Kayden Troff’s ascension to youth chess stardom started humbly on his dad’s lap at the age of two. His father, who grew up in rural Minnesota, loved chess but never had many people to play with. As a result, he vowed to teach his sons to play chess so he’d never have to forgo a game.
A year later, at the age of three, Troff was able to play on his own. Since then, he hasn’t stopped progressing.
“One day I said, ‘OK, I’m ready. I’m ready to play, and I did,’” Troff says. “I think from that moment my parents knew—more than just I knew how to play—but that [chess] was probably something I’d also be interested in.”
It may have started as a hobby, but Troff’s mother says he had potential, and people noticed.
“My husband decided to take [Kayden] to the only grandmaster that lived in Utah,” Kim Troff says. “He was really the first one to say, ‘This kid has something, more so than just an ability to play chess.’”
Now at 18, Troff is preparing for the United States Junior Closed Championship, a yearly event that’s described as the “the nation’s pinnacle tournament for American chess players under the age of 21.”
Come early July, Troff will be competing against 10 other top youth chess players from around the country. The West Jordan resident won the tournament two years ago, and despite being the second-highest rated player this go-around, he still feels good about his chances.
“The kid that’s rated first, I definitely have a lot of respect for him; he’s a great player,” Troff says. “But I won this tournament two years ago, and he was playing there. He’s definitely gotten higher rated since then and he’s doing very well lately. I’m just got to try and do my thing.”
Troff is part of the Young-Stars Team USA program and trains year-round with a coach the program flies in from Hungary. Like any other sport, art or hobby, Troff says, chess requires practice and coaching.
“My current coach has tons and tons of books of chess positions. They have different games from former world champions, different top players in the world, and some who maybe were still pretty good but not a top player,” he says. “He’ll generally give me a position and he’ll tell me to find the best move. I’ll think about it, and if I’m right, he’ll talk to me about it—if I’m wrong, then he’ll show me the right move.”
Traveling the world for chess tournaments and being the state's only grandmaster chess player (the highest title a chess player can be given from the World Chess Federation), has rendered Troff’s teenage years, to say the least, unordinary. But aside from the competitions and the title, chess has been a way for Troff to see other cultures and people, he says. It’s an experience that has been wholly invaluable.
“I’ve never really known much else. I mean, I started very young and it has always been my life,” the champ says. “It’s been huge. I think one of the biggest things I’ve gotten from chess that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, is getting to travel. To go out of the country and seeing different cultures, and even trying to get food when no one understands what you are saying is just kind of fun and a great experience.”