Chess mates: West Jordan prodigy finds support from family

Published: Sunday, July 8 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Kayden Troff, a 14-year-old national chess champion, poses in his West Jordan home.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — Kayden Troff, 14, enjoys reading, sports and outdoor activities. He plays video games and enjoys being with his friends and attending church dances.

And then there's chess, which he practices six to seven hours daily. That commitment has something to do with Troff being a prodigy who has achieved the rank of FIDE Master and is being coached by perhaps the world's best chess player.

Troff played his first game of chess when he was 3. He learned by watching as his father taught and played his two older brothers, Jeremy and Zachary.

"The whole family was amazed that Kayden knew how all of the pieces moved and he knew how to attack with them without ever being taught," his mother, Kim, wrote in a blog post. "From that moment on, Kayden was a regular player in the Troff household."

As his sons' skill and love for the game grew, Dan Troff started taking them to local tournaments and a chess club at the local library. At first, he entered tournaments alongside his young sons, but stopped competing because his sons' performances were more important to him.

Now, he plays purely for fun and helps Troff hone his chess skills where he can.

Jeremy Troff became a junior high and high school state chess champion but also ran cross country. Zachary Troff is a 10th-grade chess champion who is also involved in theater.

"We kind of went different ways but we all still play chess," their younger brother said. "I'm probably the most serious about it."

Kayden Troff is the second youngest of six children. His two older sisters, Shayla and Alyssa, are married and have children. Jeremy is in Finland serving an LDS mission and Zachary just finished 10th grade. His younger sister, Brynndi, will be in second grade in the fall.

Although family members are relatively spread out in age and life experiences, they're a tight-knit group. Every morning, Troff plays basketball or goes out running with his father. Zachary is also teaching him to play the banjo ukulele and they enjoy playing together.

"We're all very supportive of each other in our different things," Troff said. "It's been fun."

From a young age, Troff has consistently wowed the chess world. He was invited to be part of the All-America Chess Team in 2008. In 2009, he made local headlines when he became the youngest player ever to win the Utah Speed Chess competition. In 2010, he was again part of the All-America Chess Team and was named the Utah Chess Player of the Year at 11 years old. Later that year, he took second in the Under-12 Division of the World Youth Chess Championships held in Greece, and the list goes on.

His most recent accomplishments include achieving the chess rank of FIDE Master and attending the first session of the prestigious "Young Stars — Team USA" program with Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion considered by most chess fans to be the best player ever. Troff met him for the first time in New York after the 2010 World Youth Championship, when he was invited to Kasparov's Master Chess Camp in Manhattan.

"It was great," Troff said. "It was just like a basketball player meeting Michael Jordan — that's the comparison we use."

"Young Stars" is a five-year program sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Biannual coaching sessions are held in St. Louis and New York City. There are seven participants total, ages 9 to 15.

Kim and Dan Troff found out their son had been accepted into the program last winter and saved the news as an extra-special Christmas present.

"I think that's one of the first times I've actually seen him tear up," Kim Troff said.

The program promises to be a valuable opportunity for the young prodigies it has identified.

"My dream has always been to become the best I can," Troff said. "Kasparov told us in St. Louis, 'If you put in the work, we'll put in the work.' He said he planned to get us over 2,700, which is super-GM (grandmaster). He said I could get to GM by 16."

Troff's next steps will be to fill the qualifications for international master, one step above his current rank, before he moves on to grandmaster. While not officially recognized by the Federation Internationale des Echecs (World Chess Federation), "super-GM" is chess lingo for players who are rated above 2,700 points. Only 85 players in the world have ever broken 2,700. Kasparov is one of six who are ranked above 2,800.

But no matter how far Troff ascends in the chess world — and the spotlight — his family says he remains genuine. He tends to be quiet around people he doesn't know, but his friends and family see him as a tease who loves to joke around. He's curious, cares about others and doesn't hold grudges, Kim Troff said.

"Kayden doesn't really enjoy being in the spotlight. He's never been one of those kids who are like, 'Look at me, look what I can do,'" she said. "He understands he has a responsibility to let people know what he's doing because he's kind of an ambassador for chess, but he's not crazy about it. We're pretty protective of him. We try really hard to balance between helping him fulfill his dream, promoting chess and not giving him too much."

Managing the media is not the only thing the Troffs have to balance. Kayden Troff has to work to balance his hours spent practicing chess with activities and responsibilities at school, in the LDS Church and with his family. Until recently, Troff also had a number of personal students who he taught to help pay for his chess-related travel expenses. Although Troff loved teaching, Kasparov required him to stop as part of the Young Stars program so he could focus on his own chess development.

"It takes a lot of organizing," he said with a wry smile.

Zachary Troff said one thing he thought was great about his brother was "he doesn't think he's all that."

"He's my little bro. I love him."

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