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Kansas City woman becomes one of nation's best chess players

Jessica Lauser is the 3-time national blind chess champion
Jessica Lauser
Posted at 5:51 AM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 12:13:50-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chess is experiencing a national revival following the release and popularity of Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit."

One of the sport’s best players lives in Kansas City. She's a rising star in the sport and becoming a master of the game.

"An opening principle says control the center," Jessica Lauser said while setting up her first moves.

She knows the terrain, and how to win a game, in less than five moves.

"White goes here, black goes here, white goes here, black checkmates," she demonstrated.

Her terrain is the chessboard. She navigates each move without a clear look at every square.

"I was born at 24 weeks gestation, so very premature," Lauser said.

She suffered severe vision loss as a result of her premature birth, a medical diagnosis known as retinopathy of prematurity.

"I am able to detect things visually, but of course, maybe it’s just a shape or a general sense of what the object is," Lauser explained.

She began her chess journey at age 7.

"They say every master was once a beginner," Lauser said.

It's a turn of phrase she heard as she climbed the ranks of the sport.

"My current rating is just around 1,800 of those points," she says, citing chess' rating system in which national masters achieve ratings north of 2200. Grand master ratings are north of 2500.

She has succeeded at the highest level of her division and is the reigning national blind chess champion in the United States.

"I’ve won the past three years in a row, I’ve played that event seven times, I’ve taken third, second, and then the past three years in a row, first place," she said. "The first and only woman to achieve that."

She’s also honed her craft online, playing chess virtually. She's at home on the chessboard.

"I kind of wonder how folks do things with normal vision, I don’t know what depth perception is, I’ve never seen depth, I can experience it this way," Lauser said.

Jessica is also a multi-qualifier for international tournaments. She played in a virtual Olympiad this summer and hopes to raise enough money with her teammates to compete abroad when in-person competition resumes.