Bright Davis High students get a glimpse of brilliance

Published: Monday, April 20 2009 12:09 a.m. MDT

State chess champion Kayden Troff, right, plays chess simultaneously with Davis High students Spencer Van Leeuwen and Spencer Hall.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

KAYSVILLE — In just over a minute, chess prodigy Kayden Troff had opponents nearly twice his age — and 10 times his ego — sweating.

"He's amazing," said 16-year-old Mitch Foote, a Davis High School sophomore who dared go up against the 10-year-old for a game of chess. Others said Foote was the best chess player in the class, if not the entire school.

"He destroyed me very quickly," Foote said.

Despite the fact that, according to Kayden's mother, Kim, he's been taught to go easy on his opponents, Kayden had Foote check-mated in fewer than 10 moves, preceded by a series of "checks," chasing any remaining pieces around the board.

Kayden served as a visual aid for Honors English students, who have been studying prodigies, specifically chess prodigies. English teacher Joyce Horstmann said she wanted to show her students a different culture of learning, focusing on how adults affect child prodigies.

"They get a chance to examine the personalities, both of the child and the parents, see the cultures these children live in and the teachers they have, as well as the internal and external conflicts they face," she said, adding that adult reaction to child prodigies can likely make or break them.

Gifted and talented children show up in approximately 1 percent of the population, according to Dan Olympia, an educational psychology professor at the University of Utah. He said children and people of all ages can exhibit a range of abilities and skills, and rarely, they excel at one particular skill set.

In the case of the young composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Olympia said "people were amazed to see how easy that particular task seemed to come to him … in such a case, it goes beyond simply being bright."

As far as Kayden's chess abilities, Olympia said visual imagery and memory play a big part and belong to the same set of skills. Genetic components, as well as parental facilitation of any particular fascination, "can encourage a specific intelligence and ability," he said.

Kayden has an uncanny aptitude for deciphering mathematical puzzles. His mother said he learned times tables in one week and outpaced his kindergarten classmates very quickly, landing him in home school. He plays chess six or seven hours a day and has to be told when enough is enough.

"It's so cool what he does," said sophomore Kelsey Coy. "If only I could be that way at something. Anything. It would be cool."

If she could choose one thing, it would be music.

"But seeing him shows you that you can learn anything. If someone can do that, then we can do anything we want to do," she said.

Few students wanted to lose to the 10-year-old; however, formerly rated Spencer Van Leeuwen stepped up to the challenge and said that, throughout the less-than-six-minute match, "I could tell he knew exactly what he was doing. He had something special going for him there."

That something special was noticed by Kayden's family when he set up and correctly played a full game of chess at age 3.

"He sees things differently," said Kayden's mother. "He sees patterns in things that most people don't see."

Figuring out the game of chess has earned Kayden the title of Utah state chess champion, as well as a spot at the U.S. Chess Academy this summer. Some have said he is "the next Bobby Fischer," the late chess prodigy whose life has been showcased in film. Whatever it is, he's on the radar and is exactly what Horstmann's students needed to see, to believe such expertise exists.

E-MAIL: wleonard@desnews.com

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