Israel Sosa is really no different from most 22-year-olds. The San Francisco native regularly attends classes in pursuit of a geology degree and he earns a living as a carpet cleaner. His accessory of choice is a beanie and on occasion he'll meet with his buddies to play a game of cards.
He's really no different from anyone else except that most twenty somethings don't have fans all over Europe. Sosa won the title of Pokemon Autumn Regional Champion after he took first place in the Trading Card Game Masters Division in Pleasanton last month. He is now well on his way toward next summer's world championship held in Washington D.C.
SF Weekly caught up with Sosa to discuss battles, tactics, Pikachu and his newfound celebrity.
Well first of all, for us laymen out there, what does it mean to win a Pokemon Battle?
Sosa: To win a Pokemon battle would be like winning a game of chess. Basically you try do different moves against your opponent and you get that little sensation when you win. The other way you can compare it would be like watching a baseball game. You try to set things up and try to get everything to happen and when you win it's a great feeling.
How does one train for a Pokemon battle?
Sosa: The basic idea of the game is whoever goes fastest wins. The best way to do it is to do some research on some of the cards so that you know what each card can do. Also get a lot of friends into the game and let them build some of the Pokemon card decks and practice one another.
How did you first discover Pokemon battles?
Sosa: I've been doing it for five years and actually I was doing a birthday present for my brother who was more into Pokemon than I was. I tried to surprise him by taking him to a Pokemon tournament and from there that's where I started.
Seeing the competitiveness, I felt like I want to be the best just by seeing other people play. Basically when I took my brother, a bunch of other people that I met there were nice enough to give me 60 cards to build a deck so that I could compete with others that day.
What are some of your tactics for battle?
Sosa: Pretty much I would say that my only tactic is I like to play very fast. It makes the opponent feel uncomfortable when I go fast because they don't know what to prepare themselves for. I put an amount of pressure on them and it's just aggressive play.
I've actually noticed recently that I have bad habits. What people say is that whenever I have a good hand I will shuffle my cards faster than what I usually would and so my opponent knows that something's coming up. If I have a plan come into my head I go faster than usual. Then they pretty much know I'm setting something up.
Usually most people feel like they have to slow down so that they could keep up with what's going on with the game. I also notice that people give different face expressions depending on the hand they get. Some are good and some are bad.
With one of my opponents, every time he was biting his lips and just looking around, I knew that he had a bad hand and when he stopped biting I could tell he had a good hand.
Are there any dirty secrets or ways to cheat in battle?
Sosa: There's a tactic called declumping. It was kind of big last season and it was caught on video people stacking their cards in a certain way. But as of now they're pretty much on it as far as the cheating and everyone is keeping an eye out on it. It's hard to cheat but it is possible.
There are different websites like the one called "on the bubble" where they screen matches on the internet and people will see and talk about how the match is going and some will point out if there's a cheating tactic going on and then they'll tell the people who are commentating and the commentator will tell the judge.
What are the perks of being a Pokemon champ?
Sosa: The perk is you get to meet new people, not only from your area but people from around the world who watch the games on the internet. You get to know each other and so when I travel they know who I am. Actually the weekend after I won in California, I went to another tournament in Arizona and a bunch of people came up to me and congratulated me on my win. It's amazing and after I won Arizona that weekend as well, I got a bunch of friend requests from everyone in Europe.
What's next for you?
Sosa: Next for me is pretty much just reasearching and trying to get through the season. Hopefully I make it to the world championship by reaching the amount of points I need to get to qualify. That's 500 and I'm at 312 by winning two regional championships.
Finally, who's your favorite Pokemon and why?
Sosa: I would say my favorite character is Pikachu. He's very confident and funny and doesn't let things overtake him and that's how I feel I could relate.