CHANDLER, Ariz. - (AZCENTRAL) When Kevin Chor left for the World Youth Chess Championships in Maribor, Slovenia, this month, he was an unknown quantity in the game.
By the time the Chandler second-grader returned from the 13-day tournament, he was the top-ranked player in the world for his age.
Chor placed 11th in a field of 136 in the 8-and-under age group at the tournament, which plays a major role in the rankings. All of the players rated ahead of Kevin are already 8, making Chor the top-rated player at age 7. He started the tournament ranked 57th.
"It was a great learning experience for Kevin to be able to compete at the world championships," said Michael Chor, Kevin's father. "Those were some of the best players in the world. And the Slovenian people were really nice to us, very welcoming."
Kevin has been playing chess for less than two years, and his success in the game has come as a surprise to everyone, particularly his father and mother, Amy Ni. The World Youth tournament was Kevin's first at such a high level, and it turned out to be eye-opening.
He had to navigate a field of tough opponents while dealing with differing levels of gamesmanship - one opponent tried to distract him with tactics, such as mimicking his every movement during a match - and a perceived lack of attention from U.S. Chess Federation coaches on hand for the tournament.
Michael Chor said the federation coaches seemed to pay more attention to the players they worked with on a regular basis. Neither Kevin's first coach, Joel Banawa, nor his current coach, Pedram Atoufi, of the Unity Chess Club in Scottsdale, was in attendance.
"Out of the 11 rounds, he only got prepped by the U.S. coaches for five rounds," Michael Chor said.
The Chors leaned on their Christian faith, Kevin's abilities and a friendship he made at the airport in Munich to help him through. At the airport on the way to the tournament, Chor met John Ludwig, a 12-year-old player from Florida, who helped Kevin prepare during the tournament.
The two boys formed such a bond that the Chors have been invited to stay with Ludwig's family during the upcoming National K-12 Chess Tournament for school-age children in Orlando this week.
After that tournament, the Chors do not have major travel plans for a while. Not only is it expensive - "I wish there were chess scholarships," Michael Chor joked - but his parents want Kevin to lead a balanced life.
He plays soccer and basketball in former ASU standout Rodger Farrington's Reach Youth Basketball programs and enjoys video games and other activities. He is part of the Chandler Academically Talented Students program at Knox Elementary School.
But his family is grateful for the world-tournament experience.
"I'm very, very proud of the way Kevin represented our country, Arizona and the city of Chandler," Michael Chor said.