Rows and rows of books fill the Johnston Library. Ironically, the best story in the library isn’t on a shelf.
Jesse James Lozano spent many summers at the library surrounded by books, but he wasn’t there to read.
“The chess bug got me,” he said. “I learned over here from a gentleman who was teaching.”
It took only a couple of chess matches with his newfound friend to get him hooked on this intellectual game.
Jesse kept playing casually until high school, when he discovered that he was actually pretty talented.
“I saw they had a chess club. I didn’t know anybody, so I went over there to mingle,” he recalled. “I beat everyone except for one person.”
Jesse refused to let defeat drag him down. In fact, it had the opposite effect.
“I went and got books and I started readying about it, and I would meet him in the mornings,” he said.
After just a few months of studying and hard work, Jesse officially became the best chess player at school. He also just happened to be the best player outside of school as well.
“Everyone called me ‘chess kid’ and they used to say my name on the announcements because I would win championships,” he recalled. “At that time, I dominated. I used to play blindfolded with the kids at my club.”
He would win those blindfolded games.
By his senior year, the chess world shined a spotlight on him. His skills earned him a college scholarship. And while he was in college, he achieved something even more impressive.
“I made chess master, which put me at the top 1 percent,” he said.
Today, Jesse still challenges serious chess players at tournaments and online. But most of his daily opponents look a little different than you might expect.
Those kids are the same age as Jesse was when he discovered chess, kids who have unlocked an obsession for the game.
Jesse coaches them over the summer and at chess clubs during the year.
“I wanna be like him, like super good at chess,” one of his students said. “When I make him proud, I feel like that’s like me getting a little bit closer to his level.”
And thanks to these children, Jesse isn’t just a “chess kid” anymore.
“I think I’m gonna help them along the way, wherever they’re gonna get to go, beyond the chess piece moves,” Jesse said. “Giving them life lessons, how to deal with situations, I think that is a really big part. And then we get to play chess too.