ST. LOUIS – They call Diamond Shakoor a prodigy, a champion, a genius. The 12-year-old girl is one of the best chess players in the country. At close to 250 tournaments played, Diamond is a seven-time national champion. At age 8, she was the youngest African-American female to go undefeated in a Chess National competition.
“I love to play chess, it’s like life basically,” she said. “It’s like a battle. Half of it is natural talent, but I’m starting to study now.”
No African-American female in competitive chess has ever broken a rating of 2,200. A “chess master” typically holds a rating of 2,500. Shakoor is hovering around 1,300.
“I love watching her play, it’s like artwork,” said Diamond’s father, Abdul Shakoor. “When she’s focused, it’s incredibly tough to beat her.”
Brooklyn native, Shakoor has two masters degrees and teaches courses on chess. He has been Diamond’s sole teacher since she was about 7 years old. Despite that, Shakoor admits Diamond can now consistently beat him.
“I’ve had full custody of Diamond for 12 years,” he said.
Shakoor was in law school when he got a call from Diamond’s mother in Flint, Michigan, surprising him with the news that he had a daughter. The young father eventually won custody and started teaching her chess. The pair moved from Columbus, Ohio, to St. Louis in search of better competition.
“It’s been a struggle,” he said. “But she keeps me grounded and gives me purpose.”
Diamond is hosting her first annual chess festival May 4 in Centerville, Illinois.
The next goal for Shakoor is to take Diamond to the All-Girls Chess National Tournament in Chicago. They’re asking for help from the public to raise money for sponsorship, hotel and travel. They need to raise about $500.
Anyone interested can donate to the Diamond Shakoor Chess Fund at 2000 Madison Street Suite B222, St. Louis, MO. Or call (614) 800-0117.
“Chess means everything to me,” said Diamond. “It’s changed my whole life for the positive.”