Sophomore chess player preps for elite competition


Courtesy of Mike Steger

Arthur Xu competes on the first board against Glenbrook North High School at Hinsdale Central High School on Oct. 15.

Nathan Yuan, Editor-in-Chief

Sophomore Arthur Xu is one of the best chess players for his age. He’s currently the 18th highest ranked 15-year-old in the U.S. and the highest ranked  15-year-old in Illinois.

Xu is also a FIDE Master, the third highest title awarded by the international chess governing body FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs).

“It’s somewhat prestigious,” Xu said. “There aren’t too many people who have it.” 

Xu has been playing chess since he was three and has played for around 11 years. Xu has now been competing in chess for around nine years, he said.

“I remember being on my mom’s computer clicking around when I was four, clicking on chess,” Xu said. “I was instantly intrigued and so my mom started taking me to lessons and those were always very exciting. I was always the youngest one there because I was four or five. It was very interesting to see how this little guy was playing and that kind of motivated me.”

Xu started taking serious chess lessons and playing competitively at six years old.

“I went to tournaments once every month,” Xu said. “[It] went okay, but I think what kind of helped me was two of my best friends also started playing with me, and that kind of motivated me. Obviously, I can’t lose to them, right? So I started practicing. We started practicing really hard and I tried to improve my capabilities.”

Xu’s first big achievement was when he first qualified for the World Youth Chess Championship.

“At seven or eight years old, I achieved the rating of 1600, and that qualified me for the World Youth Chess Championship,” Xu said. “I went when I was eight years old. It was in Greece. [It was my] first international event and I met a lot of new friends at the World Youth Championship from Greece, Spain, Brazil, and that kind of kept me going. It was very exciting, and I wanted to do it again.”

One of Xu’s biggest achievements was placing second in his age group at the 2017 World Cadet Chess Championship in Brazil.

“Out of all the kids from all around the world, it is a very exciting 11-day tournament [with] 11 rounds,” Xu said. “[I] scored really well. And last summer I also went to the North American Youth Chess Championship. [I competed with] kids under 14 from the North American continent and I scored a gold medal.”

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced challenges and slowed his progress.

“I wasn’t really able to play chess the same because it’s online because of cheaters, technical difficulties,” Xu said. “[But] after the pandemic ended, I still continued to play chess. This summer. I attended the U.S. Junior Open and I tied for first and qualified for the 2023 U.S. Junior Championship. It’s a very prestigious tournament [for] the top ten kids in the nation under 20, so [I’m] honored to be there.”

Xu has had his fair share of losses too, he said.

“In fourth or fifth grade, it was a national tournament and it was the last round,” Xu said. “I was leading the tournament with five and a half points out of six. I needed to draw on the last round to become champion but I was playing black. And my opponent was very strong, so I ended up losing that game. I obviously cried afterward. It was very heartbreaking.”

Dealing with losses has helped him improve his mentality, Xu said.

“A big part of playing chess is being able to handle losses because you’re sitting at the board there for five, six hours,” he said. “And if you lose, it’s very hard, bewcause you spent the six hours focused on the board. The only thing you care about in the world right now is this game and you lose. So how do you handle that? Having a strong mentality is very important.”

At Central, Xu is the first board on the chess team.

“Arthur has been the best player I’ve ever ever had on any of my teams,” chess team coach Mike Steger said. “He and my board two have the most experience right now. Nobody is close to their ability or experience playing chess because they’ve both been playing for so long.”

Xu practices with the chess team after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“After school for about one and a half hours to two hours, we practice,” Xu said. “[We] have a lot of fun there. There’s not many people, so it’s a pretty tight-knit community. [To practice], we play games against each other. Sometimes we do puzzles and studies to prove our tactical abilities.”

Xu looks forward to the 2023 U.S. Junior Championship tournament.

“It’s a very, very competitive event,” Xu said. “So I have to practice a lot over the next few months. But yeah, that’s kind of what I’m aiming for.”


Editor’s note: The above story was updated to clarify factual information on Jan. 11.