Lane Tech sophomore is Chicago’s only national master chess player under 18

Chess is not considered a typical teenage pastime, but it has earned Lane Tech College Prep High School sophomore Avi Kaplan national recognition and confidence.

Kaplan, 16, is the highest-rated chess player in Chicago Public Schools. He earned his national master’s title at the 30th Annual Midwest Class Championship, which was held Oct. 7–9, 2022, in Wheeling.

Anyone who achieves a U.S. Chess Federation rating of 2,200 is awarded the title of “national master” by the federation.

Kaplan, a longtime chess player, earned the rare title from the USCF, an accomplishment attained by less than 2% of rated chess players. Kaplan is Chicago’s only master player under the age of 18.

“Chess has helped me gain confidence,” Kaplan said. “The confidence it gave me has made me a better player and person because your game is never perfect; it taught me that there is always room to learn.”

Dan Lucas, senior director of strategic communications for the U.S. Chess Federation, says it is unusual for anyone, let alone a teenager, to achieve the national master title.

“Only 1.8% of all active players are masters, and only 10.8% of these masters are under the age of 18,” Lucas said.

Kaplan received the national master title after a decade playing chess. He began playing in first grade and has been practicing ever since.

“I started playing chess because I thought it was a unique club,” Kaplan said. “Although it turned out to be beneficial for school-related things like math classes.”

Kaplan’s commitment to improving his game has allowed him to reach the national master level. He enjoys playing chess because there is always something new to learn and someone new to meet. He has also devoted many hours to the Chicago Chess Center with the Chicago chess community.

“I spend many of my weekends at the chess center practicing and learning from others, and it feels like a second home to me,” Kaplan said.

Bill Brock, president of the Chicago Chess Center, says Kaplan excels in his game with a combination of raw calculating power, intuition and judgment.

Kaplan is known to spend many of his Fridays and Saturdays at the Chicago Chess Center, where he competes in tournaments, volunteers and socializes with other chess players.

The Chicago Chess Center offers a place to play chess for people of all ages, with players ranging from beginners to grandmasters. Until August 2022, Chicago was the only one of the 10 largest metropolitan areas to not have a chess center.

“Avi is a passionate kid,” Brock said. “He volunteers and plays frequently at the center; he demonstrates maturity levels that many 16-year-olds do not typically have, and I hope to see more kids like him join us at the center.”

Kaplan says he plays chess for a couple of hours every day. When he has tournaments coming up, he can practice for up to 20 to 30 hours per week.

When Kaplan is not at the chess center, he can be found at Lane Tech with the chess club and his fellow classmates. On non-chess days, Kaplan enjoys being a Chicago sports fan, but for the time being, he continues to practice his game until he achieves his goal of becoming a grandmaster.


Avi Kaplan is a member of Lane Tech’s chess club. He’s a Chicago sports fan, and the highest ranked chess player in Chicago Public Schools.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“I still have a lot to learn, but I like to have fun while I’m learning,” Kaplan said. “Chess can be fun for anyone, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to try it.”

“With the way young players soak up chess knowledge, there is little doubt that our future top players will be teens,” Lucas said. “Chess is not only good for the mind but also teaches many skills.”

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