During this rest day, the 2018 World Candidates tournament is heading toward a very exciting ending. America’s Fabiano Caruana has held sole lead (6/9) for a couple of rounds breaking away from Shahkriyar Mamedyarov (5½/9), also undefeated. Caruana has had a very solid showing thus far and only obstinate defense by Ding Liren (and some misses by Fabiano) prevented a full-point lead over the field. Ding has drawn all nine of his games.

There has been a lot of attention on Caruana for the past few years since rejoining the U.S. National Team. Since then he has won a U.S. Championship and a gold medal with the U.S. Olympiad team. In recent days, excitement has heightened and the prospects of him earning the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen seem possible. Caruana missed an opportunity in 2016 when Sergey Karjakin defeated him to win the tournament. Karjakin lost the match against Carlsen that November.

There are many who feel that Caruana would represent a threat to Carlsen’s supremacy. He has a decent head-to-head score, has a style that is flexible and nerves that are steady enough to rankle the Norwegian. Hikaru Nakamura, who has been knowing Caruana since childhood, also talked about his strengths.

Video by World Chess.

This skill has been on fully display during the first half of the tournament. Although he snatched a win from Vladimir Kramnik, he missed one at a critical stage of the game with Ding Liren. After pressing Ding for three hours, Caruana seemed to be on the verge of collecting the full point with his deft rook maneuvers. In the maze of complications, he missed his chance. Here was the segment when the winning line was shown…

Video by World Chess

Nevertheless, Caruana has been well-prepared and showed his resilience in snatching a win from beleaguered Kramnik and scoring an important win over Levon Aronian. Kramnik has been in a tailspin since the loss and is virtually out of contention. GM Ian Rogers cautioned readers about Kramnik being the “drunkened gunslinger” with nothing to lose. Caruana faces him in round 11. Before that, Caruana will face Mamedyarov who is hot on his heels. The road is a tough one and Caruana will have to keep his nerve to become the first American to vie for the World Championship since Bobby Fischer.

Games of Fabiano Caruana

Main Site: https://worldchess.com/berlin/
Games (TWIC): http://theweekinchess.com/assets/files/pgn/wchcand18.pgn
Regulations: https://www.fide.com/FIDE/handbook/regscandidates2018.pdf
Pairings: http://fide.com/
Schedule: https://worldchess.com/berlin/


Chess is often thought of as a game of the high-browed intelligentsia. It has adherents worldwide and is touted as an activity to sharpen one’s mind and to enhance cognitive ability. Does chess really make people smart? No, but it can certainly help the mind stay sharp and teach valuable lessons about patience and decision-making. It comes as no surprise that the game has become one of the most popular inside correctional institutions around the world. There is so much intrigue about prison chess that many volunteers seem to relish a chance to play these self-taught chess sharks.

Carl Portman of England released a book last year titled Chess Behind Bars, a poignant look at chess in British prisons. The book serves as part-instructional guide with some powerful testimonial statements made. The book starts with a Foreword by GM Nigel Short who described the contact he maintained with an inmate even after his release!

“Carlton has repeatedly said how important chess was to him during these very dark times, allowing him to focus on an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating pursuit, while the shadow of never-distant depression hung about him. He still treasures the Yugoslav-produced Chess Informant – the bible of the pre-computer age – that I gave to him then.

There have been a number of personal stories and I have written a few here at The Chess Drum confirming the impact that chess has had on inmates. In fact, I have also had contact with inmates over the years and have sent books and other literature. The only issue is that inmates often began to ask for other items such as legal books and requests to contact relatives.

Oftentimes it is difficult to get cooperation from prison officials. In one case, materials sent to a prison in New York were returned citing “codes throughout” as if it were a secret message to the prisoner. I’m not sure if the official was serious about the ignorance or was simply being difficult. Portman affirmed this…

One of the most attractive aspects of chess is that it is available to everyone. However, just because the game is available does not mean that everyone is able to reach out and embrace it. Prisoners are certainly one such group. For various reason some prisoners cannot obtain chess sets, books or magazines. This may been understandable in 1940s Russia, but here – in Britain in 2017? Surely not?

Portman’s stirring preface does about as good a job as I have seen to market chess as a reformative tool for inmates. The data backs him and chess in prisons have received some buzz in England and other countries. We have heard of chess being used as a metaphor for life in cinematic portrayals.

The Grass Arena is one such movie. It was adapted from the autobiography of John Healy, a former alcoholic who was taught chess in prison. He gives a lengthy interview in the book. Another is Life of a King starring Cuba Gooding who played Eugene Brown, an ex-inmate who founded the “Big Chair Chess Club” and used chess to reach rowdy youth.

Many prisoners attempt to reflect on their lives and the decisions they have made. Chess can help one to externalize thoughts and to examine them. Issues such as impatience, impulsiveness, over-aggression all can be seen and analyzed in a constructive way through chess. Portman obviously believes that chess can make a difference in “redemption.”

Portman’s own hardscrabble upbringing (i.e., poverty, alcoholic and abusive stepfather) made the entry of chess into his life a beacon of light. It opened up an avenue to friendships, competition, erudition and self-confidence. At some point, he took up the role of managing chess in prisons for the English Chess Association. This would become a labor of love and a way to share his beloved pastime.

“If you drop a diamond in the mud,
it is still a diamond.”


In the first couple of chapters, he lays out of the case for chess in terms of its benefits: decision-making, analytical skills, social development and mental health. He interviews John Healy a recovering alcoholic who spent 15 years in the “Grass Arena,” a park for homeless, vagrants and drug addicts. Healy talks about how he ended up in prison and learned chess through a chance encounter with a cellmate. It opened up the door to a mind darkened by alcoholism.

Portman also included a story about his visit to an unnamed prison in which he gave a simultaneous exhibition. He recounted the drab and depressing surroundings and mentioned the various briefings he received to ensure his safety. He was even told that the prisoners could use the chess pieces as weapons.

All of this to get chess into the prisons? It was to get him to appreciate where he was and who he would be dealing with. When the time came, the buoyancy in which the prisoners entered the room was something not seen in a long time.

My favorite chapter is titled, “Testimony from Inmates.” It aptly includes excerpts of handwritten letters of prisoners. As one who often writes inmates, I do realize how important these interactions are. Every letter is probably read 20 times and each visit savored and every word digested.

After Portman’s auspicious visit, he drove home with a glow thinking that he had lit a spark. His visit and subsequent letters made a big impact! To get an idea, here are a few:

My rating is 1800 and was arrogant enough (before coming to prison) to suppose that I would be unbeaten in prison but I am being frequently humbled by some fellow inmates.

I did once spend 2 years carving a chess set out of matches.

…all the concerns I have to endure on a daily basis in prison are neutralized when I have a chess board in front of me, and so chess has proved to be a grate source of serenity and pleasure. It has also brought me quite literally out of my cell (shell” as when not playing chess I tend to keep very much to myself, but I have played and subsequently talked to a wide variety of prisoners of all colours and backgrounds whom I would otherwise have avoided like the plague.

…decent chess players in prison tend to command a certain degree of respect and be looked up to by other prisoners.

It helped me cope the first few weeks.

There are many more gems in Chapter 5 and the handwriting makes it much more intimate. The letter on pages 70-71 is a must-read!

Portman does not hold back in criticism of how some prisons deny prisoners access to materials. This has been an ongoing battle as prisons have to ensure the safety of the staff and the inmates. We all have heard of prisons having a problem with contraband items and suddenly there is a security issue when shanks, drugs, flammable substances and even homemade firearms are found! It certainly is a challenge. In one instance, I had to produce my organization’s ID number before they’d allow any materials in.

There certainly needs to be more of an effort at outreach to prisons. It would certainly be a positive activity and has been said to require a certain discipline in thinking. Portman includes a couple of the prisoner’s games in the back of the book which provides even more insight into the level of talent. He also includes instructional material, puzzles and some classic battles of the greats. Lastly, he provides some chess resources and recommendations.

Carl Portman with Chess Behind Bars

The book had quite a few gold nuggets and even discusses the “Future of Chess in Prisons.” In this chapter, he entertains a discussion on what UK prison are and are not doing for their prisoners. Again, he promotes chess as a solution to some of the issues that plague prisons in terms of managing recalcitrant behavior. He also discusses mental health and provides a prescription…

“…every inmate (male and female) to be given the opportunity to play chess. For every prison to have a chess club and associated resources; for chess to be a component of the prison education curriculum; for chess to have prison certification and accreditation to enable inmates to prove their achievements upon release.”

He then lays out tasks for each actor in this effort from Prison Director to the inmate to those who simply want to help. I would recommend this book to any person who is involved in prison chess as a volunteer, as a prison worker or as one who may have a relative or friend incarcerated. It is a thoughtful book whose words will magnify the glory of chess.

Example of a handmade prison chess set

GM Kevin Spraggett weighed in saying that Portman’s book would “bring more ridicule to our noble game.” It’s ironic coming from someone who runs a chess site containing hundreds of pornographic images. It is disappointing that Spraggett crassly opines that the only captive market is for prisoners and that Portman’s prescription “wouldn’t amount to much.” He even adds that chess didn’t help prisoners from ending up in prison! Extremely bizarre logic from the legendary Canadian Grandmaster.

“Chess constitutes a mental training
of the greatest possible value.”

~R.F. Green

Of course, Chess Behind Bars is not your usual chess book, but has quite a bit of practical value. I would agree that chess cannot help reform everyone and is certainly not a panacea for society’s social ills. There are countless stories of notable chess players whose minds were tormented by unsavory addictions and vile thoughts. However, chess has been proven to help those who seek to cope with the rigors of prison life, have aspirations for self-improvement, and develop a more refined approach to decision-making.

