Maurice Ashley is the first Black man to become a chess grandmaster and is now the first Black person to be inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.
The Associated Press reports that Ashley, who was born in Jamaica, moved to Brooklyn at age 12 with two siblings — where they reunited with their mother. She had gone to the United States for work a decade before.
Ashley’s love of chess began at age 14, when a high school friend challenged him to a match. Ashley lost the match, but he has had a love for chess ever since. After that, he played countless games with competitors in New York parks and Manhattan chess clubs. He faced increasingly tougher competition during his time at New York’s City College. He went on to participate in tournaments against the best in America and the world.
His experience led him to become a grandmaster in 1999 – the first and only Black person with the title. Becoming a grandmaster is guided by World Chess Federation, known by its French acronym FIDE. It involves earning overall points and performing exceptionally well in chess tournaments.
In January, the 50-year-old Ashley got a phone call telling him he’ll have another first: induction into the US Chess Hall of Fame.
“For me to hear that I’m being inducted for everything I’ve given to the game,” Ashley told the AP. “That I’ve done to promote the game, that I’ve done to help young people play, and for the inspiration I’ve been, has just been absolutely incredible.”
He was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame April 13 in St. Louis. Ashley was commentating at the U.S. Chess Championship when he received the honor.
“I’ve never been a truly great chess player like the players we have here. I’ve always just been chess’ greatest superfan,” he told the crowd during his acceptance speech. “I love covering this game, I love talking the moves – I love trash talking the moves as you all well know.”
But he says his real destiny has been to be a promoter for chess.
“Someone who can talk about this game as something special,” he said.
According to his official website, Ashley makes a living doing just that. He is a three-time national championship coach, author of “Chess for Success,” ESPN commentator, designer of the iPhone app “Learn Chess! With Maurice Ashley,” puzzle inventor, and motivational speaker.
But he admits that even with all of his accomplishments, he still has faced racism. During the grandmaster’s time playing at clubs, an older player walked by and asked his opponent why he was letting Ashley beat him, using the N-word to describe him.
“It hurt. I was angry,” Ashley told the AP. “Then he and I played eventually – two tournament games – and I beat him both times.”