When Maurice Ashley snapped up his opponent's queen with a rook last March at the Manhattan Chess Club, he not only jumped into an elite group of the world's best chess players, but also became the world's first black to reach grandmaster, the game's highest rank. In doing so, he realized a 20-year-old dream and became a role-model
for aspiring kids around the country, especially in the New York neighborhoods where he lives and works.
Mr. Ashley, a thirtysomething Jamaican immigrant, grew up in Brooklyn and began playing chess when he was eight. But it wasn't until he was 14 that he began taking the game seriously. A loss to another player his age fueled Ashley's desire to make chess his life.
He bought a paperback about Paul Morphy, America's first great player, and was riveted to the chess board all the time. He spent weekends playing with the Black Bears in Brooklyn, a group of black chess players in their 20s who would stay at the board sometimes from sunset to sunrise on weekends.
As Ashley's skills continued to blossom, he discovered the world of teaching. From 1991 to 1997 he was the chess director of the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, at which he led teams such as the Dark Knights to three national championships.
But like most coaches, his first passion was the game itself, and two years ago, he went back to pursue his dream of becoming a grandmaster, one of only 470 in the world. He studied and played with a coach for hours every day.
Now that Ashley's reached the pinnacle, amassing enough points to become grandmaster, he's returned to coaching. He is launching a chess community center in Harlem where hundreds of kids can challenge other players, study strategies, or log on and play others around the world. He also offers classes on the Web and has a new CD-ROM.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society