At the 2013 U.S. Chess Federation meeting, there was a report given by Sandra Guisso on prison chess in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo.

The prison population is comprised primarily of 19-30 year old Afro-Brazilian men. They have run the program for the past 9 years, and in that time, prisoners were tasked with making chess sets/boards to sell, as well as learning how to play. Ms. Guisso said the program has 12 groups, each with 15 prisoners, who learn and play chess for 50 minutes, twice a week. Compared to the general prison population, participants in the program had a recidivism rate of just 27% (link).

If we are wise, we would heed to the advice of Portman by suggesting a larger role for chess in the prison system. The book makes a compelling case.

Link: http://www.qualitychess.co.uk/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Chess-Behind-Bars-Carl-Portman/dp/1784830321


Rwanda Rwanda Rwanda

James Karuhanga, “Rwanda team for Chess Olympiad 2018 confirmed,” The New Times, 12 March 2018

Sandrine Uwase

Ten players on Sunday night qualified to make the open and women’s national teams, respectively, for the Chess Olympiad 2018 later this year in Batumi, the second-largest city of Georgia, from September 23 to October 7.

In the open team, the top five players are; Joseph Nzabanita, Candidate Master (CM) Maxence Murara, Fidele Mutabazi, Ian Murara Urwintwari and Alain Niyibizi (reserve), in that order. The women team comprises Joselyne Uwase, Sandrine Uwase, Layola Umuhoza Murara, Odile Kayitesi and Christelle Uwamahoro (reserve).

At the Chess Olympiad, countries or teams field four players during a match. The fifth player is always a reserve, according to Rwanda Chess Federation (FERWADE) president, Kevin Ganza.

“We are now going to organize training sessions for our players to be better prepared for the Olympiad which is a tough completion,” Ganza said.

Kevin Ganza, President Rwanda Chess Federation

Kevin Ganza, President Rwanda Chess Federation during an interview in 2016.
Photo by Faustin Niyigena

The final phase of Chess Olympiad qualifiers for selecting Rwanda’s teams – open and women – for this year’s 43rd Chess Olympiad, started on March 3 and was played over two consecutive weekends at IPRC-Kigali in Kicukiro.

Organized by the world chess federation (FIDE), the Chess Olympiad is a biennial chess tournament where teams from all over the world compete. It comprises open and women’s tournaments, as well as several events designed to promote the game of chess.

In 2016 the national team did not make it to the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, due to financial difficulties and hitches in travel preparations but Ganza said that preparations started early to avoid a repeat.




On April 21st, it’s going down. One of the most fierce rivalries in sports history will continue as the Chicago Chess Blitzers travel eastward to take on the Detroit Players in the Motor City. This match has been in the works work several months while the Chicago-New York match was being planned. After that match was postponed, Dee Wildman (Detroit) and Nathan Kelly (Chicago) finally completed negotiations to stage a match in Detroit.

Both cities have a long history and are regional cousins sharing many similar characteristics. After the great migration from the South to the Midwest, both industrial cities developed rich cultures for the arts and humanities. The iconic Motown Records is still one of Detroit most famous brands and Chicago’s jazz and blues scene are world-class.

Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman with “Jordan Rules” during heated rivalry. Will the Detroit-Chicago live up to the rivalry?

In terms of sports both cities have experienced success, but are also bitter rivals (Lions vs. Bears, Red Wings vs. Blackhawks and Bulls vs. Pistons). Basketball during the late 80s and early 90s the Detroit Pistons were the foil of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and won two NBA championships led by Chicago native Isiah Thomas. The “Bad Boys” touted toughness and grit and earned their nickname for their physical play. Jordan and Scottie Pippen finally overcame the Pistons and won six NBA championships.

The competition is less noted in chess although Michigan players are regulars in Chicago tournaments. This matchup will be the fourth for Chicago as they have beaten Memphis, Cleveland and St. Louis rather convincingly. Detroiters have visited Chicago Chess Club as FM Jimmy Canty battled Daniel X Jones in a cage match. Jones won that match and the trash-talk has already begun.

Shots fired!

The tension is heating up. Who will prevail? The rosters have not been released, but Detroit feels they are up to the challenge. They will most likely have Canty and NM John Brooks suiting up, but will IM Atulya Shetty play for the Detroiters? For Chicago, they will have a slightly different look with IM Angelo Young now living in California. Chicago believes they’ll have enough players in reserve to close the deal. Only one team will come out on top. Who will it be?

Video update coming!


Wakanda Wakanda Wakanda

Zion. Zamunda. Wakanda.

All fictional places in film with memorable and history-making story lines. Zamunda was the mythical kingdom characterized in Coming to America, one of Eddie Murphy’s finest efforts. In The Matrix, Zion was the home base of pioneers fighting artificial intelligence agents seeking to exploit humans trapped in a computer simulation. In all three movies, people of African descent are prominent and presented in a very positive light.

Black Panther took theaters by storm on February 16th breaking all types of records for pre-sold tickets. It then broke U.S. records for first week gross receipts passing $292 million. By the fourth week, it has breached $1 billion including a massive following internationally. Many theaters around the world were bustling with events that appeared to be more like an African fashion show complete with drummers, dancers and of course African cuisine. It has been a rousing success within the African Diaspora and it is anticipated that the movie will collect a handsome haul in next year’s Oscars.

What has spawned such an explosion of interest in this theatrical rendition of a comic book superhero. Was it the story? Was it the costumes? Was it the underlying socio-political and cultural significance? Perhaps a combination. It is a place that people of Africa descent has envisioned for centuries… Pan-African cooperation, futuristic thinking and holistic living.

Okoye (Dora Mulaji) and Nakia (War Dog)

Wakanda is a fictitious African country fueled by a precious substance vibranium which had meteorically fallen on its land. This mysterious substance not only gave the city its source of energy, but would also be what would catapult Wakanda into a first-rate superpower. Wakanda had masqueraded as a poor developing country while harboring mind-blowing technology which included vibranium-powered weapons, advanced airships, levitating trains, holographic piloting and restorative health science. The country also made use of kinetic energy which contrasted with the natural beauty accented by tumbling waterfalls and exotic foliage.

In this enigmatic country, there is a very intricate social system with tribes united by the Black Panther heir, King T’Challa. His father King T’Shaka was killed during Captain America: Civil War in a terrorist blast while speaking at the United Nations. The Black Panther possessed special powers after being given a concoction from vibranium-mutated, heart-shaped plants administered by the wise sage, Zuri. This included an indestructible vibranium-powered cat suit. If one looks closely, the setting of Wakanda and its impressive architecture is symbolic of the ancient African kingdoms such as Egypt and Mali. Even the use of animals as powerful symbols seem to point to a historical significance.

The kingdom of Wakanda was protected by the Dora Milaje, a fierce regiment of female warriors. Their role lead to an interesting discussion on geopolitics, social order and gender roles. Okoye, the general of the force, commands a presence with a shaved head and Maasai-inspired outfit. There was a welcome explosion of aesthetics including body art featuring various hair styles, body paint and scars, lip plates, beads and other accouterments. It was a beautiful mosaic of colors and textures that escaped judgement of western standards.

What has made the cinematography so vivid is the cross between human ingenuity and unadulterated beauty of nature. Even today, African nations hope to find the delicate balance between the two that makes Wakanda so alluring. Unfortunately, colonial structure of trade has resulted in a continent reliant on agriculture and mining industries primarily for the benefit of others. In the Black Panther, we enter a new world where Wakandans had not been colonized. One may ask, “What would Africa be like today if colonization and slavery had not happened?” Some have envisioned a place like Wakanda.

Here is the trailer…

Despite the spoilers that follow, the point of this article is not to serve as a review of Black Panther. There are already dozens of them floating around in social media from the comical desciptions to those evoking serious intellectual discourse. What follows is an attempt to lay out some topics for discussion and perhaps talk about how these issues can contribute to an overarching strategy to help foster Pan-African unity.

Africa through the eyes of Wakanda

What lessons can we draw from Black Panther? There have been a number of efforts to take some of the positive energy and channel it into positive action. The concept of “Afro-futurism” takes hold in a Utopian country where intellect has blossomed to create a technological behemoth. For decades, media has been replete with Tarzan images of Africa. Of course, the fictitious Zamunda in Coming to America showed fantastical opulence, but there was a realism surrounding Wakanda in Black Panther.

Wakanda was no less grandiose and brought a semblance of tremendous pride in African identity. The movie is closing in on the one-month mark and there has been an overwhelming amount of positive energy radiating throughout the African Diaspora. In the romantic comedy Coming to America, there were some serious cross-cultural issues highlighted, but in the end a Pan-African marriage served as a beautiful symbol of hope. There remains a serious question on the table. Will this movie result any conciliatory efforts within the African Diaspora?

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana pointing to the Ministry of Justice building where he signed the proclamation for independence. Dr. Nkrumah was a main proponent of continental African unity and drew lessons from the Black struggle in America where he was a student at Lincoln University. After independence in 1957, he requested many Blacks from America to move to Ghana to help build the young nation. He adopted the black star in the Ghanaian flag as a reminder of Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Shipping Line, a Pan-African maritime network. Garvey was from the island of Jamaica, moved to New York and built the largest mass organization in Black history called the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Movies generally characterize African nations as dysfunctional, war-torn and disease-infested wasteland were animals and people co-mingle without any social coherence. Thus, there has been a hesitancy to express pride in African identity. Actresses like Lupita N’yongo have given us a idea of what one form of African beauty looks like. Her arrival on the scene has set the stage for other leading ladies of dark hue in an industry that is still skittish on “unconventional” looks.

