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Checkmate! Teen Chess Stars Make Their Move


Switching gears now, we are going to head to St. Louis where an important competition is underway. It is the 2013 U.S. and Women's Chess Championships. Now, we've covered the event before, but this year, we decided to ask two of the youngest competitors to join us. Kayden Troff is the current Under 14 World Youth Chess Champion and, at age 15, Sarah Chiang is the youngest woman competing in the women's chess championships.

Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

KAYDEN TROFF: Thank you for having us.

SARAH CHIANG: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, Kayden, you are not new to competition, but you are one of the youngest competitors ever at this competition, as I understand it. How does it feel? Does it feel nerve-wracking, exciting?

TROFF: It feels very exciting. For me, it's like, OK. I'm not expected to win and they're just going to have to be scared of this little kid because, if they lose, it's just - it's not going to be good for them, but if I lose, it's like, OK. Whatever.

MARTIN: Sarah, what is it about chess that attracts you to it?

CHIANG: I just love competing against other people and trying to outsmart them, so chess is a great way to do this.

MARTIN: Do you try to psyche out your competitors? I mean, do you, like, stare at each other, you know, like boxers do? Stare each other down, try to instill fear or what do you do?

CHIANG: I'm, like, really uncomfortable trying to make other people uncomfortable, so - yeah - I try not to, like, look at them weird or kick them under the table or something like that.

MARTIN: People do that? People kick each other?

CHIANG: Yeah. I've heard stories of that before, though no one's ever tried to kick me under the table, but some people do.

MARTIN: Oh, my goodness. Kayden, what about you? Do you try to psyche out your competition in any way?

TROFF: Yeah. I mean, I kind of do. I think I fail most of the time. Most of the players know I'm a pretty nice kid. Well, at least I hope they think that about me, but there's some staring going down in the chess tournament. You have players that will literally try and scare their chess player right off the board just by looking at them. I've received some of that look and, you know, some players will try and look confident. I have some players that smile at me and that's kind of creepy, but - yeah - it happens and it's interesting to just - from a spectator's point, to watch other players do this to their opponents.

MARTIN: How would you describe your style of play, Sarah?

CHIANG: I think most people would consider me to be more of a positional player. I also do, like, tactics, but I think my feel for chess is more positional.

MARTIN: Kayden, what about you? How would you describe your style of play?

TROFF: There's a huge difference between me and, like, these top, top players. They understand it so well, so I feel like I have a good tactical understanding, still need to improve that and I have a decent positional understanding and still need to improve that and, I mean, that's what is so great about chess. There's so much you can do to try and improve.

MARTIN: You're not being, like, fake humble, are you to try to throw me off, are you?

TROFF: I don't know. I guess...

MARTIN: Not really?

TROFF: Some people consider - some people say I'm humble, but...

MARTIN: Thanks for fessing up.

TROFF: ...I think I'm an amazing person, so I don't think I'm that humble.

MARTIN: OK. Well, bring it on. I understand that both of you were in Washington, D.C. last month to support a resolution naming St. Louis the Chess Capital of the U.S. and that both of you gave chess lessons to some members of Congress and their staffs. Do I have that right?

TROFF: Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah. Did they - were they good students?

TROFF: They didn't outlaw any of my moves, so that worked out pretty well.

MARTIN: That was good. That worked out pretty well? Sarah, what about you? Were they good students?

CHIANG: Yeah. Basically, they just kept on asking me what the best move was, so I ended up playing both sides of the board, pretty much.

MARTIN: Oh, well, I can understand that. It would have been kind of embarrassing to be, you know, a member of Congress. You never know. That could have had implications down the road. You never know.

So what is next for each of you? I mean, what is each of you - what are you hoping for? Sarah, do you want to start?

CHIANG: I'm striving to become a GM, but as for what I want to do...

MARTIN: A GM is a grand master.

CHIANG: Yeah. Which is a grand master. And I'm striving to become that, but I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do later on in life, if I'm going to pursue chess for the rest of my life or if I'm going to do something else. That's still in question for me.

MARTIN: Kayden, what about you? What are you hoping for?

TROFF: Also, I would like to be a GM. I want to be, hopefully, one of the top in the world one day, but I think, for me, I pretty clearly want to seek out chess as my career. At some point in my life, I want to help other kids really seek out their passion in chess. I definitely admire people that are doing that and you see that a lot from the St. Louis Chess Club.

MARTIN: Do you ever feel like you wish more people understood what it is that you do and just how good you are at it?

TROFF: I've had some people ask, like, what do your friends think that they're playing in the U.S. championship? I'm like, they think it's cool. They understand U.S. and they understand championship, but they don't understand chess. They don't understand these top players here, people I've watched for years and it's so fascinating to me to be at this event and watch these players, but for them, they don't understand it.

Now, for me, I don't understand basketball nearly as well as probably the average teenager, so I guess, from what I've seen, I have some friends that are really into sports, so they definitely understand that, but - yeah - they don't understand very much chess and I think there's this huge pursuit between all the chess players to actively seek out publicizing chess.

MARTIN: You think it would be fun if there were things like - I don't know. What would make it better? What would make it more fun? You think cheerleaders? I don't know.

TROFF: There's been some talk about - we need to get some cheerleaders in chess. I think, for me, it's hopefully regular people that don't really know and understand chess can go to my blog or someone else's blog, read it and say, oh, that's interesting. There's this whole chess world. I didn't know that.

MARTIN: Kayden Troff is the current Under 14 World Youth Chess Champion. He earned the International Master title. Also with us, Sarah Chiang. She is currently the highest ranked female in the country aged 16 and younger. She's the youngest woman participating in the Women's Chess Championships.

Best of luck to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

CHIANG: Thank you.

TROFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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