STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) — He's already the best in the state, and by the end of next week, maybe he'll be the best in the nation.
Earlier this month, 16-year-old Isaac Leon took first place in the State Championships chess tournament, qualifying him to represent Pennsylvania in the nationals Friday through Sunday in San Diego, Calif.
Leon, who moved to Stroudsburg from Ecuador last year, has been playing since he was 8.
It was his father who first showed him how to play.
Although he's soft-spoken, Leon doesn't hesitate to explain that he quickly learned how to surpass his father's playing skills.
In fact, Leon played in his first tournament shortly after learning the game.
While living in Ecuador, he played in many national competitions there.
His ranking in the U.S. Chess Federation would make even the most seasoned players envious.
The USCF assigns ratings to members who play in official tournaments.
Ratings range from 100 to around 2,800.
Leon holds a rating of 2,249.
The USCF awards the national master title to any player who reaches a rating of 2,200.
Less than 1 percent of rated players hold the title, according to the organization.
During tournaments, chess players are matched with others who hold similar ratings.
Their ratings also determine which tournaments players can attend and reflect their playing strength.
Leon's status didn't come without hard work, however.
While living in Ecuador, he spent about six hours a day practicing, about three of which were spent with a coach.
When asked why he became so immersed in the game, Leon says it's because he was representing his country.
Despite his experience, he admits he's nervous about next week's competition.
His ultimate goal is to achieve the level of "International Master," a title that's determined by a different ranking system than the one used by the USCF.
Right now, Leon ranks 2,130 under the international system.
He says he'll need to reach 2,300 points to achieve the master's title.
Stroudsburg High School Athletic and Activities Director Tim Honeywell believes it's the first time a student from Stroudsburg High School is going to the national competition.
Leon will go with Pocono Mountain East chess champions Daniel Tartaglione, 15, David Ryczek, 15, Nick Cardini, 17, John D'Orsi, 15, and Andy Weng, 16.
Pocono Mountain won in the best team division of the state championship.
Information from: Pocono Record, http://www.poconorecord.com/