Black Panther actually cast the continent in a very positive light and this may be the underlying reason for such celebration. Colorful garments have dotted the global landscape as various celebrations have taken place all over the world. What has also followed was a number of invigorating discussions and various reviews of the movie. While some will say that it is just another movie, all indications show otherwise. Following are some of the topics that have been discussed in the past month.

Pan-African Nationalism

There has been a lot of discussion on racial identity and nationality including the relationship within the African Diaspora. Incidentally, the cast was Pan-African covering nationalities from the U.S., Africa, Caribbean and Europe. The idea of Killmonger, who is half-Wakandan, serving as the nemesis to T’Challa was thrust front and center. While many bristled at his approach, Killmonger’s idea to eradicate oppression was noble. It was sort of an ode to the Black Panther Party of the 60s.

Where were you?
~Question raised by Killmonger to T’Challa in reference to the “Black struggle”

It is ironic that the superhero’s name was almost changed to avoid any association with the 60s revolutionary group. Nevertheless, Black Panther allowed people of African descent see beauty in a a full spectrum of colors and styles. This is a powerful symbol of inter-tribal unity (even romantic), a concept that has been difficult to achieve in present-day Africa. Even in Africa there is a reticence about expressing cultural pride to the world. Unfortunately, many African traditions are eroding as a result of globalization trends. This movie may provide a shot of needed adrenaline.

The cooperation of the tribes was vital during the reign of King T’Challa, but the arrival of Killmonger forced each tribe to reevaluate their committment. Okoye, Wakanda’s top soldier vowed to protect the throne but it was evident that she looked at Killmonger with great skepticism. In the end, it was a vanquished tribe of the vegetarian Jabari (Man-Ape tribe) who helped to save a gravely wounded T’Challa and usher him back to the throne. In a sign of contrition and collaboration, the Jabari ruler M’Baku stated, “A life for a life” as T’Challa had spared him in their battle.

International Relations

Who is allowed residence in Wakanda? On at least two occasions, outsiders were given medical residence in the African country. The arrival of Erik Killmonger also raised the question of how a Wakandan was defined. Killmonger was the son of Prince N’Jobu, who was killed by his older brother, King T’Shaka. Killmonger was left to discover his father’s body.

Erik “Killmonger” Stevens

While it is true that Africa has historically been exploited for natural resources, it was N’Jobu who betrayed Wakanda by selling vibranium onto the black market to South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue. This occurred in Avengers: Age of Ultron when artificial intelligence tried to use vibranium purchased from Klaue to destroy mankind. In Black Panther, Klaue even made a “sonic-disrupting” arm cannon with a vibranium energy source. Was there justification for thinking that Wakanda would lose control of the vibranium? Indeed. It happened in the movies, it happened in Africa’s past and it continues to this day… all with African collaboration. Did T’Challa have a point?

The result was a battle of wills between Killmonger, who wanted to launch a revolution against global oppression and T’Challa who wanted only to protect the kingdom of Wakanda. If Wakanda allowed migrants residency can it maintain its identity? W’Kabi, leader of the Border Tribe, asked this very question when T’Challa mentioned the possibility of opening the borders. Interestingly, Killmonger double-crossed (and killed) vibranium dealer Klaue and delivered his body to W’Kabi to prove his worthiness to Wakanda. The Border Tribe allowed him in.

Is he Wakandan?
~Question raised by River tribal leader pertaining to Killmonger

Killmonger set out to avenge his father’s death and vowed to claim the Wakanda throne from his first-cousin in a challenge match. One elder asked the question, “Is he Wakandan?” putting the question of whether an outsider, despite Wakandan ancestry, would be eligible to sit on the throne. This has ignited the question of whether other Africans in the Diaspora have a role in shaping the future of the continent. In fact, some Africans may believe that other Blacks are appropriating culture by wearing African garments! Such statements are apocryphal. In reality, the movie inspired a widespread expression of “African Identity.”


It’s interesting that the women seem to represent some of the strongest and smartest figures in Wakanda. This is consistent both with the symbolism of the Queen Mother in some of the matrifocal societies in Africa. In fact, the women of Wakanda were very self-confident, beautiful and in the most patriotic roles. They reassured King T’Challa in his moments of doubt and protected his honor even after he was disgraced.

Okoye, was the ultimate warrior, fiercely loyal and demonstrated the range of her powers from the incredible fighting scenes to guiding the Wakanda craft with metaphysical powers. Shuri, T’Challa’s 16-year old sister, was a scientific genius and helped Wakanda realize the true power of vibranium. This is in a time when girls are woefully underrepresented in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math). Shuri’s message was clear.

The Wakandan Women
Princess Shuri, Nakia, General Okoye, Queen Ramonda

As Queen Ramonda stood as the matriarch, she ultimately agreed to side with the tribe who refused to unite under her son’s rule. The idea that the characters expressed themselves through natural African beauty eschewing the wigs and foreign standards of beauty was refreshing. Was a message being sent in response to the trend of long weaves and wigs within the African Diaspora?

Angela Bassett played a regal role and as a widow, the greatest influence in the kingdom. Her presence was reassuring and added dignity to the cast. Not only were Wakandan women beautiful and smart, but also graceful. This gallant presentation of Black woman played a role in the beautiful and elegant garments donned during the initial weeks of the movie’s release. Will this set off an African-inspired cultural revolution seen in the 70s?

The Wakanda Strategy

While Wakanda was isolated from the world, they healed at least two foreigners. After the CIA agent Everett Ross was seriously wounded and healed in Wakanda, he played a role in the rebellion to reseat T’Challa to the throne. While the notion of an Pan-African kingdom was ideal, the underlying notion is that a foreigner (and CIA operative) was necessary for Wakanda to restore order, even in an ancillary role.

Bucky Barnes, who was compromised by the Russians in Captain America: Civil War, was seen (after the credits) healing from his brainwashing in a Wakandan hut. After Killmonger’s death, was T’Challa’s pronouncement of sharing Wakanda technology a good one? There seems to be a hitch in this story.

T’Challa at the United Nations.
Good idea?

The intersection of racial identity, class, gender and politics are prevalent in this 135-minute film. It invigorates an age-old discussion of geopolitics and social evolution. With people of African descent seeing the world evolve so quickly, this movie provides some focus on what we can become. External ties to Europe and America and dependency on international financial institutions (IFIs) like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank must be reevaluated. Africa’s ability to chart an independent course of development will rely on new relationships. Perhaps, the relationship within the African Diaspora is the first to be fostered.

In the movie, Wakanda was a first-rate power. What would happen if such an African nation existed? The movie is a fantasy, but so are revolutionary ideas until they come into fruition. L.P. Jacks once said, “Ideas never coupled with action are never bigger than the brain cells they once occupied.” Marcus Garvey’s UNIA never created the Utopian homeland desired in Liberia (due to subversive efforts by the U.S.), but the organization developed a powerful model.

Will the African Diaspora build the equivalent of a Wakanda? Will they erect a bridge to foster Pan-African unity? Will this be a defining moment as the world seems to be shifting its balance of power? Time will tell. Meanwhile we will see more of Wakanda in the coming Avengers: Infinity War… and Black Panther 2 is already in the works. The east is rising and… Black is good!

Images by Marvel Studios & The Walt Disney Company


Today the World Chess Candidates will start the process of determining the challenger for the World Championship match later on in the year against World Champion Magnus Carlsen. The tournament will take place in the German capital of Berlin, the city’s first time hosting the event. The field will feature seven of the qualifiers and one wild-card selection. Half of the 2016 field will return with in Levon Aronian (ARM), Wesley So (USA), Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Sergey Karjakin (RUS). Karjakin won the event scoring a key win over Caruana in the final round.

The Russian went on to play Carlsen, but lost the championship match in tiebreaks. He returns along with Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk forming a Russian trio and comprising 38% of the field. One intriguing player is the top seed Shahkriyar Mamedyarov, arguably the hottest player of 2017. Ding Liren is the first Chinese to qualify and of course the second Asian behind Viswanathan Anand to vie for the qualifying spot.

Carlsen will be watching intently although a spat has surfaced between he and Anish Giri who implied that the World Champion was nervous at the prospects for facing the winner. What is clear is that the championship will prove to be exciting. Any of the eight competitors will be viable opponents. Who will break through?

It is ironic that Giri once wrote a book titled, After Magnus: Who Can Dethrone the World Chess Champion? Four of those he featured in the book are in the tournament, Caruana, So, Ding and Grischuk. Surprisingly, Giri’s other inclusions Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura and Wei Yi will not be in Berlin, but are three players who could threaten Carlsen in the future.

Main Site: https://worldchess.com/berlin/
Games (TWIC): http://theweekinchess.com/assets/files/pgn/wchcand18.pgn
Regulations: https://www.fide.com/FIDE/handbook/regscandidates2018.pdf
Pairings: http://fide.com/images/stories/NEWS_2018/FIDE_NEWS/Candidates_Tournament_2018_Pairings.pdf
Schedule: https://worldchess.com/berlin/

2018 Candidates Tournament
March 10th-March 28th, 2018 (Berlin, Germany)
1 Mamedyarov, Shahkriyar GM Azerbaijan
2 Kramnik, Vladimir GM Russia
3 So, Wesley GM USA
4 Aronian, Levon GM Armenia
5 Caruana, Fabiano GM USA
6 Ding Liren GM China
7 Grischuk, Alexander GM Russia
8 Karjakin, Sergey GM Russia
Main Site



Contact: Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum
P.O. Box 7663
Tallahassee, FL 32314-7663 USA
(850) 296-9494

ISBN-10: 0998118024
ISBN-13: 978-0998118024
Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
Publisher: The Chess Drum, LLC
Paperback: $27.00 (full color)


Triple Exclam!!! The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior hit the market last year on March 1st with great anticipation and was well-received. Now there is a paperback equivalent on sale. It is also featured in a bold full-color format with a non-gloss finish. There have been minor corrections from the original hardback version. This collector’s item goes for $27.00 and is available at The Chess Drum. The paperback version is poised to reach a wider audience with a lower price point and bulk discounts of 10% are available at five or more copies.

