Woodbridge: Chess prodigy Justin aims to be a grandmaster

Justin Tan is currently studying at Woodbridge School on a chess scholarship. Justin Tan is currently studying at Woodbridge School on a chess scholarship.

Thursday, February 13, 2014
8:15 AM

While most teenage boys are undecided on their ambitions before leaving school, chess prodigy Justin Tan is sure of his intent – to become a grandmaster.

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Already a World Chess Federation master, Justin needs to first become an international master before realising his ultimate dream of achieving the highest title and joining a list of illustrious names like Kasparov, Spassky and Fischer.

Originally from Wales, Justin moved to Melbourne, Australia, at seven but decided to study in the UK for his last two years of school.

So formidable were his chess-playing skills that he won a scholarship to attend Woodbridge School.

Justin, who boards at Woodbridge and has guardians in London, is currently working towards his AS-Levels in English, French, economics and maths.

“There is some correlation between maths and chess,” he said. “But there are a lot of other aspects to it – even an artistic side.

“I remember back in Wales my dad was teaching my sister to play. She was maybe six and I was about four, so my dad said I was too young.

“I was about seven and at primary school in Australia when I started learning.

“It’s a really interesting game. The rules are fairly simple but the games can become very complicated.

“It requires a lot of confidence and can be quite nerve-racking when you’re up against someone much stronger than you – say a grandmaster.”

Since the age of 10, Justin has played about 900 tournament games – winning most of them.

His longest encounter latest a gruelling five-and-a-half hours – a game he eventually won.

“Tournament games can go nine to 11 rounds,” he said. “It can be physically quite exhausting and mentally draining.”

Concentration should come easier to Justin than most young players.

Until recently he was a national gymnast for Australia, winning numerous awards while on a scholarship at a specialist school for gymnasts, dancers and musicians.

“I took gymnastics extremely seriously – as seriously as chess. But this year I gave it up to 
make time for more chess and school.”

There is no individual player Justin most admires, but his influences range from Kasparov and Fischer – who he calls “geniuses” – to Russian Alexander Morozevich and the legendary Anatoly Karpov.

“It’s a common misconception that chess is an old gentleman’s game,” he said. “Most of the world’s top 50 players became grandmasters at a relatively young age.”

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