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Coppell Teen Chess Phenom Earns Grandmaster Title

Bill Zeeble
Mom Jenny Xiong with dad Wayne on either side of 14 1/2 year old Jeffery. He just took the Chicago open, beating two grandmasters on his way to earning the title himself. The Coppell teen's the second youngest grandmaster playing on the planet.

In the world of international chess, there are about 1,400 Grandmasters across some 75 countries. One of the newest, and youngest, lives in Coppell. We caught up with the teenager.

A couple weeks ago, Jeffery Xiong scored a victory at the Chicago Open, a big chess tournament that attracts world-class players. The win propelled to the top rank of grandmaster. At 14 and a half, he’s the second youngest grandmaster today.

It’s OK with him that he’s not the youngest.

“Uh, no, it doesn’t bother me at all,” Jeffery says, dryly adding “I prefer to have made grandmaster when I was born, but of course still I’m happy to have it anyway.”

Jeffery, with parents in the background appreciating his humor, can be serious, too. But he says temptations abound. 

“Sometimes, you want to play outside now, but to get better you have to stay inside and study and work on chess.”   

That’s what Jeffery does, five, six hours a day – because that’s what it takes, and that’s why his mother, Jenny, home schools him.

“Kid is kid,” Jenny says knowingly. “So, I just have to help him, remind himself, you got to go there, you know? And you want to be a grandmaster. So what do you want to do?”

She says Jeffery always makes the right choices. Jim Stallings says the teen made great choices at the Chicago tournament too, where he beat two older, more experienced Grandmasters. Stallings runs one of the nation’s best college chess programs, at UT Dallas, and says for young players like Jeffery, the internet’s been a game changer.

“They can just quickly go through games, versus the Dark Ages when I was growing up,” Stallings says. “We would actually check out books from the library or we would subscribe to magazines.  But today they can go online and there are databases with literally millions of games.”

In Jeffery’s house, winning takes a family. His father Wayne, a corporate banker, watches competitors during matches and offers tips to his son. For example, players who have flown in from overseas might be tired from jet lag.

“I would advise him to play this game into a very complicated position,” Wayne Xiong says. “So that it’s going to take a lot of calculations to figure things out. And expect that the opponent would not have the energy to deal with this kind of very complicated calculation so that Jeffery can out-calculate him and beat him.”

Jeffery learned about fatigue the hard way. Last summer in St. Louis, at the U.S. Junior Chess Championship, he started strong. Then halfway through he got tired, and his play suffered. So he and his dad started jogging, to build stamina. His father says he’s not raising chess player.

“I’m raising him as a winner,” Jeffery’s father says. “To get him to know how to win and to be trained to win.”

Jeffery hopes for another win when he returns to St. Louis next month to compete again in the U.S. Junior.  

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.