Casualties Of Chess

GM KaydenTroff
Jul 7, 2010, 10:27 PM |

I have been thinking a lot about the casualties of chess this week; maybe because I just toured sites from the Revolutionary War period, maybe because one of my chess coaches just announced this weekend that he is quitting chess, and maybe because I felt like death myself at times this week.  Whatever the reason, it has been on my mind.


Nicholas Nip is my age.  He was the youngest chess player to reach national master in the US.  But right after he became a master he quit (or at least it appears he has quit) chess altogether.  I don’t know him and I have never met him, but I was chasing him on the top players list for our age.  Now, I have to admit that I was not completely disappointed when he went off the list and I became number 1 in the nation for 11 year olds, but I do think it is really sad that he quit chess.  I don’t know why he quit.  There are some people who say they think he burned out.  Burned out at 11; that’s pretty sad!  Other people accused him of getting his rating unfairly through match play.  I don’t know about that either.  I certainly wouldn’t like being accused of that.  That is something I am majorly careful about - probably thanks to what happened to Nicholas Nip.


This past week I was at the World Open in Valley Forge, PA.  It is the first time I have been to the World Open.  My coach, GM Melik Khachiyan, was not there with me but I talked to him a lot on the phone (by the way, happy birthday Melik (it was on the 6th)).  My openings coach, IM Sam Shankland, was there though.  I could tell after a couple of days at the tournament that something was wrong with Sam.  He was just not acting like him.  Though his advice before the round to my friend, Scott Treiman, (who is also his student), was still top notch.  He was playing Joshua Mu and Sam’s advice was, “Don’t lose to someone who’s name sounds like a cow (as in “Moo”).”  (Nothing personal Joshua, no one knows how to pronounce my last name either—for all who are wondering it is not pronounced Tr “off” as in turn off the light, it is a long O sound).  Not hard to imagine that Scott won that game with such great advice ;)!


Anyway, back to what I was talking about, Sam dropped out of the tournament early and we didn’t even see him for a couple days. We overheard some people say that he had said that he might be quitting chess.  The last day, he told us that he was quitting.  You can see his “Last Blog” here:  It is hard for me to really understand why he would quit.  I mean, I know he is frustrated about his last GM norm that he feels like he deserves and has never gotten.  I know that sometime the system seems unfair, but he has put so much time and work into it, or as Winston Churchill says in his speech (that I studied in home school) “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” into it, how can he just give it all up?  Yes, there are times when you feel like there is a lot more “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” than “joy, reward, and celebration”, but that is part of anything that really means a lot to you.  My mom has two sayings (well, probably more than that, she likes sayings, but two that I can think of right now): “anything of real value takes work” and “anything that is worth doing is worth doing well”.  I listened to a conversation between Alex Lenderman and Sam Shankland.  Alex was telling him that he had some problems getting his last GM norm too and when he finally got it, he went through a bad time where he dropped 47 (or somewhere around there) FIDE points in a short amount of time.  He said, “It happens to all of us at times.”  It is just part of chess. 


I worked so hard to get my National Master title.  I was the youngest person in Utah to get the title.  Everyone made a big deal about it in Utah.  They did an article in the paper and they sent me a big giant cookie (it was really good) that said, “National Master Kayden Troff”.  Right after that, I had 3 bad tournaments in a row and dropped down to 2167.  Now, I realize that NM is nothing like GM, but for me it was a goal of mine just like Sam.  That is right at the time that I changed to GM Khachiyan and started working with Sam on my openings.  I knew I could get those rating points back, but it would be work.  I worked really hard with my new coaches.  I fixed some holes in my game, and changed some of my openings (still working on that one—talk about blood, sweat, and tears) and now I am back up over 2200 and sitting at 2242.


I think the key to not becoming a casualty of chess (or anything else for that matter) is to make sure that the blood, toil, tears, and sweat is mixed with a good amount of fun (just don’t drink it).  Fun sometimes gets forgotten in hard work, but is just as important!  How do you keep the fun?  That is probably different for everyone.  For all you parents out there who have kids playing chess, this is especially important to remember for your kids--chess needs to be fun!!  My parents have always made sure that chess is staying fun for me (we are heading out tonight to get some fireworks because I missed the 4th of July for the tournament).  It's important to remember why you (or they) are doing it.  Having goals like becoming a GM or Super GM or World Champion (have I gone too far yet…naaahhhhh!) is important.  Goals give you something to work for, but they can’t be the only thing that matters.  You have to do it because you love it.  I play chess because I love chess and if someday I become a World Champion and make lots of money……BONUS!!!


At the World Open, I was having problems with my stomach the whole tournament.  I am not sure what was wrong.  I didn’t seem to be contagious (no one else in the room got it), but I was having bad stomach pains every time I ate.  My mom said maybe it had something to do with the amount of jalapeños I have eaten in the past (don’t ask, you don’t want to know, but I REALLY like them).  She put me on a no spice diet!  That is torture!  All I know is that I felt rotten!!!  My mom kept me filled with Tylenol and Mylanta the whole tournament and I found that not eating was much better so I didn’t eat as much as I could get away with (eating is so overrated).  This is not necessarily a good idea though when you need a lot of brain power. My mom kept telling me that I didn’t have to keep playing, but I did anyway. I learned a lot about myself through that.  There was one point in the game against Joshua Colas that I just wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor, but I kept playing and I won the game.  Maybe now when I am playing in the middle of the night (my time) in Greece, I will be prepared!!


My dad asked me afterwards if I knew in advance that I was going to be sick for the entire World Open and drop a couple of rating points if I would have went anyway?  I told him, “YES!”  I had a blast being with my friends from the east coast that I never get to see and learned a lot about myself.  That was definitely worth a couple of rating points.  Besides, 5 out of 9 in the Under 2400 section at the World Open is not too bad for my first try there even if I had been feeling perfect.