Bringing the best chess players together in Mesa every few months is a passion for former East Valley resident Daniel Rensch.
It’s also got a second purpose.
Rensch wants to become a “grandmaster,” a feat attained by only the best of the best in the chess world.
To do so, he has to compete against international master level and grandmaster level players. And with three children younger than 6 at home in Tonto Village, travelling to those types of competitions — usually on the other side of the Atlantic — isn’t always possible.
But with the company he and his grandfather founded several years ago — American Chess Events, LLC — Rensch is bringing those caliber players to Arizona, to the Mesa Convention Center, to play in “master treks” and “international master treks” every few months.
Rensch, 26, was bitten by the chess bug one summer when he was 10 and his grandfather, Steven Kamp, was bedridden following a minor stroke. During visits, Rensch and his brother would sit for hours and play chess with Kamp.
The following year, his grandparents started a small private school, The Shelby School, outside of Payson in Tonto Village. Rensch became a student and a founding member of the school’s chess club, a club that became known across the country after winning multiple national titles.
But it’s not like Rensch was the star player when it began. He recalls his first chess tournament.
“I lost every match. I was 0-5. So, you can imagine I was so excited about chess,” he says with a chuckle during a phone conversation. Rensch and his wife are teachers at The Shelby School, which now operates with a charter school license.
As a young boy, Rensch and the other students from The Shelby School made the two-hour trek to the Valley just about every weekend to compete. The Shelby School opened a Mesa branch and a Mesa high school, The Fitch Academy. Rensch graduated from The Fitch Academy before it closed.
At 14, Rensch was a U.S. Chess Federation national master. By 15, Rensch said, he was a chess professional, competing when he could and taking on private students. At 19, he was the No. 1 player his age in the country. A few years later, he received his international master status.
But the next step — the title of grandmaster — is now in his sight. Chess players must attain points competing against other top players — just like in tennis, Rensch said — to reach that goal.
“At one time, after I graduated from high school, American Chess Events was my only business. Now I have my job with Chess.com. We’re trying to rebuild the program at The Shelby School. That’s allowed me to try to become a grandmaster,” he said.
It’s a “truly difficult” goal, he said. There are not that many American-born grandmasters.
“Chess is really much more popular in Europe, even Asia, China and India,” he said.
And though he does get to international competitions elsewhere every few months, Rensch said he’s hoping to bring more attention to the sport here.
“Many younger players don’t have the lifestyle I have, a young family, wife and kids. Most of the people my age are at a time in their lives when they are able to travel the world (to compete),” he said. “I’m having to take a different path, which is good, and trying to balance it while trying to grow chess in Arizona, partly because I have to. I’ve built these businesses to support my family, but hopefully it can successfully bring international competition to Arizona.”
Plus, he said, the sport can lead to many advantages for young students, from increasing cognitive development to improving focus.
“For me personally, I can vouch that it improved my own study ethics,” he said.
Rensch hopes his goals — personally, professionally — will bring chess more into the spotlight in Arizona.
“It hasn’t been something that has been that popular or supported in America. So because of that, there aren’t that many opportunities to play in international competition.”
The next “master trek” competition at the Mesa Convention Center will be May 19. An “international master trek” competition is planned for June.
For more information, see americanchess.net.