By Emily Ammann
Sebastian Prestia is the top-ranked chess player in his age group in the entire country, according to the United States Chess Federation.
What makes this feat all the more impressive is that Sebastian, of Lloyd Harbor, is six years old.
When he won the ChessKid Online National Invitational Championships at the end of last month, Sebastian became the first New Yorker ever to win the competition in his age bracket, as well as the first Long Islander of any age to do so.
“It feels great to work hard,” Sebastian said, “and then win...by defeating the best players.”
Sebastian started playing chess three years ago, according to his mom, Rosanna Prestia. Sebastian was able to teach himself how to play, she continued, because visual-spatial tasks, such as chess, “come naturally to him.”
After watching his older brothers, 8-year-old Frankie and 10-year-old Paris, compete, Sebastian decided he wanted to do the same. According to Rosanna, Sebastian’s brothers are “so proud” of everything he’s achieved so far.
“He has the largest trophies in the house,” Rosanna said. “They’re as big as him.”
Sebastian and his siblings hone their skills at the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan, the same club where chess prodigy Bobby Fischer got his start. While practicing, he’s come up against “very intellectual people,” some of whom have Harvard educations and are old enough to be his grandparents.
Still, the precocious grade-schooler, who turns seven in October and will attend the Lloyd Harbor School next school year, can hold his own with any opponent. Sebastian said he loves “the challenge” of playing against “really good players and beating them.”
His mom added, “He’s very charismatic and funny,” but he’s also “able to maintain focus” while playing games that can stretch as long as four hours.
Playing chess has taught Sebastian a lot, and not just in terms of the game itself, Rosanna went on.
“It teaches him life lessons,” such as good sportsmanship, discipline, patience, and strategy. He’s also learned to accept his losses “as graciously as his wins” because “he knows he’ll learn more by losing.”
Although the sport is a year-round endeavor, Sebastian does keep busy with more than just chess. When he’s not at tournaments with his family every few weeks, he plays tennis, soccer, and classical piano. He’s also an advanced math student, taking online classes through Johns Hopkins University.
It seems Sebastian will continue to follow his passion for chess as far as it takes him, with a smile on his face and a friendly attitude.
“It’s wonderful for him to be thinking this deeply at such a young age,” Rosanna said. “It’s absolutely wonderful that he loves something he’s good at.”