In the past year, I have made additional discoveries of Tate’s legacy and perhaps these will become a topic for a more comprehensive work on chess in the African Diaspora. Hopefully, Triple Exclam will be the beginning of a series of books highlighting the unique contributions made by unheralded players overlooked in the history of chess.

Emory Tate vacationing in Mexico
Photo by Ed Lewis

Order Details

You can purchase the book by following the Paypal button below. A Paypal account is not needed. Buying in bulk cuts per unit and mailing costs, so for groups of friends, chess clubs, and vendors seeking volume discounts (for the purchase of five or more), click here to request an invoice!

International rates are currently prohibitive unless ordering quantities in multiples of five (U.S. Postal Service flat rate box). The Chess Drum is looking for international distributors to make the book accessible to a wider audience. An e-book version of Triple Exclam is forthcoming.

Some customers many be skittish about ordering online. In that case, contact me at webmaster@thechessdrum.net with number of copies needed and I’ll send an invoice. Mail orders are completed with money orders only. Also available for book signings. Make sure you add this handsome book to your collection!

FOR PURCHASING 1-4 COPIES, click below!



# # #

The Chess Drum, LLC is a publisher of chess news content and literature. The organization’s website has continued to demonstrate the universality of chess by covering a variety of topics through news stories, essays, interviews, and photos since 2001. Visit The Chess Drum at thechessdrum.net and follow the beat on Facebook and Twitter!


Muhammad Ali played chess and was a master of strategy and tactics in the boxing ring.

Each year The Chess Drum posts reflections for Black History Month. This year a video was produced with some reflections and contemporary topics. This has already been an interesting year with the release of “Black Panther” and its prospects for honors at the Oscars. It was apropos that the movie was released in February which is a month we use to intimately reflect on the success of people of the African Diaspora. That remains the mission of The Chess Drum.

The segment below is about 28 minutes long with latest Drum news, Black History nuggets and also has a trivia contest included! You’ll have to play the video to get the question and the answer. Check it out!

Video by The Chess Drum

Selected Black History articles at The Chess Drum
(Daaim Shabazz)

Black History Month: A Special Tribute!!
The Chess Drum, February 2002

The Rising of the Black Star
uschess.org, 2 March 2007

Black History: A Chess Perspective
The Chess Drum, 12 February 2010

Reflections… Black History of Chess
The Chess Drum, 24 February 2012

Rare Chess Images in Black History
The Chess Drum, 10 February, 2013

Chess through the eyes of Black History
The Chess Drum, 28 February 2014

Creating Black History in Chess
The Chess Drum, 26 February 2017


Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica

Davy Cops Fourth National Chess Champion Title

The 2018 National Chess Championship of Jamaica ended last weekend at the Christar Villas Hotel, with FIDE Master Damion Davy capturing the National Champion title for the Absolute section. This was Davy’s fourth hold on the title, which he won in 2011, jointly in 2012 and 2013.

FM Damion Davy

FM Damion Davy

Davy took the lead from Round 4 of the 11-round Championship and never looked back, eventually ending undefeated on 8.5 points, two points ahead of his nearest rival, CM Shreyas Smith, who ended on 6.5 points. Also ending on 6.5, but finishing third and fourth respectively on tiebreak were FM Malaku Lorne and NM Paul Brooks. NM Stuart James rounded out the top five on 6 points.

Despite Davy securing the title before the final round, the rest of the field continued to fight hard through to the end, as they sought to secure a place on the national team, which will participate at the 43rd Chess Olympiad later this year in Batumi, Georgia.

Defending Champion CM Smith recovers in time

Shreyas Smith

The 2017 champion, CM Shreyas Smith couldn’t reproduce his performance of last year, after suffering unexpected losses to schoolboys Raheem Glaves and NM Akeem Brown early in the tournament.

CM Smith fought until the end however, with his final game against NM Paul Brooks also being a tricky affair. The game constantly swung in each player’s favour due to time trouble experienced on both sides, along with positional complications. After 4 hours and 38 minutes and 69 moves, both players agreed to a draw, in what was the longest game of the final round of the tournament.

FM Lorne finishes strong with second half surge

After a lacklustre start, with only one point after five rounds of play, FM Malaku Lorne made a remarkable recovery with a late surge which saw him scoring a near-perfect 5.5 points from his last 6 games, to finish tied in second place. His final game against NM Brown displayed his passion for an aggressive game and accurate play, all with a calm demeanour, despite the stakes at hand. This final victory put FM Lorne in third place on tiebreak.

The final standings for the championship is as follows:

1. FM Damion Davy (8.5 points)
2. CM Shreyas Smith (6.5 points)
3. FM Malaku Lorne (6.5 points)
4. NM Paul Brooks (6.5 points)
5. NM Stuart James (6 points)
6. FM Joshua Christie (6 points)
7. Raheem Glaves (5.5 points)
8. CM Duane Rowe (5.5 points)
9. NM Kevin Merritt (5 points)
10. NM Akeem Brown (4 points)
11. NM Andrew Wallace (4 points)
12. Malik Curriah (2 points)

The sponsors of the 2018 National Chess Championship included the Sports Development Foundation, the Jamaica Olympic Association, Christar Villas Hotel and the Magnificent Chess Foundation.

Krishna Gray is Jamaica’s Women’s Champion for 2018

The 2018 National Chess Championship of Jamaica ended last weekend at the Christar Villas Hotel, with Krishna Gray capturing the National Female Champion title for the first time since 2012. Every year since 2012, she has come very close, even tying for first last year and losing out in the playoffs that took place to decide the 2017 championship. This year Gray was strong from the start, leading the tournament at the midway point on 5 points from 6 games. She continued her performance until the end, not losing a single game in the 11 Round Robin Tournament. Gray commented “This prestigious 11-round competition was truly grueling, but I was really proud that I competed and ended undefeated.”

FM Damion Davy

Krishna Gray

With this win, Gray secured her place on the national team, which will participate at the 43rd Chess Olympiad to be held later this year in Batumi, Georgia. This will be the fourth time that Gray will represent Jamaica at the biennial Chess Olympiad, where she will be seeking to gain a much sought after FIDE title if she is able to achieve a minimum of 3.5 points from 7 games.

Historic Ladies National Championship

WIM Deborah Richards-Porter, who did not play the Championship this year, but qualifies for the National Team by virtue of her current rating and performance over the year, pointed out that “in many ways this was an historic ladies championship for Jamaica, being the first time that the there was a full field of 12 players, enabling an 11 game Round Robin format”. It is also encouraging to note that 7 of the 12 players are actually juniors, all of whom are currently playing in the PCJ National High Schools tournament, and will be playing in the upcoming Serge Island National Age Group Championships to be staged this weekend.

WCM Ariel Barrett secures 2nd spot

WCM Ariel Barrett who was the Female National Champion in 2015, was one of the favourites for the 2018 title being the top-rated player in the field. After 3 rounds she was on a perfect 3 points, and then had draws with youngster WCM Adani Clarke, Sheanel Gardner and the eventual champion Krishna Gray in Round 6.

Ariel Barrett

In Round 7 she suffered her first loss to school girl Aulanni Kidd, who performed very well in this tournament ending on fourth place on 6.5 points, creating many upsets along the way in only her second attempt in a Nationals tournament. After this round WCM Barrett gained momentum winning three of the final four games, to end the tournament in second place with 7.5 points.

WCM Margoe Williams returns to chess with intensity

After a long hiatus from chess, WCM Margoe Williams returned to competitive play with intense determination. Overcoming personal challenges with the recent loss of her partner, WCM Williams had an amazing performance which was topped off by a win against the tournament favourite WCM Ariel Barrett in the final 11th round, ending on 7 points, with a spot on the national team. This result also denied WCM Barrett a tie with Gray, a playoff opportunity, and what would have been a chance to win the Championship.

The final standings for the championship is as follows:

1. Krishna Gray (8.5 points)
2. WCM Ariel Barrett (7.5 points)
3. WCM Margoe Williams (7 points)
4. Aulanni Kidd (6.5 points)
5. WCM Adani Clarke (6 points)
6. WCM Annesha Smith (5.5 points)
7. Sheanel Gardner (5 points)
8. WCM Melisha Smith (5 points)
9. Raehanna Brown (4.5 points)
10. Alliyah Yankana (4.5 points)
11. Rochelle Porter (4 points)
12. Ashanti Blackwood (2.5 points)

The sponsors of the 2018 National Chess Championship included the Sports Development Foundation, the Jamaica Olympic Association, Christar Villas Hotel and the Magnificent Chess Foundation.

~Rowena Coe
Chair of Public Relations Committee
Jamaica Chess Federation
Email: jamchessfed.public.relations@gmail.com


Malawi Malawi Malawi

Great news! There is another outlet for African news. African Chess released its “maiden edition” with a number of interesting stories including a brief history of Malawian chess and GM Nigel Short’s visit in 2006. It was a watershed moment for the country who joined FIDE a year earlier. Africa Chess is the brainchild of Makhosi Makhisho Nyirenda, the Publicity Secretary of is the Malawi Chess Federation.

Some of the other articles are Nigerian Chess Online portal, a site hosting blitz events and highlight the exploits of Nigerian players. There is another article by Malawian player Desiderata Nkhoma who makes a solid case for increased activity and support for women’s chess.

