Becoming a chess grandmaster is high on Kayden Troff's priority list, and following a state championship win on Saturday, he's well on his way, according to his mother.
"It encompasses his goals, his dreams, his passions, any word you want to use for it," said Kim Troff, mother of the 10-year-old champion. "He just loves chess."
Kayden began playing chess at age 3 after he learned the skills of the game by observing his father and two older brothers. All four play in championships across the state, as well as teach younger players, but it wasn't until the young chess prodigy from West Jordan began winning that his parents believed "there's something going on here," Kim Troff said. "He doesn't ever stop amazing me."
Last weekend, Kayden — the youngest participant in the 2009 Utah Game/60 Chess Championship — was four-for-four, and was up against the oldest participant, 73-year-old Hans Morrow. All moves are required to be played in one hour, which is typically more difficult for younger players "who can't manage that long of an attention span," said Damien Nash, an expert-level chess player and tournament director. Kayden, however, won the battle.
Earlier this year, Kayden won the Utah Blitz championship, deemed easier for kids due to the five-minute time limit for each game.
"Young people have an advantage over older people because they can think a lot quicker," Nash said, adding that Kayden was characteristically restless during Saturday's game, wandering around checking out other games while his was ongoing.
When the April ratings come in, Nash expects Kayden to be ranked No. 1 in the nation in the rapid chess category for kids under 13.
"He's the Mozart of chess," he said, adding that Kayden is playing at a level comparable to chess legend Bobby Fischer when he was 10. "He's brilliant in the game of chess."
The United States hasn't won a world-class championship in chess since Fischer's victory in 1972. Nash said it's not a popular sport in this country; however, around the world, he said, it is the second-most popular competitive sport behind soccer. Chess players outside America "are paying attention to Kayden."
Kayden is currently rated at 2125 in his quick game, higher than any active tournament player in the state of Utah. He is rated at 1933 for his long game. To be a grandmaster, he said he has to reach 2500 and "win a lot more games."
He practices six or seven hours each day, playing in online tournaments and with his brothers, and he said he never grows tired of it.
"I really like puzzles, and chess is just a puzzle that keeps on changing," Kayden said. "You have to think hard, sometimes it's really hard." He said he enjoys playing people his own age, but "sometimes it's funner to beat up on the adults."
The $120 prize money won Saturday will go toward "chess stuff" to help him develop his strategies or Nintendo video games, he said.
"Some people focus on attacking, and some people just defend, but if you want to become really good, you have to be good at both attack and defend," Kayden said. "I play the opening, then try to get into better position. If they make mistakes, it sometimes gives me better material to work with. Everybody will make little positional mistakes, and I have to take advantage of those."
The youngest-ever grandmaster in the United States was slightly older than 12 years old. Kayden said he needs a couple of more years — and "a lot of hard work" — to get there.
He is headed to the U.S. Chess School, which is invitation-only, this summer and is looking forward to playing a group of grandmasters in Reno next month.
"The kid seems unstoppable," Nash said, adding that Kayden is "close to being crowned Utah's Chess Champion" at the Utah Open in September. "There's no touching him. Soon, he will have to travel to find competition."
The beauty of the game, Nash said, is the fact that chess is based purely on skill. It is the oldest historical game, next to backgammon, and has been played by some of the world's greatest advisers.
"For those of us who have the chess bug, we know there's no other game like it," he said.