BRIARCLIFF, N.Y. -- When it comes to playing the Pokemon Trading Card Game, Sebastian Male-Diaz is a child prodigy.
Male-Diaz, a 10-year-old who lives in Briarcliff and is in 5th grade, is ranked 11th in the country for his age group, regularly traveling across the country competing in tournaments. He has been invited to compete in tournaments in Australia. He recently finished in 2nd at a tournament in Virginia and last weekend competed at a tournament in Toronto.
In Pokemon, players use their Pokemon to battle their opponent with the goal of winning knocking out their opponents cards.
"There's a lot of strategy involved," Male-Diaz said. "You have a lot to think about it during your turn and a lot of decisions to make during the game."
Male-Diaz practices with his father, Patrick, who says his son is always good at thinking several moves ahead and can even beat adults.
"He just has that mental capacity," Patrick said. "He can imagine what his opponent has in their hand and he knows what to play."
All of this started when Male-Diaz's mom, Mariella, bought him a pack of Pokemon cards. Male-Diaz liked the manga art on the cards and found he had friends who liked Pokemon too.
The family soon started visiting 3rd Universe, a comic book store in Croton-on-Hudson, where Male-Diaz learned how to play the game and soon realized he had a knack for Pokemon.
"He kept winning," Patrick, who has become a judge at competitions, said. "Families kept telling us that we should put in tournaments. We had faith in him."
The Diaz's have seen the United States through Pokemon, going to Georgia, St. Louis, Indiana, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and Ohio.
"I like it," Male-Diaz said. "To see places I haven't been to is a nice experience. It's been really cool."
Playing at different tournaments has allowed Male-Diaz to make new friends, including people who don't even speak English.
"The game is universal," Patrick said. "They were so into the game, they didn't need any translating. It's cool to watch how the game brings cultures together."
Male-Diaz has also won prize money from the tournaments, which he is saving for college, although he does allow himself to spend a little bit on new Pokemon cards. Male-Diaz admits it can be challenging balancing schoolwork and Pokemon, but he said he never starts playing before his homework is completed.
His parents say they are impressed with his sportsmanship, saying he is the same whether he wins or loses.
"We are super proud of him," Patrick said. "The skills he has learned at Pokemon are applicable to academics. He's cognitively thinking about the next moves ahead. When he finishes a tournament, he is exhausted- he used a lot of his brain."