Caleb Marshall is a Kentucky champion chess player who regularly takes on opponents at the University of Kentucky.
He loves to win, but he also plays just for the love of the game.
As much as he loves chess, he says basketball is "funner," and he loves to go for his after-chess lesson treat of McDonald's chicken nuggets with his dad, Brian Marshall, lead pastor at the Christian Student Fellowship at UK.
Caleb is 5 years old. He also is the K-1 (kindergarten and first grade) chess champion of Kentucky. To claim the title, he had to beat his friend Pasha Dashti of Louisville.
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Caleb is not the son of chess players. Brian Marshall plays only so he can play with his children. His wife, Shelby, is not a chess player, and neither is the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Miriam.
It was through Caleb's older sister, Claire, 7, that he was introduced to chess. Claire decided she wanted to play as an extracurricular activity at Lexington Latin School on West Reynolds Road.
Caleb got his introduction, then quickly went on to become a dominant player.
Brian Marshall said that Gregory Kaidanov, an American-Ukrainian chess grandmaster who now lives in Lexington, has praised Caleb's potential.
Child prodigies in chess are not unheard-of. On Chesshistory.com, an entire section is devoted to historical reports of young children who excelled at the game.
In a game with his father, Caleb appears ready to put it away early, but he keeps toying with his dad to prolong the game. He does that because he loves to play, he said. But you wouldn't do that in a real game, his father suggested. Caleb looked up and appeared to ponder that idea of whether beating someone quickly and therefore no longer being able to play with them was as much fun as toying with them.
At night, when his dad is putting him to bed, Caleb will ask to study chess problems. At the Christian Student Fellowship, Caleb asks his dad to get out a book of chess problems for him to study.
Caleb is fascinated with numbers and big ideas. Over dinner recently, he asked his dad whether it was possible to split infinity. And, for no apparent reason while being interviewed for this story, he bursts out with the information that five minus seven is negative two, because of course it is.
He is just learning to read, but Caleb studies chess problems and loves learning new tactics. Sometimes he plays games with himself, trying to map the strongest moves for both the black and the white pieces.
He has the silly sense of humor and feeling of historical immediacy and outrage that are typical attributes of 5-year-olds. For example, after watching a clip of Christian Laettner stepping on UK player Aminu Timberlake during the NCAA basketball 1992 East Regional Final, Caleb asked his father why Laettner wasn't kicked out of the game. Rather than forgetting about it, the next day he asked his dad about it again, his dad said. That 23 years had intervened meant nothing to Caleb's irritation about the player who stepped on another player.
Caleb is, his dad said, a quintessentially Kentucky kid. And a kid with a big future in chess.
Davis Whaley, a frequent Kentucky chess champion, started coaching Caleb about six months ago. He praises the little boy's "inner motivation to play great chess."
His ability to see problems more than four moves ahead sets him apart, Whaley said.
Caleb, he said, has "the most well-developed tactical intuition of anyone I've ever seen. ... Most kids hate to do these chess tactics. ... For him, it's the exact opposite. He loves it."
When Caleb took up chess at age 4, his father said, he was immediately in his element: "He just took off. He wanted to play every single day, one to two hours a day. It was just chess, chess, chess."