Web Exclusive: Teen competitive chess player hunting for next national crown

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AUSTIN, Tx. (KXAN) — A competitive chess player from Austin, Texas is competing this week in a national tournament in a bid to take home yet another championship.

Emily Nguyen, 16, has been playing competitively since she was 6, learning the game from her brother and then building her skills, taking on some of the best young players in the world.

“I used to play a lot when I was younger,” she said, “like go to tournaments, weekender tournaments in Houston and Dallas, and I was playing at two or three tournaments a month.”

As other hobbies and schoolwork have become a bigger part of her life, her time spent on the road has decreased, but she still manages three or four big tournaments each year.

The World Chess Federation ranks Nguyen 56th in the world among active female players under 18 years old, 36th in the U.S. among all active female players, and 5th in the U.S. among active girls under 18.

Her first big international win came in 2011 at the North American Youth Championship, where she brought home the trophy in the under-10 girl’s division. She hasn’t stopped winning since then.

The last two years she’s taken home the top prize at the Texas Scholastic Chess Championships for high school players around the state.

“I learn a little bit each tournament, like how I should prepare mentally,” Nguyen told KXAN.

This week, she’s in St. Louis for the U.S. Junior Championships, an invitational tournament featuring 10 of the best players across the country under 20 years old. She hopes to bring home another win when the competition wraps up on July 20.

The players will split more than $10,000 in prize money, with the winner taking home $3,000. The top player will also receive $10,000 in scholarship money to be used at any institution.

Nguyen won the tournament the first time she played it in 2016 and has placed third each of the last two years.

“I’m not really thinking toward the prize,” she said. “I’m just trying to play the best I can.”

That mindset will serve her well as the rising senior prepares to take a break from her chess training to start applying to colleges this fall. Several state schools offer chess scholarships, including the University of Texas at Dallas, UT Rio Grande Valley, and Texas Tech University, but Nguyen says she doesn’t want to pursue the game as a career.

“Chess will always be important to me, and I’m going to try to keep that in my life always,” she said, “but I feel like I don’t really want to go professional.”

For now, she’ll keep playing (and beating) her brother, taking on the top players in the world when she has time.

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