Jeffery Xiong was 5 years old when he played his first game of chess. His friend was playing a game by himself at a birthday party when Jeffery decided to join him. Ten years later in 2016, he is currently the best under-16 chess player in the world, and the 8th best in the country overall.
“Well, first off, the pieces looked really nice,” the 15-year-old says. “I always just wanted to move them.”
Jeffery made waves in the chess world last year when he became the second youngest U.S. Grandmaster after beating GM Lazaro Bruzon at the 2015 Chicago Open and taking the top spot at the tournament. Now he has his eyes set on his fourth U.S. Junior Closed Chess Championship, happening in St. Louis, Missouri, through July 18.
“We all know Dallas is a powerhouse in football and basketball and hockey … now Dallas has become a powerhouse in chess,” Jeffery’s father Wayne Xiong said. “Maybe the general public doesn’t know, but in the chess circles people know that Dallas has been a really strong hub for chess.”
After his first encounter Jeffery started to get more involved in chess, playing in a school chess camp. “I would manage to beat my peers quite handily, so I knew that there might be something special,” he said. Jeffery says he sees himself as the general of a raging army when he plays, ordering his troops one by one across the board to do battle with the enemy.
“Chess is basically a war game. You have white troops and black troops and it’s a war between them, and he is just directing his troops,” Wayne says. “It’s a strategic battle between the players so that’s why it’s so much fun. For people who don’t know chess they may just see two guys moving pieces, but actually it’s a lot of strategy and tactics and finesse.”
Wayne homeschools Jeffery as they travel from competition to competition, with Jeffery spending six to seven hours a day studying the game. Wayne says the experience has had a positive impact on their relationship. “I’m very grateful for the support my dad has given me since I was 5 years old,” Jeffery says. “He does everything from getting food for me to profiling my opponents, so he really is a huge factor in my chess career so far.”
At the time of writing, father and son are in St. Louis, waiting for the first games of the U.S. Junior Closed Chess Championship to begin. The tournament is open to chess players under the age of 21 and offers the first-place winner the chance to play at the U.S. Chess Championship. Jeffery came in second place last year, but still managed to be invited to the U.S. Chess Championship, where he came in 6th.
“All the players are very strong, so I should actually have my eye on all of them,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to it … most of these guys I know and are my friends so it’s really nice to meet with my friends and do what we love.” One of those friends is Plano resident and International Master (one step below Grandmaster) Ruifeng Li.
“I’ve by far played the most games against [Li] than any other player, and we’ve both helped each other improve a lot by either playing or taking lessons or analyzing our games together,” Jeffery said.
The soft spoken Li, who is the 4th ranked Under-16 player in the U.S., says his family moved to Dallas four years ago so he could further his chess career, which boomed after winning his first tournament at the age of 8. “I get a chance to outsmart my opponent and I can play brilliantly,” Li says. “It’s kind of like creating a masterpiece.”
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Wayne says that Ruifeng and Jeffery are regulars at the Dallas Chess Club, one of the most active chess clubs in the U.S., and train under the same coach, GM Babakuli Annakov, who lives in Frisco.
“It was actually one of the reasons for moving here because the Dallas Chess Club has a lot of grandmasters and international masters and we thought it would help me a lot,” Li says. “That was one of the main reasons. There’s a lot of competition here in Dallas.”
And Wayne agrees, saying that the University of Texas at Dallas’ chess program has also played a large role in strengthening the local chess scene. UTD has already offered a four-year scholarship to Jeffery, and boasts a stacked team of talented players from around the world.
Root for these two local chess champs by watching their competitions live here.