Colorado teen wins chess championship just months after brain surgery


DENVER (KDVR) — A Colorado teenager has become one of the youngest in state history to win the Blitz Chess Championship, beating out dozens of adults for the top prize.

Blitz chess, or speed chess, requires players to finish all of their moves in just minutes. If your time runs out before a winner is decided, you lose.

“In classical chess, it can feel boring because it takes so much time,” said the 17-year-old champion, Griffin McConnell. “Blitz chess is just fun.”

Overcoming struggles

But McConnell’s age is only the beginning of what makes his championship run so incredible.

At the age of 4, his parents started noticing something was wrong and took him to a doctor.

“Mom said let’s just get tested, to see what’s happening, and I had the condition of epilepsy,” Griffin said.

Frequent seizures followed, with Griffin undergoing multiple brain surgeries before his 10th birthday.

Griffin McConnell, teenager recovering from brain surgery places 4th in chess championship (KDVR)

That includes a hemispherectomy, with doctors disconnecting one hemisphere from the other.

His family says at first, it proved successful. But around the age of 14, the seizures returned.

“It was just one seizure, after another seizure, after another,” his father, Kevin McConnell, said. “It was bad.”

Griffin decided to undergo another brain surgery after he noticed his thinking ability declining rapidly.

“The big reason was my thinking ability because chess is all about thinking, it’s not a physical sport, it’s a mental sport, and my thinking was going down,” he said.

‘Anything’s possible if you work at it enough’

That surgery took place in February, with the Colorado Blitz Championship set for September.

Griffin went undefeated, beating his younger brother Sullivan to win the championship.

“I just somehow won,” Griffin said. “It was pretty amazing. I did not expect to win all of my games.”

Griffin teaches chess at the Manning School in Golden and at Academia Sandoval in Denver.

He’s aiming to be on Team USA at next year’s Chess Olympiad for People with Disabilities in Russia.

He hopes to inspire other kids, especially those with disabilities, to pick up the sport.

“I don’t have half a brain, literally, I can still do this,” he joked. “Anything’s possible if you work at it enough, and you have that mindset that I’m going to do it, you’re going to, no matter what the ability is.”

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