -- even if it seems out of range. Tap on it anyway. You don't need to stick around, either. You can keep walking while you try to catch it -- although it seems Pokemon run away more often now when you do (as of the August update).
  • Walking down the street and spot a Pokemon and a Pokestop at the same time? Activate the Pokestop first -- by the time you catch the Pokemon, the Pokestop might be far behind you.
  • See a lure on a street corner with a Pokemon ready to be caught? Tap it, then walk around the corner while you catch it. That might be enough time for a second Pokemon to spawn, so you might catch two in a row.
  • To harvest items from Pokestops faster, immediately hit the X (cancel) button as soon as the edges of the Pokestop screen turn purple.
  • Did you pass a Pokemon? Spin your screen around to look behind you.
  • If it's socially acceptable (and why wouldn't it be?) keep the game open even when you're just sitting around. Pokemon will often appear -- particularly inside buildings that confuse the GPS signal.
  • Speaking of socially acceptable, why not pick restaurants and stores that happen to be near Pokestops? (Yelp can help.)
  • Walk around with a group of friends and find a concentration of Pokestops. Set Lures there.
  • If you're running out of space for items and don't battle at gyms often, liberally throw away your Revives and Potions. Pokeballs are more valuable, and you'll want room.
  • Invest in an external battery. Pokemon Go is a huge battery hog, and you probably don't want to be stranded without a phone.
  • Seriously consider the Pokemon Go Plus wearable. It might be a pain to re-pair the Bluetooth every so often, and the battery only lasts a month, but I advanced a lot quicker when I was using it.
  • Don't play Pokemon Go while driving. You'll look like an asshat, and you'll be one, too.
  • Seriously, don't play Pokemon Go while driving. You might kill someone.

Update, August 10: Check out our new video above!

Update, August 29: Two people have been killed in Japan by drivers playing Pokemon Go.

Don't do this.

Sean Hollister/CNET

Finding rare Pokemon

So you're tired of catching Pidgeys. How do you find rare Pokemon?

  • Not with the game's Nearby feature. As of July 2016, it simply doesn't work reliably.
  • As of August, a new version of Nearby actually works -- as long as you're in San Francisco. Check out the video at the bottom of this section to see what it looks like.
  • Sites like pokevision.com can show you where Pokemon are in real time -- as long as they (and the game's servers) aren't being overloaded by players.
  • Certain rare Pokemon will spawn in specific locations (known as "nests"). Search /r/pokemongo for "nests" in order to find ones near you. Also try parks.
  • You might want to travel to find different types of Pokemon. In the San Francisco Bay Area where CNET is based, we rarely see Geodudes or Sandshrews, even though they're common in LA.
  • Don't expect to find more Pokemon in the wilderness. They're most concentrated in heavily populated areas.
  • Pokemon spawn locations don't always make geographical sense. We found an awful lot of electric-type Pokemon like Voltorb and Magnemite in a beach town, and very few water-type Pokemon there.
  • You can't obtain and keep Legendary Pokemon (Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, Mewtwo, Mew) yet, no matter what you've been hearing. A few trainers did accidentally get them, but Niantic took them away.
  • Don't use location-spoofing apps or emulators, or you might get banned from Pokemon for good.

Update, July 31: Niantic is cracking down on third-party Pokemon tracking apps now, and many of them are down.

Update, August 10: We got an early look at the new Nearby feature coming to Pokemon Go, and it actually works!

Update, August 29: Folks are getting *permanently banned* from Pokemon Go for cheating. Don't be like them!

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Upgrades

You've achieved Trainer Level 20. Is it time to upgrade your Pokemon and smack down some gyms?

Not so fast: You'll want to make sure you have the right Pokemon so you don't waste your precious Stardust. The only way to obtain Stardust -- and in tiny quantities -- is catching Pokemon.

