A Wayzata High School student has done what no other homegrown Minnesota chess player ever has: earned the game’s highest title of grandmaster.
And another student in the Wayzata district, a 12-year-old girl, is believed to be the first female in Minnesota to ever become a chess master.
The grandmaster title was earned by Andrew Tang, who now joins a select club — with only about 85 grandmasters in the U.S. and about 1,600 worldwide. Put another way, all the grandmasters in the world wouldn’t fill the Ordway theater in St. Paul.
To earn the title, Tang had to have extremely high results in three tournaments featuring an international field of top-rated players. Tang notched his first “grandmaster norm” finish in Canada in 2014, earned a second norm in Greece in 2016, and collected his third one last month in North Carolina just before his 18th birthday.
Minnesota’s other two grandmasters are foreign-born players who became grandmasters before moving to the state. Tang, who started learning chess as a preschooler, has been playing in Minnesota tournaments since his family moved to the state from Illinois when he was 8.
“As a kid, I think I was pretty optimistic” about becoming a grandmaster, Tang said. “I always hoped I could, but I never really expected I would become one until recently.”
Tang has been one of the top scholastic players in the country for years, tying for first place at the National K-12 Championship in each of the past two years and winning the North American Junior Championship in 2014.
Tang will hold the grandmaster title for life, but he’s not sure he wants to make chess his life’s work. Very few grandmasters can make a good living as a professional chess player. For now, Tang is interested in pursuing his affinity for math as he looks ahead to college.
While Wayzata High School will lose its star player when Tang graduates, another phenom is on the way up.
Nastassja Matus, a seventh-grader at Wayzata Central Middle School, is the highest-ranked 12-year-old girl in the nation and among the top 30 U.S. female chess players of any age. At a tournament in Chicago in October, Matus elevated her U.S. Chess Federation rating above the 2200 level to earn the coveted title of master. Only about 2 percent of tournament players in the U.S. reach that level.
Matus is almost certainly the first Minnesota female player of any age to become a master, according to those with long memories of Minnesota chess.
The preteen already has won a scholarship to Webster University, a St. Louis, Mo., area college that has won the last five national collegiate chess championships. But she’s so young that she likely won’t be able to use it, because it must be claimed within three years.
Meanwhile, across town, an Eagan student also has become a master at a very young age. Samrug Narayanan, a 13-year-old student at Dakota Hills Middle School, recently earned the title, becoming one of the youngest Minnesota players ever to do so.
Dennis J. McGrath • 612-673-4293