Master Of The Game

After being crowned the first black International Grand Master of Chess in March 1999 (a title held by roughly 800 other players in the world), Maurice Ashley made history again in January 2003 as the first African American to play for the U.S. Chess Championship since the tournament’s inception in 1861. He capitalizes on his illustrious recognition to attract African Americans, and people in general, to one of the world’s most popular games of strategy — and up the ante while he’s at it. “I want people to think of chess the way they think about tennis and golf,” declares Ashley, “with big tournaments and big prizes.”

And this 38-year-old native of Jamaica, based in Queens, New York, is making the first move. In May, his organization, Generation Chess (www.genera, will host the HB Global Chess Challenge at the Minneapolis Convention Center for a cash prize of $500,000 — the largest ever for an open chess tournament.

Chess, a descendant of the Indian board game Chaturanga, was altered as it migrated across Western Europe around the 10th century. The game as we know it today emerged around 1475.

There are approximately 500 million amateur and pro chess players worldwide, and the popularity of this sport is rivaled only by soccer. But unlike most sports, it’s one you can start at any age.
Ashley, who also commentates chess matches for ESPN, suggests reading as the best way to get started. He recommends Logical Chess: Move by Move by Irving Chernev (B.T. Batsford; $21.95), Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer (Bantam; $7.99), and My System by Aron Nimzowitsch (Hays Publishing; $17.50). “It [helps] to have a practice partner you can play against frequently,” adds Ashley.

Traditional chess clubs are a dying species, being replaced by Websites like the Internet Chess Club ( Player registration for tournaments listed on the U.S. Chess Federation’s Website ( ranges from $15 to $280.

Perfecting the game requires, says Ashley “patience, determination, and the willingness to treat failure and loss as motivation to learn.”