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Chess Champ Creating a New Academic Strategy at UC

This National Master title holder has been competing in tournaments since he was nine years old, and continues to forge connections among different cultures through chess and world study.

Date: 3/8/2010
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Kip Shaffer
Jonathan Hilton has competed against challengers decades older than he is, as well as people from around the world. He has co-written a book about chess. “I just love to play,” he says. “I enjoy playing in exhibitions. I can play up to three games at once, blindfolded.” The 19-year-old UC freshman in the University Honors Program for academically talented students holds the title of National Master from the United States Chess Federation, but turned down a full chess scholarship at a university far from his Fairfield, Ohio home.
Jonathan Hilton
Jonathan Hilton

“I realized I had this dream of becoming a chess professional when I was 15 or 16 years old, and that I was following through on decisions that I made at that age, not thinking about leaving my family to chase this dream,” he says. “When I started to realize the value of the experience I was being offered here at UC, I couldn’t turn it down.”

Hilton is the recipient of a scholarship to bring the nation’s most recruited students to UC. His older brother, William, a 21-year-old UC mechanical engineering major, is a recipient of the scholarship as well. Both Hiltons were awarded the UC|21 Scholarship for National Merit and National Achievement Finalists. Combined with other UC scholarships and awards, the scholarship covers in-state tuition and campus housing – a value of $60,000 over four years. There is also a one-time award of $1,500 to support the purchase of a computer, a study-abroad experience or undergraduate research opportunity.

“I was very proud of my decision (to attend UC) after fall quarter, and once I settled in and started thinking about my options, the decision to create my own major was a big one,” Hilton says.

Jonathan Hilton

Currently a Spanish major, Hilton is in the process of designing his own personal program of study, which would result in an undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. The program allows him to build his academic strengths across more than one particular field, which he says is ideal for his future goals of working to improve relations between the United States and Central America. His interests lie in immigration, law and public policy. “I have such a diverse spectrum of goals and now I can turn to so many diverse experts to back me up.”

Hilton says it was the personal guidance of Jen Lile, assistant director and academic advisor for the University Honors Program, that led him toward interdisciplinary studies, a degree program that he didn’t even know existed. “I never would have thought to tap this resource had Jen not suggested it to me.”

Hilton also didn’t waste any time diving into world study. His first college course last fall was a two-and-a-half-week honors seminar that took him to Nicaragua, under the leadership of Carl Bryant, a field service professor for the Department of Romance Languages. The seminar focused on the study of Nicaraguan culture and social issues. His stay involved living with a Nicaraguan host family. Of course, he also packed along his passion for chess, taking on the locals and writing about the experience for The United States Chess Federation.

A study-abroad experience across the Yucatan Peninsula last December – an excursion led by Associate Professor Robert South in the Department of Geography – led to more cultural connections and chess challenges, as well as another article. Hilton is now making plans for a six-month cultural exchange program in Chile where he will study political science. The experience runs from July through December.


In addition to the articles relating to his experiences at playing chess abroad, Hilton is also co-author of “Wojo’s Weapons: Winning With White,” newly published by Mongoose Press. The book, co-written with International Master Dean Ippolito, reveals the strategies of one of the toughest competitors in the U.S. tournament circuit, the late Aleksander Wojtkiewicz – nicknamed “Wojo” by his fans. “He was one of the strongest tournament players in the United States and he would win more tournaments per year than any other grand master,” Hilton says. “He had a rough-and-tumble lifestyle, but he was very much a romantic at the chess board.”

For those who might be interested in learning about chess but fear it just isn’t “cool,” Hilton has these thoughts: “Chess is something that transcends all ages and cultures. I’ve been in situations where I didn’t speak the same language as the other player, but yet I was still on such good terms with them because we could play, we could analyze and we could learn some things. Chess unites people because you have a common experience and a common passion.”

UC|21 Scholarship Information

University Honors Program