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North Texas Grandmaster, Just A Teen, Plays To Be U.S. Junior Chess Champ

Bill Zeeble
Jeffery the 14 year-old chess grandmaster with his mother and father at home in Coppell

We’ll catch back up with Jeffery Xiong. He’s one of the world’s newest and youngest chess grandmasters playing. And today he makes his play to be the U.S. Junior chess champion.

When Jeffery was just 13 last summer, he scared competitors at the Junior championship in St. Louis with a shockingly good start. He led halfway through the 10-day contest, then faced tougher players, got tired, and faltered by the end. So he turned to physical training to better his brain game.

“So starting from that tournament, my dad and I would be exercising daily; ping pong, basketball, and sometimes soccer. Every morning we would do four laps around the neighborhood,” says the teen.  

Jeffery says the routine paid off this spring in Chicago, where he took the prestigious Chicago Open, soundly beating older grandmasters. In the process, he earned the top grandmaster title himself.

“It meant a lot for me especially because I’m still quite young. So it meant something for history and also it was a breakthrough for me,” Jeffery says.

“It’s extremely rare,” explains North Texas chess expert Jim Stallings, of Jeffery’s grandmaster status. “Particularly at this level and at this age. There are just a handful of people who fall into that category in the world.”

Stallings runs one of the nation’s top ranked college chess programs at the University of Texas at Dallas. The school has already offered Jeffery a full scholarship, even though he’s years away from college. Stallings says young players like Jeffery are benefiting from online contests and digital archives that put decades of chess history instantly at their fingertips.

“So there’s this tremendous collaboration between the silicone monsters and the humans.”

Jeffery emphasizes the human part when he describes the game as beautiful, challenging and fun even when he loses, because he learns from mistakes. He finds little in common with today’s talented, easy-going competitors and an over-the-top past champion like Bobby Fischer.    

“Bobby Fischer was probably one of the weirdest guys in the history of chess,” Jeffery says. “But right now in this generation there aren’t many that are like that anymore.”

Jeffery is home-schooled, where he spends up to six hours a day on the game. His father Wayne says it’s good training for whatever his son wants to try.

“I have seen so many times people fail and they could never get up,” Wayne Xiong says. “But chess has given him so much great opportunity that you have a loss, then you reset the game and then you get a new start.”

Jeffery’s new start begins today in St. Louis, at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, host of the Junior Chess Championship. Jeffery’s ranked No. 1.

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