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January 26. 2013 7:23PM

Turn of fortune was in the cards for Londonderry teen


Ray Cipoletti, 18, of Londonderry, left, shows off his Masters Division trophy at the Pokemon Trading Card Game Winter Regional Championships in Richmond, Va., last weekend. At right is Cipoletti's friend Dylan Bryan of New Jersey, who was a finalist in the competition. (COURTESY)

LONDONDERRY -- Five years ago, Ray Cipoletti's life took an interesting turn when he picked up his first set of Pokémon trading cards.



After being diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in 2008, the Londonderry teen found he was no longer able to play his beloved video games or compete in sports.

But he could still play the popular Japanese trading card game, and as it turns out, he was pretty darn good at it.

"When I was being treated, I was really into Magic The Gathering at the time," the 2012 Londonderry High School graduate said, referring to another popular trading-card game. "But the Pokémon cards were a lot cheaper."

Cipoletti's health has had its ups and downs over the years, but his love for Pokémon has only gotten stronger.

Born with congenital heart disease, Cipoletti has endured a total of four open heart surgeries, three performed when he was an infant and the most recent completed during the summer of 2011.

In between came his battle with brain cancer. As an eighth-grader at Londonderry Middle School, Cipoletti was feeling poorly with what doctors initially thought were symptoms of his heart condition and asthma. Further examination revealed the tumor, which was surgically removed that summer.

Cipoletti is doing much better these days, though he still has to take diligent care of himself.

Meanwhile, his Pokémon fortunes have soared.

About a year ago, after recovering from the heart surgery, he began competing on the national circuit. And last weekend, he spent three days in Richmond, Va., where the majority of his time was spent in head-to-head competitions at the Pokémon Trading Card Game Winter Regional Championships. (A separate championship was held for fans of the video game version of Pokémon.)

Cipoletti won the Masters Division competition at the regional, becoming one of five finalists from around the country to earn a berth in the U.S. National Championships this July in Indianapolis.

There he'll compete for an invitation to the 2013 Pokémon World Championships, set for August in Vancouver, B.C., where they players from around the globe will battle for the ultimate title of Pokémon world champion.

In the meantime, Cipoletti will have plenty of time to keep his skills sharp.

He practices daily by playing online with fellow gamers from all over the world. He also travels around the region most weekends to compete in smaller tournaments.

"I used to go bowling on the weekends, but I just don't have time for it anymore," he said. "Competing takes up quite a bit of my time."

On the rare occasions when he's not playing, he's writing about playing. Cipoletti regularly writes blogs for the website www.sixprives.com, a site devoted to Pokémon strategies.

Indeed, writing has become a second passion for Cipoletti, one he's thinking of pursuing further when he begins his college studies at Nashua Community Technical College next semester.

As a competitive Pokémon player, he's gotten to know many of the other players quite well over the past year, with each tournament becoming almost like a family reunion. "You tend to see the same people again and again," Cipoletti said. "I have friends from England, from all over."



AGuilmet@newstote.com


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