12:19 PM

Dream blog: My dream to become a chess master


AmFam employee Chris McKinney dreams of being a chess master. And he’s been working toward earning that designation since he was a teen. Learn how he’s getting closer and closer to his goal.


I’m writing to share my dream that I’ve been working on since I was 18 – becoming a chess master.

I’ve had so much support over the years from my friends, my family, my colleagues and my fellow chess players. I believe everyone should have something in their life they love to do. Once I discovered I was great at chess, all I wanted was to be even better at it!

Only the top 1 percent of all chess players earn a prestigious master title, so I know earning this designation won’t be easy. Frankly, the odds are against me. However, with hard work and determination, any goal set realistically can be achieved.

I started playing in high school and soon discovered I needed training to become better. I read more books about strategy and tactics than anyone would think a teenager would willingly choose over video games and comic books!

Then I learned that anyone willing to compete in tournaments and join the United States Chess Federation (USCF) could earn a National Master (NM) title by earning a rating of 2200.

There are higher master levels, tremendously more difficult to earn, including FIDE Master (FM), International Master (IM) and Grandmaster (GM). Most people think of chess masters with the likes of Bobby Fischer (GM). These titles all require extra criteria to earn, and I won’t bore you about them. (If you’re curious, check out this site.)

NM is the title I hope to achieve in my lifetime.

I play in many tournaments, play online, and have participated in the University of Wisconsin chess club for many years, slowing improving my rating from about 1500 in August 2004 to my peak rating of 2134.

That’s respectable. Only the top 5 percent of chess players ever achieve ratings in the 2000-2200 range. (This rating group is considered expert by USCF standards). So that’s an incredible feat already! But onward and upward – I want master status!

To pursue my goal, I participated in the 2017 World Open chess tournament in Philadelphia the week of July 4. There were more than 1,200 people at this event, the largest I’ve ever attended.

The World Open was very strong and was overall a success for me. Although I “only” achieved 4.5/9 points in the event, I gained 4 rating points and am that much closer to earning the NM title! (No prize money, sadly, but I’m happy with my result)

My brother willingly took time to take photos of me while I was playing in the tournament. In the photo with this post, I’m playing against a very talented kid. In that game, his rating was actually higher than mine! I hope to return next year and get closer to my dream.

Thanks to everyone who supports my dream, including my AmFam colleagues, who encouraged me to write and share my story.

Everyone has something they’re passionate about. I encourage you to never stop improving yourself.

Never stop dreaming!


Photos: Chris McKinney faced off against stiff competition of all ages at the World Open Chess Tournament in Philadelphia. The tournament brought him closer to achieving his dream of becoming a National Master.