Time was ticking down in the second round of the 2012 World Youth Chess Championships in Maribor, Slovenia, and 14-year-old chess master Kayden Troff found himself in a dilemma that had even his coaches stumped.
An unexpected move by his opponent had pushed Troff, a West Jordan native, to the brink of defeat. Computers running a live analysis of the match could only produce bizarre moves that would get Troff out of the predicament—and none seemed likely to occur to Kayden in the heat of the moment.
After an early loss in the tournament, Troff faced a steep challenge: he would be forced to win three consecutive matches against the world’s elite for even a chance of claiming a gold medal and fame. And, as if the moment needed any extra pressure, Garry Kasparov, widely considered the greatest chess player of all time, had told Troff that he expected to see him atop the podium.
With everything on the line, Troff summoned his unique brilliance, executing a daring takedown of his opponents’ rook and permanently turning the tide of the match in his favor. From that point, he would breeze through the final match to capture the title of world’s greatest chess player under the age of 14.
"To be in the middle of it is unbelievably stressful," said Kayden’s mother, Kim Troff. "If you’re a football mom, the whole game is not dependent on your child. In chess, it’s all them."
Troff’s dramatic victory at the world championships has helped earn him an invitation to the 2013 U.S. Chess Championship — an honor extended to only 24 of the nation’s top chess prodigies. The tournament, to be held May 3-13 at the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, will be a true test of Troff’s ability.
"If I was gambling person, my odds would probably be 1 in 500," said Troff of his chances of taking home the top prize. "But it’s a great experience, it’s the U.S. championships; it’s something I plan on being part of in the future."
A look at Troff’s training regimen suggests he’s no gambling man: a minimum of five hours of training per day in which he examines each stage of the game, works with his Hungarian coach and squeezes in his regular classwork through homeschooling. He studies chess-strategy books, but says that he is weary of them, as they detail moves that are likely to change as soon as they are published.
As a member of Kasparov’s Talented Children Program, he also receives direct tutelage from the legend himself.
"He is who he is because he has put in 10,000-plus hours," said Kim Troff.
After sweeping the state of Utah’s junior high and high school blitz chess championships last year, he decided to bow out of state play in order to give other kids a chance—his chess rank is some 400 points clear of his nearest competitor. Kim Troff described the Utah tournaments as an opportunity for Kayden to "relax and have fun."
With elite opponents in short supply locally, he seeks out competitors from around the world on the Internet. His skills must be polished if he is going to finish high enough at the U.S. Chess Championship to attain the rank of Grandmaster, which is one of his primary short-term goals.
"I would like to place in the top seven," he said. "I’m kind of the one who says you have to look high and play with confidence because if you don’t, you’re not going to play as well."
With so much on the line, it would be easy to assume a younger player would be intimidated by older competitors, yet Troff is undaunted.
"You feel kind of confident saying, ‘I’m young and they have to watch out for me,’" he said.
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