The Kids are All Right

Posted in Event Coverage on March 13, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

Magic legend Chris Pikula stared down at the game in front of him. Teamed up with Phillip Napoli and Osyp Lebedowicz, the team was off to a hot start and was playing to move to 6-1 on the first day of Grand Prix Washington D.C.

Perplexed as he examined the board, Pikula slowly shook his head. A few seconds later, he extended the handshake to his opponent, accepting defeat.

“Good games,” he said as he shook hands. “I played the entire game to not get into that position, but you got it.”

Thirteen-year-old Jack Kiefer just smiled as he thanked Pikula for the games. Two seats down, 15-year-old brother Lucas did the same as the brothers guaranteed themselves and teammate Chris Andersen a spot in Day 2.

As the match ended, 10-year-old Quinn congratulated his brothers on their accomplishment. He was more than an interested observer — his own team with Roger Bodee and Star City Games Invitational winner Caleb Scherer stood just one victory away from sending their trio into Day 2.

Jennifer Kiefer made an executive decision.

“Mom wouldn’t let us play together because we fight too much,” Quinn explained matter-of-factly. “So she made the decision to split us up.”

At a team tournament known for pitting teams of siblings against all comers, it may be a little odd to not see Kiefer-Kiefer-Kiefer listed on the pairings sheet. But such is the price that comes with living with what is possibly the three most instinctive players for their age.

A bold claim, but one backed up by the list of teammates lining up to team with the Kiefers for this tournament. Chris Andersen, a seasoned veteran of the Grand Prix circuit, was ecstatic for the opportunity to team up with Jack and Lucas, while 10-year-old Quinn had no trouble teaming with two of the best players on the Star City Games circuit.

Who wouldn’t want to play with a kid who learned to play the game before he could read and who gleefully entertains an in-depth discussion of the advantages of bluffing in Magic?

“Seeing kids play like they do is really a treat,” Andersen said. “They understand this game on such a high level, and not just for their age. Jack is 13 and he’s as good as I was when I was 19. It’s insane.”

Andersen first met the Kiefers while on his way to a 9-0 start that turned into a finals appearance at the Star City Games Open in Baltimore last year. The undefeated start included exactly two game losses all day long.

One of them came to Jack. That was enough to impress Andersen, and when they ran into each again a few months later, he was happy to reconnect and play a few games with the Kiefers. That turned into a regular occurrence, and within the month he was giving weekly lessons to Jack and Lucas.

Safe to say, he’s been impressed by what he’s seen.

“I think Jack and Lucas will be on the Pro Tour,” he said. “Lucas is a great player, and I would describe Jack as an artist. Most of the people in the room at the Grand Prix are grinders, but Jack is just an artist the way he plays the game. He plays the toughest deck in every format and he doesn’t get upset when he loses, he just looks at his own play and tries to figure out what he could have done better. I have no doubt that if he keeps playing his entire life he’ll be in the Hall of Fame and it won’t be close. He will be one of the 10 best players in the world by the time he’s 21.”

Praise like that is as rare as the players who earned it. Jack’s first breakthrough came a month ago at Grand Prix Vancouver, where he finished in 25th place on his first-ever Day 2.

13-year old Jack and 15-year-old Lucas teamed up with Chris Andersen in Washington D.C., advancing to Day 2 with a strong Saturday performance.

While his success in Vancouver is the headline, it’s far from the whole story. All three brothers made the Top 64 at the Star City Games Open in Dallas earlier this year, and while opponents are impressed by Jack and Lucas’ play, they are downright astonished by 10-year-old Quinn.

“I get underestimated a lot,” he explained. “I’ve even had players sit down and say that they got a bye, and then I ended up winning. People always ask me questions after the match about how I tricked them with a play. They don’t think kids would bluff, but I’ve learned to look into their eyes and not give anything away about my hand.”

It wouldn’t be fair to say the success the Kiefers have found is totally unprecedented — Julian Nuijten won a world championship at 14 and hall of famers Ben Rubin, Patrick Chapin and Jon Finkel were all prodigies in their day — but never has a group of siblings stormed the scene the way the Kiefers have. Andersen’s praise is effusive, and he’s not the only pro to compliment the brothers; Gerry Thompson stepped up to help walk Jack through how the Day 2 drafts would be called at Grand Prix Vancouver.

The road ahead of the brothers is uncertain, but there’s no question that their first steps have been extraordinary.

Chris Andersen teamed up with Jack and Lucas Kiefer at Grand Prix Washington D.C., and the team entered the final round on Saturday with a chance to finish the day 8-1.

The Kiefers’ Magic story is great. Their family story is better.

“We’ve always tried to be supportive, but we’ve never pushed them to compete in anything they didn’t want to,” said Jason Kiefer, whose three sons are redefining what’s possible for young Magic players. “It’s just kind of built naturally to where we are today.”

Where they are today is something most families can only hope of. Magic isn’t just a pastime for the kids, it’s become a family journey every time there’s a tournament. All five members of the family flew from their home in Boulder, Colorado to be at Grand Prix Washington D.C., and while neither Jason nor Jennifer play much — “the kids try to teach me but then they get bored of waiting on me,” Jason said with a laugh — they’ve loved being with their kids every step of the way.

Parents Jason and Jennifer have made their sons’ journey possible.

“It’s been great watching them,” said Jennifer, who is happy to provide some of the more essential duties for attending Magic tournaments, such as those pesky things like flights and hotels. “Quinn learned to read by playing Magic. It has been a great influence on our lives.”

Such parental support is vital to making the Kiefers’ successes possible, but it’s far from a given for many children learning to play Magic.

“Overall, they’re just really great people,” Andersen said of Jason and Jennifer. “It’s so much easier for parents to not put in the extra effort and let their kids just pick up a video game. But then those kids don’t get the social interaction or the skills you learn from Magic.”

These kids get it. They know how fortunate they are to have their parents so involved — “I think Mom getting us lunch is the best part,” Lucas admitted with a smile — and they know how lucky they are to play with each other.

After all, that’s what it all comes back.

“The most fun I’ve had is when we all made Day 2 of the same tournament,” Jack said. “We have a goal as a family – to all make the Pro Tour together.”

Quinn, Jack and Lucas Kiefer.

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