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GILBERT, Iowa — What started as a way to pass some time for a kindergartener, has grown into a world championship.

Irene Jiao Fei, 9, recently returned from Panama, where she won a world chess championship for players nine and under. She recognizes her taking a draw in one match kept her from taking a loss, which enabled her to win the top prize.

“Because, I think in the sixth game I was about to lose because my opponent didn’t notice,” said Fei. “He offered a draw and I accepted it we both didn’t know I was going to lose.”     

Her trip to a world championship was preceded by two K-5th grade championships for the whole state of Iowa.

But before that her parents signed her up for a chess club just to give her an activity to be involved in.

“Basically we don’t know chess at all,” said her dad Zhe Fei.  “When she was in kindergarten we signed her up for after school activities.”

The coach of that club told them Irene was a good chess player.

As a beginner she could already beat some of the third and fourth graders,” said Zhe.  “So then the coach approaches said she’s good the first time. We think maybe it’s just a compliment. The second time seriously, seriously approaches and says she’s really good then we said okay, maybe she does have some talent.”

Irene is also good at math and loves running track at Gilbert. She hopes one day to be a scientist, though she’s not sure yet what kind of science. She also loves to win because “it’s better than finishing third,” said Fei.

Next week Gilbert Intermediate School will host a chess camp. The deadline to sign up is July 18.