Utah boy is chess national master

Kayden Troff is a North American Youth Champion.
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West Jordan » The next Bobby Fischer is living on a quiet street in West Jordan, says Damian Nash, a U.S. Chess Federation senior tournament director.

Utah's own chess phenom is Kayden Troff, and in many ways, he's a normal 11-year-old boy. He loves to swim, go sledding and play video games.

He's also the No. 1 rated chess player in the world among players born in 1998, according to the World Chess Federation, a gold medal winner at the 2009 North American Youth Championship and a member of the 2010 All-America Team.

Kayden's latest accomplishment is his biggest yet. In November, the West Jordan boy achieved the rank of national master, a lifelong title. He's one of two National Masters living in Utah, and one of about 1,500 in the U.S., Nash said.

"Just to give you an idea, Bobby Fischer didn't make National Master until he was 13," said Kim Troff, Kayden's mother. "It never ceases to amaze me. In Germany, they're talking about him, and in Australia, they're talking about him. It's just absolutely amazing. They're talking about him as the next U.S. superstar."

Kayden's story brings to mind that of Josh Waitzkin, a chess prodigy and the subject of the movie, "Searching for Bobby Fischer."

Just like Waitzkin, Kayden, who is home-schooled, began playing chess after watching others play. As a toddler, Kayden sat silently on his father's lap watching him play with Jeremy and Zachary, Kayden's older brothers, who are also accomplished chess players.

"When he had just barely turned 3 years old, he announced to Dad [Dan Troff] he was ready to play," wrote Kim Troff on Kayden's Web site, Kaydentroff.blogspot.com. "Dad thought that he would be a good sport and humor 'the baby.' So, he set up the board and had Kayden give it a try. The whole family was amazed that Kayden knew how all the pieces moved and he knew how to attack with them without ever being taught."

An almost identical scene plays out between Waitzkin and his father in "Searching for Bobby Fischer."

"Here's the deal," Nash said. "Kayden is a better player at 11 than Josh was at 14."

Nash calls Kayden "Utah's Mozart of chess." Nash, one of the strongest players in the state, says he couldn't beat Kayden on a good day. The sixth-grader, Nash said, is the best player in the state and has remarkable potential.

Nash said if Kayden can become a grandmaster by age 13, he'll be on track to be a world champion. If he reaches that lofty rank by age 15 or 16, he'll have the potential to be the U.S. champion.

"It makes me wonder if he has alien DNA or something," Nash said. "He really seems like a superhuman in what his brain is capable of. ... He's seen as one of the great hopes for the future."

When asked to put into words what he likes about chess, Kayden responded simply: "It's fun."

His favorite part about chess, he said with a wicked smile, is "the winning."

Kayden, the fifth of sixth children, practices about eight hours a day and takes lessons two or three times a week from a grandmaster in Serbia, using Skype. He plays against the world's top players via the Internet Chess Club.

Kayden, the son of a banker and stay-at-home mom, hopes to become a grandmaster by "no later than 15," Kim Troff said. She said the family is looking for sponsors to help pay for travel costs and lessons.

"In a lot of ways, he is very normal," she said. "He teases his sister; he hangs out with his friends. And in a lot of ways, he's very not normal. How many 11-year-olds do you know that sit for six hours at a chess game and enjoy it and want to be there?"

This year, Kayden will participate in tournaments in Brazil and Greece. He travels to tournaments outside Utah about once a month. It's the only way to play against top competition and keep his ranking on the rise.

Utah, Nash said, isn't known for chess, which makes Kayden's accomplishments all the more astounding. Chess prodigies typically come from places like New York, California, Texas, Arizona and spots with strong chess scenes, he said.

"My secret hope is he'll put his mind toward curing cancer," Nash said.