National Master and Owner of Panda Chess Academy. Houston, Texas.
My name is Jeffrey Ashton. I have been teaching chess in Houston since
2003. I opened Panda Chess Academy a few
years later. Before I moved to Houston, I was coaching chess in Dallas.
I was born and raised in Ann Arbor Michigan (home of the University of
Michigan). I learned how to play chess in 4th grade. I became serious about chess
in 7th grade. I received the title of "Master" after my 70th
tournament during my Junior year in High School.
The University of Texas at Dallas offered me a full-ride chess scholarship,
so I moved to Richardson, Texas. I estimate that about 10 people received chess scholarships before me.
The chess scholarship was generous. They paid for all of my college
expenses. They also paid for travel to pretty much any chess tournament in
or out of the country, as long as I made good grades.
University of Maryland in Baltimore County and University of Texas at
Dallas were the only two chess schools at the time. Since then, more schools
started giving out chess scholarships. Getting a chess scholarship nowadays requires excellent grades while being good at chess.
I played well for UT Dallas. Playing
chess for a team was new for me, and it gave me a lot of motivation to try my
best. I won my first 10 games in a row. Dr. Tim Redman (professor at UT Dallas,
former USCF president, and the person who started the UT Dallas chess scholarship program)
gave me a cool nickname: Iron Man. Years later, Disney and Marvel made a movie with
the same name. Probably a coincidence.
During my freshman year, I helped our team win the Pan-Am Championship. But
the real highlight of my college career, perhaps my whole chess career was
sophomore year. I helped our team win the first FINAL FOUR OF CHESS. I won all
of my games against higher rated players. The Final Four teams were University
of Texas at Dallas, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Harvard, and
After graduating from University of Texas at Dallas with a degree in
Psychology, I was recruited to coach chess in some schools in Houston. Three
schools coordinated efforts to recruit me to Houston. They all promised me jobs if I moved to Houston. They were T.H. Rogers, West
University Elementary School, and Annunciation Orthodox Academy. Shortly after,
I started coaching at The Village School and I headed up the Katy Scholastic Chess Club.
After coaching full time for a few years, I opened Panda Chess Academy.
I wanted to create a full-time brick and mortar chess academy and club for kids.
At the time, the local chess clubs were geared towards adults (who drank
beverages out of paper bags while playing).
As a high schooler and college student, I did a lot of traveling for chess,
and I never saw or heard of a chess club for kids only. So opening Panda Chess
Academy was something different. From a business perspective, a chess club isn’t
a great idea, and limiting to only kids sounds worse. I was young and naïve,
but very focused on this idea.
I asked a few smart people, and they told me it was a bad idea to open
Panda Chess Academy. But I opened it anyway. I was a little nervous since I’ve
never seen a scholastic chess club business model before.
Business started off very slow, and shortly after opening, a big hurricane wiped
out our first location for a while. But I stuck with it.
My business strategy was to offer a consistent and efficient chess
tournament. I really believed I should run my small business like a franchise
and focus on consistency.
I've been a Master for over over half of my life. I never lost interest in
chess, and I never even considered taking a break from it. I see myself as a
very good and talented (I know it sounds odd to use the word talent for someone
my age) chess player, who is taking a break from tournaments.
If I ever "retire," I will still teach chess.
Outside of chess, I only do like two things. Read, and ride the Peloton
(indoor bicycle). Sometimes I watch TV or movies while on the bike.
As a kid, I loved to play and watch basketball, baseball, football, hockey,
and a little tennis. My mom made me do Tae Kwon Do (she is Korean) and play
piano. I did Tae Kwon Do and Piano from about Kindergarten until senior year in
high school, but my passion was always chess.
In high school, the wrestling coach convinced me to join the team. While
participating in what was basically a "Royal Rumble," I broke my
collar bone, quit wrestling, and focused on chess.
People are very supportive of chess. I never got in trouble for playing too
much chess. I got to travel to different states and countries for chess
tournaments. I made a lot of friends all around the world that I still keep in
touch with. When I was in high school, I got a $3500 check for winning a chess
tournament. I remember buying a Sony CD Player, and being amazed that I still
had like $3400 left. I still talk to my old coaches regularly (I had great
coaches!). I think the thing that really drew me to chess, was the independence
a chess player gets. No one around me knew much about chess, so they kind of
let me do my own thing, which is nice for a young person.
I remember an earlier autobiography I wrote, and I mentioned how my
students are graduating, getting married, etc. Now I’m teaching my student’s
I try to keep in touch with old students, and it’s always nice when old
students visit me. I usually ask them if their parents made them visit me. Chess
players are often introverted and not the type to set up a visit with an old
The great thing about chess is you can stop playing for a long time, then get
back into it. You kind of pick up where you left off, but since you are older
and wiser, you might be better. Just saying this, in case any old students are
reading this, and you are thinking about getting back into it.
I truly appreciate all of the students and parents that I have met over the
years. I am guessing that I’ve met like 5000 really nice parents, and 1 or 2 slightly
annoying parents. A pretty good ratio.
My wife is an optometrist named Edna
Chang Ashton. We have a son named Jeffrey David Ashton, born in March 2019, and a daughter, Juliet Esther Ashton, born April 2022.
Coaching at Nationals in Orlando Florida and Columbus Ohio.