The basic idea is to get more girls playing chess. In our planning sessions, we projected an enrollment target of 10 student but we already beat our target by 50%, enrolling 15 students of which 67% of them are girls. Last week Saturday marked the debut of our academy lessons. The lessons have been designed to accommodate everyone, so that they can learn from the comfort of their homes or free time at work. Our target is to introduce the game of Chess to at least 40 girls this year. And I believe we will surpass this goal.

Malawi’s Desiderata Nkhoma

There is an article on the Nigerian Olympiad qualifier with FM Bomo Kigigha and IM Oladapo Adu leading the way. Perhaps the most intriguing interview is the election of Israel Shilongo, the new Namibian Chess Federation President. He is only 26 years old and appears to be taking the baton from stalwarts like Charles Eichab and Otto Nakapunda. Shilongo has a “Vision 2020 Plan” set for chess development in the country. He will have four years to execute his plan.

26-year old Israel Shilongo
President of Namibia Chess Federation
Photos courtesy of Africa Chess

Whoever heard of chess being used as a “pick up line” to win the heart of someone you admire. There is a rather humorous story of a 30-year old player who wanted to learn to play to win the affection of the ladies. It’s not what you think. There is actually a motivation for that story. Also covered is an innovative program promoting chess for deaf players in Zimbabwe by London-based Tafadzwa Katiyo.

It’s quite a challenge to keep a chess news blog going, but hopefully we will see more interesting stories coming out of Malawi. All the best!

Africa Chess Mediahttps://africachessmedia.com/


12-year old Tremil Anderson
Photo by LA Chess Club

Sometimes serendipity smacks you in the face. Last night while on Facebook I get a Facebook Live alert from Valerie Idehen that Maurice Ashley was playing blitz in Los Angeles’ Starbucks. I tune in and watch him beat several players with 5:1 odds. That’s not the story unless you’ve never seen Maurice play.

After Maurice was done, he was amiably chatting with other players someone mentioned “12-year old prodigy named “Tre.” Then the question started about how to find the boy. They commented that he played (and taught) at the LA Chess Club and occasionally came to the coffee shop to play blitz. I immediately started looking for “Tre” and was Googling different spellings. No luck. Then someone showed a YouTube video of a boy with an Afro analyzing a position at a demo board. Very articulate and not camera-shy.

GM Maurice Ashley watching a video clip of Tre Anderson giving a lecture at the LA Chess Club. Ashley was at a Starbucks in Ladera Heights, California. Photo still taken from Valerie Idehen’s video

As Maurice was signing autographs on everything from coffee sleeves to bus cards, Valerie asked him, “Did you hear about this 12-year old prodigy named Tre?” “Who’s Tre? What’s his rating?” Maurice interest was piqued, but no one seemed to know any details. “He teaches at the LA Chess Club.”

Really? At 12 years old?

“We gotta to find Tre,” said Maurice. Then someone showed him a different video showing Tre wearing a colorful cap. Maurice was impressed. “He looks awesome.” Definitely. “Who is his coach? We gotta go find him.” After a few minutes of watching Tre at the demo board, the search was on to find this bright boy. I found a video link and after another search learned his full name was Tremil Anderson, a local talent.

Tre will be coming for Maurice’s commentating job in a few years!

What immediately stuck out is the comfort of how he expresses himself. I have been a university professor for more than 20 years and a few of my adult students are less comfortable than Tre when presenting. I supposed when you’re presenting for a grade it’s different. 🙂

So here’s the video Maurice was shown…

Notice how comfortable he is with presenting his ideas. It is rare to see this level of maturity, and some high-level Grandmasters even struggle with it. Former World Champion Garry Kasparov once said, “Hard work is a talent” and Tre is already showing that he can work hard at improving in chess. While there is not much information on him in scholastic chess, there are a few videos of note. He tied for 1st in the Western Class Championships last April and has a current USCF rating of 1944.

Note that he is a Dragon aficionado and plays an insane game against NM Robert Shlyakhtenko, a U.S. All-American. One of the things I would caution Tre about is responding to every comment on YouTube.

What is good about Tre is that he did ANOTHER video analyzing the game above after many naysayers commented that he should have captured the rook with Nxh1 instead of playing Nxe4. In this video, he goes through the game move-by-move and explains his point. This shows that he is self-critical and seeking to improve. While he certainly is a chess talent, his work ethic is more impressive.

At this rate it is possible that he could make National Master this year. Finally is another game with Tre analyzing an interesting game in the Tarrasch French. After the session, club manager Mick Bighamian analyzed the same game.

It is obvious that Tre is a huge talent and the work he is putting in will yield dividends in chess and anything he aspires to do in life. It appears that Maurice will have competition to commentate the next Sinquefield Cup! 😉


Another year has passed and The Chess Drum is still beating at 17 years. It’s been quite an interesting journey. Things have changed drastically from the times we were reading Informants and MCO to the current times of ChessBase 14, Twitch banter videos and cage matches. During the time of The Chess Drum, I have seen an evolution from websites to blogs to social media to videos. It has been interesting to see how the delivery of chess content has changed over the years.

Currently, The Chess Drum houses thousands of pages of content from over the years. The focus now is to compile the information as part of a book series. It is a long overdue project and one that will show the universality of chess and the contributions an overlooked segment has made. Below are some of the tens of thousands of photos captured over the years. Some I had forgotten about.

Drum Reflections (2001-2007)!
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

Drum Reflections (2008-2014)!
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

Drum Reflections (2015-2017)!
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

Last year, I released Triple Exclam!!! The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior. The reception was enthusiastic and I have about 20 hardbacks left due to a cancelled order. I have a paperback version on the way in a couple of weeks. While I only wrote 118 articles (down from average of around 200) last year, the emphasis on publishing Triple Exclam was the priority.

In 2018, there is a hope that The Chess Drum will revisit some of the stories and continue to document new history. Such an undertaking is very bold as one has to have the discipline, time and resources to keep it beating. It hasn’t been easy and it is a rather thankless effort. Nevertheless, the value of the material will become more evident when the books immortalize our great game.

Thanks for purchases of Triple Exclam and for the support of The Chess Drum over the 17 years! KEEP THE BEAT GOING!!


Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

Happy 17th!!



Before going to Spain in an attempt to defend his Gibraltar titles (2008, 2015, 2016, 2017), GM Hikaru Nakamura traveled to South Africa for a visit and a series of exhibitions. There were a number of videos buzzing around in social media and the visions of over-excited South Africans made it a must-see event. Nakamura arrived in Johannesburg the morning of January 3rd and in the evening played the final of the 2017 Speed Chess Championship Final against World Champion Magnus Carlsen. What great timing!

Hikaru Nakamura (seated onstage) playing Magnus Carlsen from the main auditorium of Birchwoods Hotel and Conference Center in Johannesburg, South Africa (match link). All photos by Lennart Ootes

Nakamura was in South Africa as part of a week-long whirlwind tour featuring a variety of events… most notably the 2017 South African Junior Chess Championships. He is one of few top-level GMs to have touched African soil, a sad reality.

Hikaru Nakamura at simul before the South African Junior Championships.

Nakamura faced 101 players and go 92 wins, 7 draws and 2 losses!

Nakamura did visit Libya for the 2004 FIDE Knockout, but had not ventured to the Sub-Saharan African region. Of course, Maurice Ashley and Pontus Carlsson have recently visited the continent to participate in an “Chess Masters for African Tour,” but Viswanathan Anand (Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa), Judit Polgar (Botswana) and Nigel Short (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria to name a few) are a few of the top-10 GMs (past and present) who have ventured to the continent… especially south of the Sahara.

Despite being a continent needing the most assistance to propel chess development, Africa has received little attention from FIDE officials and struggles to gain the attention of local officials. Ironically, it becomes a battleground every four years during the FIDE elections. Thus far, things are quiet politically. Nevertheless, the arrival of a top Grandmaster is always a jolt of adrenaline and Nakamura’s appearance was no exception.

Posing with prize winners at Closing of South African Junior Championships

Nakamura has developed into one of the biggest brands in the chess world. He makes himself accessible to fans and seems to be willing to accept almost any online challenge. His chess.com banter and Twitch videos are ever-popular and his style never disappoints. However, his South African trip was not only a community service appearance and a vacation, but it turned out to be much more activity than we could imagine. There was even a session of blitz lawn chess!

Large crowd came out to Joubert Park!

Blitz Lawn Chess!

He found himself in the famous Joubert Park where he faced off against all comers including IM Johannes Mabusela. The scene was electric and the American Grandmaster seemed to enjoy the moment. Here is one battle giving opponent 3:1 time odds and 10:1 money odds. Of course, the money wasn’t the issue, but it certainly upped the pressure on the four-time American champion. Check this out!

Videos by Mike Klein (chess.com)

What is the significance of a set of blitz games? Certainly, blitz is a common pastime in the chess world and a staple of chess in the park. What is amazing is NOT the fact that a Grandmaster is playing in the park, but it happens to be one of the top players in the world. It would still be news if Nakamura showed up in Washington Square Park, but to bring such excitement to the South African community is enough to provide an impetus for chess development.

Few of the top players make these type of appearances, but if they knew the impact these visits could have, many may venture to Africa more often. Mikhail Botvinnik would no doubt be horrified at Nakamura playing blitz in a park against random players, but the beauty is that chess gains a new level of respect and prestige.

No doubt that blitz certainly has a place, but more importantly Nakamura shows that moving fast is necessary but not sufficient in blitz. Many park players are fast and can create problems with unorthodox play and gambits, but cannot match the quality of moves of a professional blitz player. Here Nakamura gets into an interesting situation over pawn promotion…

IM Johannes Mabusela was enjoying the festivities…

…and even got a game in (see game).

