Prodigy, 11, wows chess world

Updated: 2014-08-01 11:52

By Jack Freifelder in New York (China Daily USA)

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 Prodigy, 11, wows chess world

Awonder Liang (right), an 11-year-old National Master chess player from Madison, Wisconsin, gives a simultaneous exhibition match at the Marshall Chess Club in New York on July 8. Provided to China Daily

The biggest things on a preteen's mind normally revolve around family, friends and school. Life for Awonder Liang, an 11-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, is no different. Except that he is the youngest National Master in the 75-year history of the United States Chess Federation (USCF).

Following a March 2013 event in Dayton, Ohio, Awonder achieved his highest honor to date, passing the 2200 rating required for the rank of master.

To commemorate Awonder's busy year in the world of chess, he will be honored with the 2014 Outstanding Player Achievement Award from the USCF on Saturday in Orlando.

"It's kind of an exciting experience," Awonder said about the award in an interview on Thursday with China Daily.

Will Liang, Awonder's father who came to the US from China 30 years ago, wrote in an email to China Daily that the US "is considered one of the strongest countries for chess in the world."

"Given this background, for the USCF to award an 11-year-old chess playing kid from Wisconsin is highly extraordinary to say the least," he wrote. "This is very humbling for Awonder and our family."

The USCF, a not-for-profit US organization for chess enthusiasts and players of all ages and skill levels, was founded in 1939. In its almost eight decades of operation, the USCF's ranks have swelled to more than 80,000 members.

Awonder's relationship with chess started as young boy when his father would take him and his siblings to play and learn the game at a local Madison-area library.

Gregg Drexler, a librarian at the Madison Public Library's Sequoya Branch, said he met Awonder at the library's chess club several years ago.

"One of the more amazing things about Awonder is his concentration because chess is sort of natural for him," Drexler said in an interview with China Daily. "At age 5 he was very focused, alert and attentive to the game, and when you teach a lot of kids that's pretty rare."

Within a few years of learning to play chess, Awonder was already making waves on the international stage.

When he was just days shy of turning 10, Awonder became the youngest American chess master, according to a March 2013 article by the Wisconsin State Journal.

His prowess has helped earn an opportunity to represent the US at the World Youth Chess Championships (WYCC), a spot he has held for four straight years. In September, Awonder will travel to South Africa for the 2014 installment of the event, his fifth year of participation.

In 2011, Awonder won the gold medal in the Under 8 Open Section WYCC in Brazil, and two years later he took gold in the Under 10 Open Section at the WYCC in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"To be able to travel to different countries just because I'm playing chess is a unique feeling," Awonder said. "Normally I don't really spend that much time for tourism when I'm playing, but sometimes we take one day off or something and we get to see things around the city."

In an interview with China Daily, Liang said: "In the 4th or 5th grade Awonder made a lot of friends because of chess and the school was very supportive of him. They've been a very good community but in a few weeks he'll be in middle school. It will be a new environment so he'll need to adjust to that."

Visiting a number of foreign countries while playing chess, including Greece, Brazil, Slovenia and the UAE, has given Awonder "an opportunity to see some different things," Liang said.

But other than that "he's just a regular kid," he said.