Chess whiz makes international mark
Delaware County student medals in world tourney, ranks best among U.S. players his age
Christopher Shen, 8, poses for a portrait Jan. 4 at his home in Powell. Shen is the top-rated U.S. chess talent in his age category, and was selected to play for Team USA for the World Youth Chess Championships, held in November in Slovenia. Buy This Photo
To other chess players, Christopher Shen is a nearly unstoppable opponent.
Christopher is the top-rated player in his age bracket in the United States, and he already has a second-grade national championship title under his belt, as well as a third-place showing at the World Youth Chess Championships in 2012.
But to his friends in Powell, Christopher is just another 8-year-old who likes to play soccer and read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series.
"All the people at my school don't know how to play chess. They think it's boring," Christopher said. "They think all you do is move the pieces around the board. They don't understand that you have to have strategy."
For now, Christopher is working through third grade at Tyler Run Elementary School.
But he has big plans for the future. The young chess master has his sights set on the highest tiers of his game.
Alan Casden, his chess coach, thinks he has what it takes.
"When you put together all his accomplishments, it spells a lot of potential," Casden said. "Chess is a supremely hard game and to master it takes a lifetime of dedication -- but if you're talking about raw talent, Christopher has it."
Christopher's father, Jeff Shen, introduced his son to the game when he was 6 years old. He studied chess books with his dad and practiced online with a virtual chess game.
Less than three years later, Christopher said he doesn't remember the time before he played chess.
"It was probably boring," he said.
Casden, a local chess coach who teaches advanced students, noticed Christopher at his first local tournament in spring 2010. After he started private lessons, his chess skills skyrocketed.
He started traveling around Ohio with his father, playing in tournaments -- and winning. His national rating soared.
By the end of 2011, Christopher took first place in his age group in the United States Chess Federation K-12 National Championship.
That set him up for his biggest challenge yet when he was selected from among 1,600 players to represent the United States in the 2012 World Youth Championships, held in November in Maribor, Slovenia.
He hit the accelerator, traveling around the country with his dad to play in a chess tournament nearly every week in 2012 to boost his rating.
At the world championship tournament, he came away with seven wins, three draws and one loss, netting him third place overall in his age bracket against 140 of the best players from around the world.
He beat the best youth players from Kazakhstan, Romania, Iran, Turkey, England, Hungary, Germany and India.
The effort made him the first Ohioan to medal at the event.
Christopher now stands among the top 2 percent of chess players under 16 in the U.S., and the top 7 percent among all ages.
Jeff Shen said the bronze medal may have been just what his son needed heading into this year's international championship in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
"The bronze medal gives him the motivation he needs to work harder this year and keep getting better," he said.
Christopher said he is working hard and hopes to take first place this year. At practice, he's working on a new set of advanced opening moves that could help get him there.