University View Academy tenth grader Minh Tran is like a long-distance runner, except his mind does the racing. He plays competitive chess, matching wits and countering his opponent’s moves in games that last hours over a series of days or even weeks. And, just like a runner building stamina, Minh must practice. But his workouts are for the brain. He studies the moves and strategies of chess when he’s not competing, and those last two to three hours each day.
The 14-year-old from Lake Charles isn’t a child prodigy when it comes to chess. Minh began playing as a first grader when he joined his school’s Chess Club and admitted he didn’t take it seriously. But by the fourth grade, he saw a marked difference in his play. “I saw my skill improve a lot,” he exclaimed. And then came very competitive tournaments in Houston, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Nashville, to name a few. His biggest win so far was a Class C Championship, where he won his section. This summer, he also represented Louisiana in the 2021 High School Champion Tournament in Madison, Wisconsin, where one player from each state participated. It was an eye-opener for Minh. “I was just like average in that tournament,” he admitted. It showed how far he has to go to reach his goal of becoming a Chess Grandmaster. Grandmaster is a title awarded to chess players by the world chess organization FIDE. Apart from World Champion, Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain.
Grandmaster’s status comes with a rating of 2,500 from a baseline of 101 in the chess world. The rating is determined by how players finish in various tournaments over time. Minh has a current rating of 2,000. There are around 800 million chess players globally, and only about 1500 of them are Grandmasters.
Still, his rating was enough for an invitation for Minh to participate in the Chess U.S. Open, which coincided with the high school championship in Wisconsin. Minh lamented, “It was quite an ordeal.” The Open was two weeks long, with one to two matches a day that lasted four to five hours each. Minh’s mom, Thu Landry, remembers the time investment. “The kids just sat there for hours trying to win,” she said wearily.
Minh is in his third year with UVA and credits the school’s flexibility and individualized curriculum for giving him time to devote to chess. His two younger brothers are also enrolled, and he is teaching them how to play chess. The twins are number one in their age group in Lake Charles. Minh is also taking Dual Enrollment college courses working towards an Associates Degree before graduating from UVA. This semester the courses are chemistry and trigonometry. He says he’ll go on to college and probably study computer science and will continue with chess. “I know college is important, but chess is important to me, as well,” he stated. “I want to be a Grandmaster,” he reiterated.