Prodigy, 11, earns top award from chess group

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICAS - By JACK FREIFELDER in New York jack­freifelder@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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 Madis­onarea 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.

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