WEST JORDAN — At age 5, Kayden Troff memorized multiplication tables in about an hour. He recognized a pattern and it helped him succeed.
Now, at 14, he's still recognizing patterns, as well as complex strategies, and it is earning him a top seat at world chess championships around the globe.
Monday, he and his mother returned from Slovenia, where Kayden was crowned the best chess player in the world in his age group, after winning nine of 11 games during a two-week tournament with the most highly skilled players in the world.
He's earned all kinds of titles, trophies and financial awards, but the most exciting part of traveling across the country and world, Kayden said, is his opportunity to talk about his religion.
"In the chess world, there's not a lot of Mormons," he said. "A lot of people are very interested in that, so I sit down and talk about it with them."
Kayden said his competitor friends often joke with him about enjoying a "celebratory drink" of orange juice after each win. For the most part, however, they respect his choices, and he's known in many circles as the favorite or only "Mormon chess player."
"He believes this gift was given to him by God," said his mother, Kim Troff.
She said it isn't cheap to send Kayden all over to play in tournaments, which is his only chance to earn a higher rating. She estimates the family spends about $20,000 to $30,000 each year just for Kayden's endeavors, but they continue to see "incredible miracles" in the lives of others because of his abilities and the desire to reach out.
"It's been a wonderful opportunity for us to share the gospel with people," Kim Troff said. "And for him to do something that he truly just loves."
Kayden wakes up early every morning to practice chess moves. Then he'll complete his school work and go back to playing chess.
He plays about eight hours each day and competes in training games with other high-rated players around the country every week. Tournaments come around about every six weeks, and Kayden has gone as far as Mexico, Greece, Austria and recently Slovenia to play.
The International Master-elect player, with a World Chess Federation rating of 2,365, said he learns a lot about other cultures while visiting various cities for chess tournaments. He's hoping to become a chess Grandmaster, but also play chess for a living. If that doesn't work out, he said, he'll teach it to kids.
Kayden said that while he knows he has a gift, or rather a penchant for memorizing things, he couldn't have achieved so much in the chess world without valuing hard work and commitment.
The fact that Garry Kasparov, considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time, has chosen to sponsor Kayden, and that he is coached by Alexander Chernin, a chess master and former champion of the game who lives in Hungary, doesn't hurt Kayden's abilities, either, but rather enhances them.
"You could spend 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year studying chess and still not know everything there is to know about chess," Kim Troff said. She used to be able to hold her own in a game against her son, but there's no longer anyone locally who can challenge him.
Of Kayden's five siblings, two have pursued chess, but the older brothers stopped at the state champion level. His sisters are experts in piano and clogging, and another brother enjoys acting, theater and improvisation. Kim Troff said she and her husband, Dan, "encouraged them to find their own thing, the thing that they love."
"We always said, 'If you work hard, then you have all possibilities. There's nothing you can't do if you're willing to put the work into it,'" she said. The couple also taught their kids to celebrate every good thing.
"As a family, we work together and we celebrate together and we do both really, really well," Kim Troff said.
To become the top player in the world, Kayden knows he has a lot of work yet to do. He said he's willing to do it. Matches at his level, Kayden said, can last four or five hours, and spending 30 minutes figuring out one move isn't uncommon, but he likes the challenge.17 comments on this story
"A lot of people think (chess) is so long and boring sometimes," he said. "But it is always changing, you never play the same game twice. It offers something new all the time."
He doesn't think he'll ever tire of the game. Ever.
"Kayden continues to amaze me and I live with him and know him pretty well," said his father, Dan Troff. "It's been a fun ride and it just seems to get better as he works harder at what he loves."
Kayden is gearing up for a big prize money tournament in Las Vegas on Dec. 26, but he isn't going for the payout. He said the more experience the better, and he needs it if he's on his way to a 2,400 rating, to become an International Master of chess.