Gabe Cherniske, 14, plays cards and he plays to win. One might think that it isn’t appropriate for an eighth grader (Cherniske goes to J.C. Booth Middle School) to play cards competitively, but rest easy, the game he plays is Pokémon.
“I’ve been playing for quite awhile, since elementary school,” Cherniske said. “The tournaments came later.”
The tournaments are how Cherniske is making a name for himself in the Pokémon community. He recently placed first in the senior division of the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) City Championship in Macon, Ga. Each player earns points towards the national and world championships through TCG events and Cherniske already has an invite to Worlds. Winners also receive packs of cards as prizes. Cherniske does very well at the tournaments. In Macon, he won 200 packs. When you consider that the price of each pack is around $4, Cherniske made out pretty well. He stated that he ends up using many of the cards he wins to trade and get other cards to enhance his deck.
Let’s back up a little and explain some things. Pokémon is based on a cartoon from Japan. The main story follows a boy who collects creatures with various powers (Pokémon) and then battles other collectors in tournaments. The TCG and video games came afterwards and fans of all ages were soon able to make their own collections of Pokémon and battle against their friends and other competitors. In the TCG, the competitors battle with particular decks and each new tournament season there are new cards to collect. The game, like any good card game, requires strategy and parents like it for younger kids because it encourages them to enhance their reading and math skills.
Cherniske’s mother, Lynda, has also seen a lot of positives come from her son’s involvement with the game. The Cherniskes moved to Peachtree City in July of last year and because Gabe was active in the TCG community (he serves as a moderator for the web site pokebeach.com) he was able to quickly find other players in Georgia. He goes to Heroes Cards, Comics and Games in Newnan each Friday night, meets fellow TCG players and serves as a mentor to aspiring players and people new to the game.
“The best part of the whole experience is all the cool people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made around the country,” Cherniske said. “There are so many people playing the game.”
Cherniske puts in a lot of time to Pokémon. He practices every day for several hours and spends time on the web site as a moderator. All told, the hours he puts in are close to a full time job and because of that Cherniske has big goals.
“I want to win the state championship because the winner gets a paid trip to Nationals,” Cherniske stated, adding later that he feels he has a good shot. In a recent tournament in Florida, he placed fifth out of 73 contestants, so he knows he matches up with the top players. He also has an idea of what to do with his new deck at Nationals and Worlds and if his theory is correct he may be one of the players to watch.
“I’ve been practicing with it and I think I could make the top cut or even win,” Cherniske said. “It’s the best deck I’ve ever played.”
Lest you think he spends too much time playing cards, Cherniske’s mother makes a point to add that schoolwork and homework come first. She even mentions that the math team at Booth, which Gabe is a member of, recently took second at the regional math tournament.
Cherniske would rather focus on Pokémon. The Nationals and World Championships, both scheduled for the summer, loom large. He knows he has to go game by game though and card by card. Also, even the best player in the world has to get his or her homework done first.