Mike Klein of chess.com interviews Nakamura
at Joubert Park in Johannesburg, South Africa

Videos by chess.com (Mike Klein)

What can we gather from this exhibition? We saw the enthusiasm throughout the visit during the simul, the ceremonies and even in the park. Players in South Africa have a lot of passion for chess and it’s quite a boost when you have the world’s strongest players to visit. It helps the marketability of chess and also provides prospects for future events.

I have also stated that the best chance for African players to earn FIDE titles is to attract professional players to the continent. It’s fine for strong players to come and give lectures and simuls, but the idea of hosting strong tournaments on the continent would provide such a catalyst for growth. Traveling abroad is cost-prohibitive for many non-professional African players, and there are few opportunities on the vast continent.

Seeing Nakamura playing in South African parks give chess a bit more accessibility that the top-level tournaments don’t provide. Here we saw the many faces of chess: online championship chess, scholastic chess and park chess. Fortunately, there are organizations making a push for chess development and Kasparov Chess Foundation for Africa (KCFA) continues to make a strong presence. Thanks to Graham Jurgensen of KCFA and the organizing committee for making this happen!

Great day at Joubert Park!
All photos by Lennart Ootes (galleries here)


Daniel X Jones vs. Alejandro RamirezGM Alejandro Ramirez

Blitz Battle on January 27th!
Daniel X Jones vs. GM Alejandro Ramirez

The Chicago Chess Club will be hosting their first major event of the year when GM Alejandro Ramirez will be coming to the Windy City for a simultaneous exhibition and a match with Daniel X Jones. Promoter Nathan Kelly asserted that the match is the main event, but of course the Costa Rican born Grandmaster is a huge favorite to score an overwhelming result.

Jones has proven to be battle-tested, so he looks to make the match competitive. Will he shock the world? When The Chess Drum told Ramirez that losing to Jones would result in a worldwide broadcast, he took in in stride and said, “Haha, I don’t doubt that!”

There have been a number of highly-publicized cage matches featuring Jones who for the past month has been hosting an entertaining segment known as the “Midday Massacre.” These are short segments where he plays several 1-minute chess games with players from around the world. The games are dotted with colorful trash talk. Jones has been a member of the Chicago Chess Blitzers traveling team who have won three matches with a pending match against New York on March 3rd. He has also played three head-to-head matches with FM Jimmy Canty, NM Shawn Martinez and NM Jeff DeJesus.

Daniel X Jones vs. FM James Canty III

Jones takes on FM James Canty III in blitz battle!
Photo by Nathan Kelly

Ramirez is best known as a broadcaster in Grand Chess Tour events and U.S. Championships. He has also hosted the Spanish coverage for the St. Louis Chess Club where he is a Grandmaster-in-Residence. He also has produced ChessBase DVDs on the Benko Gambit and annotated one such game of Emory Tate’s in Triple Exclam. He is currently the coach of the St. Louis University Chess Team who recently qualified for the Pan-Am Intercollegiate “Final Four” tournament in the spring.

GM Alejandro Ramirez has fully deemed himself from last year's poor showing. He is still in the running for the title.

GM Alejandro Ramirez (left) in the 2013 U.S. Championship,
a tournament he came close to winning!
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Ramirez first gained notoriety as a 14-year old by nearly beating Alexander Morozevich in the 2002 Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia. Then an IM, he scored 9/14 and caught the eyes of many. The young star was able to get some invitations and later qualified for the FIDE World Cup. In 2003, Ramirez became a Grandmaster at the age of 15 becoming the first Costa Rican to earn the coveted title. He was later able to secure a scholarship to University of Texas-Dallas and earned two degrees from the school. After a short stint in the video game industry, he decided to focus on chess full-time. In 2011, he switched his federation to the U.S.

It should be a good weekend for the Chess Chess Club. Spots for the simultaneous exhibition are $30 and the event will start at 11am before the big match. Lunch will be provided! Match will begin at 5pm. There will be 10 5-minute games and 11 3-minute games. Games will be broadcast on Facebook Live!


Prime Minister Erna Solberg and President Donald Trump
days before his infamous remarks.
Photo by CNBC

President Donald Trump has had a tumultuous tenure in his year in the Oval Office. Constantly dogged by Tweets, off-color comments, contradictions, he was recently blasted for making disparaging comments about Haitians, Nigerians and Africans in general. He recently said if Nigerians came to the U.S., they would not want to go “back to their huts” and that for Haitians, “they all have AIDS.” He characterized developing nations as “sh!*hole countries” and suggested that the U.S. give Norwegians more consideration for immigration. In fact, Trump had just met with Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg so he may not have chosen the country randomly.

Without realizing it Trump has invoked an interesting side note two years after the U.S. won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. Perhaps he doesn’t know that the World Champion is Norwegian, or that the country’s citizens already do quite well, but what if World Champion Magnus Carlsen were to join the U.S. Chess Federation? Since we’re living in a fantasy world, we can imagine the 2020 U.S. Olympiad team in Russia: Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So. Impressive, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

While Trump has proven to have very objectionable views on nationality, gender and race, would getting a particular chess-playing Norwegian to join the U.S. be a good idea? Since we are building a fantasy wish-list, how about World Junior Champion Aryan Tari? Trump would probably encourage such a move until he discovered that Aryan’s parents hail from Iran. Of course, the entire episode is ridiculous and the U.S. should not build a policy based purely on religion or nationality.

In the final analysis, referring to other countries in such objectionable ways (while praising others) is certainly unbefitting for such a high office. Imagine if a FIDE President uttered such obscenities. Unfortunately, this talk is sometimes heard in the chess world during an election year when some imply that smaller federations (particularly from Africa) would be willing to accept money and favors for votes. Let’s hope we don’t hear such comments as we move toward selecting a new FIDE President. Let’s also hope no other President (of any organization) will stoop to historic levels of crude language.


Tata Steel Chess 2018

One of the marquee tournaments kicked off today in Wijk ann Zee with the opening of the 80th Tata Steel Chess Tournament. World Champion Magnus Carlsen is coming off of his 2017 Grand Tour win and the recent Blitz title to play in his 14th Tata tournament. He won in 2016 and will be looking to take the crown from Wesley So who won it last year.

Wesley So, winner of 2017 Tata Steel Chess Photo by Alina L’Ami (Tata Steel Chess)

The field will feature a number of players who are poised for the Candidates tournament in March. 2018 participants Fabiano Caruana, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Vladimir Kramnik, and Sergey Karjakin will join So in London for a right to challenge Carlsen in the World Championship this year. Veterans Viswanathan Anand and Peter Svidler are going to cause some problems for the young crop of stars in the field. Wei Yi, at 18 years old, is perhaps one of the most highly-touted teens.

Other interesting additions will be Hou Yifan who was former Women’s Champion and has announced she is going to attend Oxford University for graduate studies. Baskaran Adhiban is making a return appearance after being the darling of last year’s event with +2. Debutante Maxim Matlakov has gotten his first invitation at age 26 and is the reigning European Champion. Last by not least is the Challengers winner Gawain Jones got the better tiebreaks over Markus Ragger. Both ended on 9/13.

The Challengers tournament will be led by Indian sensation Vidit Santosh Gujrathi touted by Anand as the future of Indian chess. The field includes the last two World Junior Champions in Norway’s Aryan Tari (2017) and Jeffery Xiong (2016). Four-time African champion Bassem Amin of Egypt is making his first appearance at Tata Steel. He recently broke the 2700 barrier becoming the first African player to do so.

Two women will provide lots of excitement as the congenial Harika Dronavali returns to Wijk to compete along with her colleague Olga Giriya who is making her first trip. There are a number of young Dutch talents in the field including the van Foreest brothers Jorden (18) and Lucas (16) and Benjamin Bok (23). Erwin L’Ami will most likely be the pacesetter for the Dutch side to protect home turf. Russia’s 21-year old Dmitri Gordievsky rounds out the field.

Tata Steel is an Indian multinational conglomerate consisting of a number of industries. Those following the tournament from the early days will remember it as the Hoorgovens, a Dutch steel company that would later merge with British steel to form the Corus Group. When Tata steel purchased Corus in 2007, the tournament took on the name of Indian conglomerate.

Video by Tata Steel

Official Site: http://www.tatasteelchess.com/
Schedule: https://www.tatasteelchess.com/visit/tata-steel-chess/program
Videos: (YouTube)

2018 Tata Steel Tournament
January 13th-28th, 2018 (Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands)
1 Carlsen, Magnus GM Norway
2 Caruana, Fabiano GM USA
3 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar GM Azerbaijan
4 So, Wesley GM USA
5 Kramnik, Vladimir GM Russia
6 Svidler, Peter GM Russia
7 Anand, Viswanathan GM India
8 Karjakin, Sergey GM Russia
9 Giri, Anish GM Netherlands
10 Wei, Yi GM China
11 Matlakov, Maxim GM Russia
12 Hou, Yifan GM China
13 Adhiban, Baskaran GM India
14 Jones, Gawain GM England
1 Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi GM India
2 Amin, Bassem GM Egypt
3 Krasenkow, Michal GM Poland
4 Bluebaum, Matthias GM Germany
5 Korobov, Anton GM Ukraine
6 Xiong, Jeffery GM USA
7 L’Ami, Erwin GM Netherlands
8 van Foreest, Jorden GM Netherlands
9 Gordievsky, Dmitry GM Russia
10 Bok, Benjamin GM Netherlands
11 Tari, Aryan GM Norway
12 Harika, Dronavalli GM India
13 Girya, Olga WGM Russia
14 Van Foreest, Lucas IM Netherlands
Official Site


Some years ago, I stumbled onto a Google document featuring a video of Bobby Fischer shortly after he was released (March 24, 2005) from his nine-month imprisonment. I had not seen it on any chess-related website and had been meaning to do a brief on it after some reservations. Fischer had immediately shaven his scraggly beard grown over his nine months in prison, but had a noticeable knot on his head. It’s not clear if this was from an injury during numerous scuffles with Japanese prison guards.

