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17-Year-Old Earns Master Title After Four Brain Surgeries
McConnell at the 2019 FIDE Confederation Cup For The Disabled People. Photo: Dora L Martinez/FIDE.

17-Year-Old Earns Master Title After Four Brain Surgeries

AnthonyLevin
| 50 | Chess Players

NM Griffin McConnell earned the national master title on March 19, 2022, at the age of 17, after undergoing four brain surgeries. Despite having seizures since childhood and undergoing several operations—after various medications failed to help—he nevertheless became a chess expert (U.S. national rating: 2000) at age 13, was the best player at the 2019 FIDE Confederation Cup For The Disabled People with a score of 4/4 the following year, and is currently in the top 99.3 percentile for juniors (under 21 years old) in the United States.

After the teenager from Colorado himself defied expectations, he and his family now work to inspire and offer opportunities to other chess players with disabilities.

Griffin McConnell, the star from the Griffin's Gambit documentary. Photo: Chandler Toffa.

One of the major challenges to McConnell's chess development, as Fox News reported recently, was having to "re-learn nearly everything, including how to play chess—something he was adamant about accomplishing." Despite the hardships, his love for chess never receded, and he was able to achieve one of the highest titles offered by the US Chess Federation.

A young Griffin McConnell with his mother.

A year ago, he shared with Chess.com (in the 2021 documentary below) that one of his greatest idols was GM Thomas Luther, who has dysmelia. About the grandmaster with a disability, McConnell said: "For me, I want to be like Thomas Luther," a player who has achieved the highest title in chess and who inspires others with disabilities.

McConnell's achievements have certainly been recognized by the larger chess community. In Chess.com's documentary, he had the opportunity to speak with GM Hikaru Nakamura. When his father informed him, he exclaimed: "That's a lot of pressure on me! I love Hikaru—I'm his biggest fan!"

Nakamura and McConnell chat over Zoom.

His father is organizing the first-ever American Chess Cup For Children With Disabilities, which takes place on June 21-26 this year, to which Chess.com is contributing $25,000. The event results from a partnership between Chess.com and ChessKid.com with ChessAbilities Inc., a non-profit organization. In its first edition, the annual event will be held at Embassy Suites Denver Tech Center North in Denver, Colorado. Open to all children and young adults with disabilities living in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S., this event will be U.S. Chess-rated.

After organizing this first event, Mr. McConnell plans to continue the tournament in 2023 and also offer a chess camp for students with disabilities following the event. 

Griffin's mantra has been, "When it gets hard, I work harder," which is something he has said whenever he has had a difficult tournament result or was stuck at a certain rating. He also suggested for other players with disabilities to be very patient at out-of-state chess tournaments with tournament organizers who may not understand how to accommodate their needs. 

Follow The Journey

You can also get updates on Griffin's life through this Facebook Group.

What do think about Griffin's story and accomplishments? Let us know in the comments below!

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