  • Hackers have discovered that each Pokemon has unique, hidden "Individual Values" (IV) that determine their maximum potential from birth.
  • The more "perfect" a Pokemon's IVs, the more useful it'll likely be for battling at gyms.
  • You may want to transfer Pokemon that don't have high IV, because they'll never be as strong. Even when you evolve them, their IVs stay the same.
  • As of late August, the easiest way to figure out which Pokemon to keep is to analyze them with Pokemon Go's new Appraisal feature. Pick a Pokemon, open the submenu in the lower right as if you were going to trade it in, then tap Appraise instead.
  • If your Pokemon is truly excellent, your team leader will use one of the following phrases:
    • "Your Pokemon is a wonder!"
    • "Your Pokemon simply amazes me."
    • "Your Pokemon looks like it can really battle with the best of them!"
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  • If you want to know the actual IVs, you can calculate them based on the Pokemon's CP, HP and the cost to power it up using an online spreadsheet. Or, try a more user-friendly version here. You might also try this one.
  • There used to be some excellent apps to calculate your IVs automatically, like PokeAdvisor and GoIV, but Niantic either blocked them or got them removed from the app stores.
  • You'll want to evolve Pokemon before you power them up, to make sure they've got attacks that do the most damage. Once a Pokemon evolves, they'll get a new randomly generated set of moves.
  • Some moves are faster, and others do more damage. You can find a simplified (perhaps oversimplified?) list of the best moves right here.
  • You can force an Eevee to turn into a Vaporeon, Jolteon or Flareon just by changing its name before you evolve, but you can only do it once. Make sure it's a good Eevee (with high IV and/or CP) before you take the plunge.

Update, July 30: You may want to take another good look at your Pokemon's attacks, because they all just changed. It appears that Niantic has quietly rebalanced the entire game's battle system, and charge attacks make more sense now.

Update, August 8: PokeAdvisor has been blocked by Niantic, which is a damn shame.

Update, August 10: We're starting to use the GoIV app on Android to analyze our IVs. It's a pretty neat way to do it. Never mind, GoIV got pulled from the Google Play Store.

Update, August 29: There's finally an official way to analyze your Pokemon, and it's the easiest way to determine whether to keep or transfer your pets. We've updated this section to reflect that.

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Taking down gyms

Once you've got your dream Pokemon team, it's time to start winning some battles.

  • Yes, we said team. You can take six Pokemon into battle against a rival gym -- even though you're limited to one Pokemon when training at a gym your team already controls. Swap out which Pokemon you want to use by tapping on them on the gym screen, then tapping on the one you want in that slot.
  • As of October, you can train six Pokemon at your team's gyms, too. Do it!
  • You can take down rival gyms much faster and easier by teaming up with friends. You'll both do damage to the defending Pokemon simultaneously as long as you're in sync.
  • The type of your Pokemon's attack really does matter: you can often take down a defending Pokemon with 500 CP higher than yours as long as they're weak to that type. (Fire beats Grass, Water beats Fire and so on -- here's a full chart.)
  • The attack type, not the Pokemon type, matters when attacking. Even if you have a Fire-type Pokemon, its attacks might do Dark or Ground or Normal-type damage.
  • You take down rival gyms and upgrade friendly gyms much faster by using Pokemon with lower CP than the defender. (Pokemon Go rewards the underdog.)
  • If you take down a gym with a friend and nobody else is around, you can upgrade that gym faster by intentionally defending it with Pokemon your friend can easily defeat.
  • After you knock down an enemy gym, you don't automatically take control! You need to place a Pokemon on top immediately, or risk someone else doing it first.
  • You can snipe gyms, too. Look for gyms that are under attack (they'll have sparks and scuffle animations) and wait for them to turn grey. Then drop your Pokemon on it immediately.
  • For a better chance at sniping, tap the gym, then back to the map, then gym, then map repeatedly. You refresh the gym's status quicker that way.
  • Always check your own team's gyms to see if they have a vacant slot for your own Pokemon.
  • Don't forget to get your gym rewards: You can claim them once every 21 hours for every gym that stays in your control. If you rarely manage to beat a gym, you'll want to do it immediately. (The button is the shield at the top right of the Shop screen, for some odd reason.)
  • If one of your gyms is taken over, don't immediately fight back, because the attackers are probably still there. Wait a while until they leave before you attempt to regain it.

Update, October: You can use six Pokemon at a time at your own team's gyms now -- not just one.

Some final tips

And if you discover any awesome tips we've missed, please leave a comment on this post.

Happy hunting!