Bobby Fischer nine months after Japanese detention.Bobby Fischer after two weeks in Iceland (after release)

On the left, Bobby Fischer photo taken after nine months of Japanese detention. Media sources have spitefully presented this ghastly image as the last impression of Fischer. He shaved the beard down shortly after arriving in Iceland. On the right, Bobby Fischer two weeks after his release in Iceland. Photos from ChessBase.com.

This clip began with Fischer in a relaxed mood at the Hotel Loftleideir Reykjavik discussing a wide range of issues from the music of the Temptations to religion to the state of chess. While many erroneously state that Fischer didn’t have any interests outside of chess, it is clear that he was a sports enthusiast, loved “soul music,” swimming, bowling and was a voracious reader of literature.

Bobby Fischer heading to his first press conference on Friday March 25th 2005, one day after arriving in Iceland. Photo by Associated Press.

The video appeared to be shot by his friend Saemundur “Saemi” Palsson, who was instrumental in settling into his adopted country. I would imagine that this video was used for the documentary Me and Bobby Fischer detailing his last years. The video is broken into different clips, but gives a very interesting view of Fischer in his last years in Iceland. He passed away in Iceland in 2008 at age 64 and is buried outside of Reykjavik. The last time #BobbyFischer was trending was during the premier of the movie, Pawn Sacrifice, an interesting but unflattering account of his life.

The segment with neurologist Dr. Kári Stefánsson, co-founder of deCODE Genetics, was particularly interesting because they discussed Fischer’s legal issues. As the were eating lunch, it was apparent that this was a central focus of Fischer’s bitterness… the book Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess and the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer were violations mentioned. Of course Fischer was very direct in his view that he had been exploited.

Bobby Fischer having lunch with wife Miyoko Watai and Dr. Kári Stefánsson.

Bobby Fischer having lunch with wife Miyoko Watai (left) and Dr. Kári Stefánsson while discussing his legal issues.

Stefánsson seemed to be operating from the notion that Fischer was speaking irrationally (or resorting to “coprolalia”) about certain issues, but of course he raised very good points about the legal case. The tension in the conversation was sometimes broken by laughter. “He hasn’t lost his sense of humour,” said Stefánsson. Also on the video were some interesting conversations with Fischer Random during this lunch meeting and even mention of possible match.

The video seemed to be situated out of order because in the middle of the video, they showed the clip of Fischer on the airplane from Japan to Iceland (via Denmark) with the scraggly beard. He discussed his account of imprisonment in the Japanese jail. In other parts he discussed old classic songs, Michael Jackson, his legal situation with the U.S. government, his Icelandic citizenship, prearrangement in chess and the question of God. Fischer was even seen singing Dean Martin’s, “That’s Amore.” It’s an interesting account. Enjoy!

Video by Saemundur Palsson


National Master Ernest “Steve” Colding has been a mainstay in New York chess for more than 40 years. He has an affable persona and for the past 30 years has shared his joy of chess with students in the New York area. As one of the original “Black Bears of Chess,” he continues to enjoy a fierce game of blitz. With yet another contribution to the chess community, he has released a new book titled, “Teach Your Child Chess in 10 Easy Lessons.”

The book extols the virtues of chess and provides a learning guide with 10 lessons. The target market are parents and coaches of schoolchildren with the idea of making it a fun learning activity. There are a number of interactive exercises with helpful diagrams and 53 challenge exercises. It’s an enjoyable book for teaching your children. I was one of the first to purchase a copy. Get yours today!



GM Pontus Carlsson is becoming a regular on the African scene to conduct training sessions. The Swedish national participated in the 2017 Africa Tour visiting Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. The trip, sponsored by the Paul Allen Foundation, was a rousing success and featured other Black chess masters including Maurice Ashley and Kenny Solomon.

His latest visit to Kenya was sponsored by MiniChess, an initiative started in South Africa by Marisa van der Merve. The program as launched in December 2015 and signed Kasparov Chess for Africa as a partner.

Hi Daaim just so that you know I am in Kenya now and will do some big Exhibition at the big Shopping Mall Village Market in 2 hours.

As of recent, Carlsson has been developing his chess webinars, but he recently visited Kenya for series of events. He was featured November 26th during “game night” at the Village Market mall with Brian Kidula of the Terrian Chess Academy serving as his host. He urged Kenyans to come out to “watch, play, learn chess in 5 minutes” and to learn about chess initiatives in Kenya. He also visited school children in Nairobi and Mombosa.

Carlsson at a press conference shortly after arriving in Nairobi.

Carlsson with Brian Kidula of Terrian Chess Academy

The expressive GM gives words of encouragement.

Carlsson giving a blindfold exhibition
Photos by Terrian Chess Academy

Carlsson has entered into a strategic partnership with the Terrian Chess Academy “with the goal of making Kenya a chess powerhouse, as well as empowering the youth with logical thinking, planning, memorization techniques and visualization skills; which will be critical aids in shaping their lives.” The Club added that the Nairobi Safari Club helped with the accommodation for the 12 days.

Turning Kenya into a chess powerhouse is a tall order, but with the webinar format it could be suitable if the right infrastructure is put into place. Carlsson conducts group lessons and can continue the relationship with African talents. We look forward to see the results of the initiatives.

If you are interested in contacting GM Carlsson and signing up for his webinars, please contact him with the following information:

Email: p.carlssonchess@gmail.com
Web: pontus-carlsson.com
Twitter: @GMCarlsson
Facebook: Pontus Carlsson


The year 2017 was an interesting year showing that chess is becoming more universal with the steady rise of China and India. Viswanathan Anand won the World Rapid and took 3rd in the World Blitz, a sign that he is still a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming Candidate’s Tournament. If this is his last stand, then we should be effusive in our praise as Anand has been an ultimate statesman.

Behind Anand comes some talented players such as Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (2721 ELO) and prodigies 13-year old Nihal Sarin and 12-year old Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. We will see what progress they make in 2018. In this Olympiad year, we will see more stars come out from diverse places.

Speaking of diverse places, The Chess Drum was able to make a presence in South Africa and presented the club with a copy of the book, “Triple Exclam.” In addition, there was a photo essay done to capture the beauty of the continent. It’s about time we staged more tournaments there. The continent just produced its first 2700 player in Bassem Amin. Progress!

Reuben Salimu and Daaim Shabazz

Reuben Salimu and Daaim Shabazz
at Claremont Chess Club in Cape Town, South Africa

In the U.S., there was some buzz pertaining to the blitz battles that were being staged by the Chicago Chess Blitzers. They staged three team matches with (Memphis, Cleveland and St. Louis) and a number of cage matches with Daniel X Jones as one of the main blitzers. In the coming year, fans are awaiting the Chicago vs. New York showdown. Nathan Kelly has done a fantastic job in promoting the events.

The 2017 saw the launch of the aforementioned Triple Exclam!!! The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior in March. The book was well-received and was featured on a broadcast during the U.S. Chess Championships. The book is still available through The Chess Drum and paperback version will be available in a few weeks.

Interview at 2017 U.S. Championship

Tan Zhongyi
Photo by David Llada

There were a couple of controversies with the 2017 Women’s World Championship being held in Tehran leading to “hijabate” boycotts by a few players including the U.S. Women’s champion. Despite the controversy, the event was well-run and Tan Zhongyi won the crown. Sadly, she has made no effort to maintain her activity since winning.

In other news, the other finalist Anna Muzychuk protested the 2017 World Rapid and Blitz held in Saudi Arabia last week because of human rights concerns. The other issue was the refusal of visas to the Israeli players due to political sanctions.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen made a statement in the Norwegian media, “If the world Chess championships are to be played in Saudi Arabia again they MUST allow all players from all countries to participate.”

Here was my take…

In the World Rapid and Blitz, Viswanathan Anand defied odds to win the Rapid segment while Ju Wenjun of China took the women’s competition. In the Blitz competition, Magnus Carlsen defended his title by winning in convincing style, crushing the competition on the second day with 9/10 and ending on 16/21. Nana Dzagnidze won the women’s tournament with 16.5/21. There was a controversy when Russia’s Ernesto Inarkiev tried to claim a win against Carlsen for saying Carlsen made an illegal move. He didn’t. The problem was Inarkiev was the one who made an illegal move! Here is what happened…

Arbiter told Inarkiev to play on after which he refused and appealed. He lost the appeal and the game. Carlsen went on to have fantastic result. If Inarkiev had gotten away with an obvious fraud, it could’ve changed the nature of the tournament. Carlsen’s win was a sort of “poetic justice.”

Forgot to mention that another World Champion was blitzing when Garry Kasparov played in the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament in August. The Chess Drum covered the event and while it was difficult to get an interview with the 13th World Champion, others were conducted with Grandmasters Levon Aronian, Leinier Dominguez and Elshan Moradiabadi.

Interviewing Levon Aronian after he won the 2017 St. Louis Rapid & Blitz
Photo by Peter Doggers

The Chess Drum takes pride in covering interesting and/or unheralded chess personalities and this year we covered several who earned acclaim: Deborah Richards-Porter (chess entrepreneur), FM Justus Williams (3rd IM norm), Tom Murphy (blitz impresario), Frank Johnson (World Amateur-Italy), Lawyer Times (state champion), Phiona Mutesi (college), IM Adham Fawzy (brilliancy), and Baraka Shabazz (former prodigy).

