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Kansas City woman ranks as one of nation's top chess players despite lack of sight

Jessica Lauser
Posted at 12:35 PM, Feb 03, 2021

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

Jessica Lauser is one of the sport’s best players. She's a rising star in the sport and becoming a master of the game. She knows the terrain, and how to win a game, in less than five moves.

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

Lauser was born at just 24 weeks gestation and suffered severe vision loss as a result of her premature birth — a condition called 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 said.

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. Lauser currently rates as around an 1800 player. For perspective, national masters typically rate north of 2200, while grandmasters rate north of 2,500.

Lauser 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 says she feels 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.

Lauser 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.

This story was originally published by Dan Cohen on KSHB in Kansas City.