West Jordan 10-year-old named speed chess champ
At first glance, 10-year-old chess phenom Kayden Troff seems like a typical little boy. If he sat across from you at a chess board, you might think to yourself, "I'll go easy on the kid."
The truth about the West Jordan child: He is one of the elite elementary-school chess players in the country.
He trounces practically everyone he plays -- adults included.
Earlier this month, Kayden won the Utah Speed Chess Championship, an event that drew many of the top Utah chess players in the state. Of all ages. In speed or "blitz" chess, each player has five minutes to complete the game.
If their time runs out, they lose.
How did it feel to become the youngest player -- by far -- to ever win the event?
"Awesome," Kayden said, his face breaking into a huge smile.
Although Kayden is a normal child in many ways -- he loves Nintendo and playing with his brothers -- he is also driven to succeed. He practices chess six to seven hours a day, studying problems and competing online against players from across the world. He intends to become a grandmaster someday.
"I've watched him play for years and years now," said Kim Troff, Kayden's mother who homeschools him. "The truth is, I don't think it ever stops amazing me.
"You walk into a room filled with adults that you know are good chess players ... and here's this little boy, and they totally accept him, and they totally expect him to be here."
Born in 1998, he won the Utah State Elementary Championship at 7, and at 8, he was named to the United States Chess Federation's 2008 All-America Chess Team.
Kayden's mother knew he was good. But this good?
"I don't know that we thought he could win the whole thing," Kim said, "because there [are] some really good players there."
When asked why he's so passionate about chess, Kayden answers simply, "I like mind games. It's fun to figure out puzzles."
Too small to see the board from a sitting position, Kayden -- he learned to play at 3 from watching his dad and brothers play -- kneels when he plays.
At first, Kayden simply wanted to watch their games. After a while, he decided to give the game a try.
"We set up a board and figured he'd just randomly move pieces," Kim remembers.
To the family's surprise, Kayden knew how the pieces moved, and -- Kim adds -- "he attacked with them."
"From that point on, it was just kind of something he loved," Kim said.
When Kayden first started competing, watching him could be a little frustrating for Kim. At times, he didn't seem to be paying attention to the board.
"It almost looks like he's wandering," Kim explained. "He's looking around, and his eyes are looking at different things."
But then Kim figured out what was happening in her son's head.
"If you watch his eyes, his eyes are moving constantly, and you can see him moving the pieces in his head," Kim said. "The grandmasters believe, until you can play an entire game in your head, you can't be a grandmaster. That's something he's been working on."
Not only is chess fun for Kayden, it also affords him spending money.
Kayden teaches chess to individuals, and he and his two older brothers host week-long chess camps during the summer and at other times during the year. Some 40 kids show up to learn from Kayden and his brothers for $150.
"We make it fun," Kayden said.
Still, Kayden doesn't make enough money to travel to tournaments throughout the nation and is searching for sponsors.
Kayden's brothers, Jeremy, 16, and Zachary, 13, are also two of the top young players in the state. While Kayden has thrown his whole self into the game, his brothers view chess more as a hobby.
"They both teach; they both run the camp; they both do very well," Kim said of her oldest sons. "But for [Kayden], it's more than just being good at chess. It's about fulfilling dreams and goals."