St. Louis

SoCal Student Heads to Nation's Top Junior Chess Tournament

Michael Brown, 18, has traveled to Turkey, Slovenia, Brazil and elsewhere around the world to compete in chess.

Michael Brown's dad was a tough chess player growing up.

At age 6, Brown's dad could beat him while watching TV.

But within a year, something started to change.

"You have this genius son who's not even watching the chess board, playing his dad who's putting all his energy and thought into his next move," Bill Brown said. "There's just no point."

Brown, 18, is the only Californian who has qualified for the U.S. Junior Closed Championship, the top chess tournament in the country for players under 21. Next month he'll head to St. Louis, the U.S. chess capital, to compete against nine others from across the country for the chance at $6,000 and to follow in the footsteps of chess greats like Bobby Fischer, who won the junior championship in 1956.

"I'm sure that every one of my games is going to be a tough battle," Brown said. "I'm just excited to play some of these guys."

Brown will be a first-time contestant in the tournament. His competitors include 18-year-old Kayden Troff from Utah, who won in 2014, and 16-year-old Akshat Chandra from New Jersey, who won last year.


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"In America, we look at this as the next generation of chess," said Joy Bray, the general manager for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. "It keeps becoming the strongest and strongest tournament ever."

Brown is one of three children and both his parents are electrical engineers. Brown has come a long way from his youth when his dad drove him to lessons and accompanied him on flights when he traveled for tournaments.

His dad recalls one of his early successes in third grade, when he won first place in a local tournament and got a trophy practically double his height.

"It was really the first time I noticed how much talent he had," Bill Brown said.

As a teenager, Brown played with the U.S. chess team. He's been to Brazil, Turkey, Slovenia and other countries to compete, traveling so often his parents sometimes made family vacations out of the trips.

Most recently, he ventured to Illinois to compete in the Chicago Open, where he played one of his most memorable games. He and a player ranked in the tournament's top seed got into a "crazy position" on the board, Brown said. His opponent offered a draw. Brown declined.

"No one expected anything out of me, but I actually managed to win the game," Brown said. "A draw is usually a good result against that high of a player."

Brown's opponent in that game held the rank of Grandmaster, the highest title given by the World Chess Federation. Brown has applied for International Master, the second-highest rank.

Brown, who is a sophomore at Brigham Young University in Utah, tries to fit in up to 10 hours a week on chess while keeping up his studies.

He said he plans to keep playing chess for the rest of his life, although he doesn't think he'll make a career out of it. Next, he wants to work on his Grandmaster title. But for now, he's focusing on the task at hand.

In St. Louis next month, he will clear his mind, shut his mouth and practice patience for hours as he sits and contemplates his and his competitors' next moves. He'll calculate when to attack, when to defend, when to take or leave the draw -- in concentrated silence.

"Patience is probably one of the things that defines me," Brown said. "I have to sit at the board sometimes and just wait for the other guy to make a mistake."

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