Unfortunately, there were a few deaths reported by The Chess Drum including Kenneth Clayton a few days ago (obituary). Also joining the realm of the ancestors as Charles Kuwaza of Zimbabwe (obituary), Everest Tucker of the U.S. (obituary) They left their respective legacies and in this next year we will make new ones. Following are the memories from 2017. Enjoy!













Happy 2018!!


Chess Club Live, a large social media organization announced their awards for 2017 via Twitter. There were various categories and followers were asked to vote in several categories. The vote was conducted via Twitter poll and there was a limited window of time. In a year when an number of interesting books have been released, it was an honor for a publication from The Chess Drum to be included. “Triple Exclam” covered the life of IM Emory Tate, an enigmatic and exciting figure in the chess world. The project was well-received and a paperback version is soon to be released.

The following books were nominated:

Jan Timman, “Timmans Titans” (New in Chess)
Viktor Moskalenko, “Training with Moska” (New in Chess)
Carsten Hansen, “Closed Sicilian: Move by Move (Everyman Chess)
Daaim Shabazz, “Triple Exclam!!! The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior” (The Chess Drum)

In the final tally, both Timman and Shabazz got 36% each and were declared co-winners.

While is was a small samples of votes from a large chess community, it was interesting to see what the market acceptance is for certain types of books. In addition, the categories and nominees therein exposed us to chess personalities and innovations we may not have known about. It is with some pride that we can have in the fact that chess is continuing to grow. Each of the person nominated for any honor will certainly know that they have made a contribution to moving chess forward.

Voted Awards

Photographer of the Year: Alina L’Ami (link)

Download of the Year: The Anna Rudolf Method (link)

Podcast of the Year: Ben Johnson for Perpetual Chess Podcast (link)

Blogger of the Year: (tie) KimiyaChess and Carsten Hansen (link)

Best Chess News Feed: Fast Chess (link)

Performance of the Year: Deep Mind’s Alpha Zero (link)

Enterprise of the Year: Chessbidder (link)

Magazine of the Year: New In Chess (link)

Server of the Year: lichess (link)

Videographer of the Year: GM Daniel King (link)

Best Chess App: FollowChess (link)

Best Twitter Account: @HowardStaunton (link)

Player of the Year: Levon Aronian (link)

Tournament of the Year: Gibraltar Tradewise Chess Tournament (result)

Social Network of the Year: chess.com (link)

Prodigy of the Year: Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu (link)

Founders of the Year: (tie) Carina Jorgenson & Michael Mkpadi for Chess Club Live and Thibault Duplessis for lichess (link)

Innovator of the Year: Chessify Me (link)

Statistician of the Year: 2700chess (link)

Coach of the Year: GM RB Ramesh (link)

Retailer of the Year: House of Staunton (link)

TV Show of the Year: chess24 (link)

Online Resource of the Year: Chess University (link)

Commentary Team of the Year: Jennifer Shahade, Maurice Ashley, Cristian Chirila, Yasser Seirawan (link)

Commentator of the Year: GM Jan Gustafsson (link)

Author of the Year: (tie) Jan Timman for “Timman’s Titan” and Daaim Shabazz for “Triple Exclam” (link)

Game of the Year: Bai Jinshi vs. Ding Liren (link)

Tournament Director of the Year: Jeroen Van Den Berg for Tata Steel (link)

Editor of the Year: Macauley Peterson (link)

Editorial Journalist: Leon Watson for the UK Telegraph (link)

Beast of the Year: Viswanathan Anand for 2017 World Rapid and Blitz
Journalist of the Year: Tarjei Svensen


Four young men from New York have continued their ambitions in chess at Webster University under the tutelage of Grandmaster Susan Polgar and Paul Truong. Shawn Swindell was the first to enter Webster and he also plays on the basketball team. He was followed by FIDE Masters Joshua Colas and Justus Williams last year who both secured scholarships. National Master James Black Jr. enrolled this past Fall to make the quartet complete.

Shawn Swindell, James Black, Jr., Josh Colas and Justus Williams at 2017 Pan-Am Intercollegiate in Columbus, Ohio

Webster University “C”

Shawn Swindell, James Black, Jr., Josh Colas and Justus Williams
at 2017 Pan-Am Intercollegiate in Columbus, Ohio
Photo by Paul Truong

The four have known each other since they were just entering the chess scene over a decade ago. All are from New York: Shawn and James (Brooklyn), Justus (Bronx) and Josh (White Plains). Colas, Williams, and Black were the subjects of numerous articles since becoming National Master before turning 13 years old. Excitement was high when the three masters had committed to Webster.

Their pending admissions open a new chapter in the history of chess as it relates to the African Diaspora and provides a path for their evolution, not only as aspiring Grandmasters but as mature men with a purpose in life.

~From 2016 article, “African-American Chess Masters Making Move to Next Level

In what has been the subject of many studies, young Black men have struggled in many of the social indicators denoting upward mobility. While all will most likely trod different paths to success, these four men are now together at Webster pursuing aspiration in both chess and in higher education. It is a story we don’t hear often enough, especially from America’s major urban areas.

Chess Life (July 2012)

Before enrolling all had storied careers in scholastic chess with numerous national championships between them. What is more important is the support they are giving each other in a world where Black players have lower levels of participation, comparatively speaking. There have always been challenges in this regard, and perhaps this is what makes the story so intriguing.

Of course, the chances of each accomplishing their goals are a lot greater with the support they provide each other. Given all of the negative and “gangsta” images of Black men in the media, it may be improbable to some that these men can be chess impresarios and work toward degrees as well. Societal stereotypes still prevail. In one of the interviews, Josh and James have reflected on these awkward situations.

“It’s actually pretty funny for me,” Black Jr. said. “When I tell people I play chess, a lot of people tend to be like, ‘wow, you don’t look like the type.’ For me, I’m into chess, but I’m also into fashion and things like that. I’m into a lot of stuff. I feel like there’s not a real appearance for a typical chess player. You just do what you do.”

“I would say it doesn’t matter how you look, honestly,” Colas added. “It’s all what’s in the brain. I tell people a hobo could be better than you in chess. You never know.” (link)

Chair and President Meg Hauge of Chess Challenge hosts James Black, Jr., Josh Colas and Justus Williams at the 2016 event in Washington, DC.

Such comments are still quite common. While they may be innocent “as-a-matter-of-fact” comments, they can be unsettling when they are offered on a regular basis. That’s not counting the snarky and mean-spirited comments in social media. Chess has its own image issues despite the game’s changing face over the past 20 years. The game is a lot younger, more diverse, and a lot more dynamic than the outdated “egghead” public perception in which it is painted.

Over the past weekend, the four students were on the same team for the first time representing the Webster Gorlocks at the 2017 Pan-Am Intercollegiate. It wouldn’t have mattered what their result was, but there was a sense of pride that we had in seeing the photograph of them representing excellence.

Shawn Swindell, James Black, Jr., Josh Colas and Justus Williams at 2017 Pan-Am Intercollegiate in Columbus, Ohio

(L-R) Shawn Swindell, James Black, Jr., Josh Colas and Justus Williams set for action at 2017 Pan-Am Intercollegiate in Columbus, Ohio. GM Susan Polgar (standing) is part of the historic assembly of the “Young Lions” from New York. Photo by Paul Truong

It is well known that when Black students (regardless of nationality) are at predominantly-White institutions (PWIs), it may be hard for others to comprehend the sense of isolation. In general, there are not always the proper support mechanisms in place to help students cope with tension that students sometimes feel when they are of a ethnic, national or religious minority. Sometimes all one has is the camaraderie of friends.

It is certainly difficult being a trailblazer. Regardless of what happens from henceforth, the four young men may come to understand the historic step they took. Chess has been able to provide them with an opportunity to seek their individual ambitions and to say they have once played on the same team. Perhaps they will one day realize the examples they are setting for generations to come!


“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”
~ African Proverb

The chess world lost another pioneer the other day when National Master Kenneth Roger Clayton passed away on December 26th. The 79-year old Maryland resident was a person of consequence: a scholar, chess master, loving father/husband and scuba diver. He was the 4th African-American to earn the title of National Master.

Ken Clayton analyzing with teen prodigy Baraka Shabazz
Still photo taken from ABC News

When Paul Truong announced Clayton’s passing, you could feel the outpouring of emotions.

I am so sorry to bring bad news. NM Kenneth Clayton, my 1st and only chess teacher in Saigon, South Vietnam, and one of the first African American to earn the National Master title, passed away yesterday. His daughter Darlene just informed me.

RIP Mr. Clayton, you will be missed, and thank you for being a chess role model for me!

Darlene Clayton told The Chess Drum that her father passed away on December 26th after a battle with Alzheimer’s. At the time of his death, he lived in Columbia, Maryland with his wife Miriam Parker Clayton. Born, July 26, 1938, Clayton came from a hard-working family and attended the prestigious Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. He was salutatorian, student leader and earned admission offers from all of the Ivy League institutions on the east coast.

Kenneth Clayton at Dunbar H.S. in Washington, DC

Photos from Dunbar H.S. yearbook, 1955

The 17-year old standout chose Harvard College and enrolled in 1955, the same year he took up chess. For the next two years, he became engrossed in his chess activities and played for Harvard Chess Team along with Shelby Lyman, Arthur Freeman, and G. Sveikauskas.

In a bold step, Clayton decided to leave the university and take a decidedly different path. His younger brother Robert Clayton would continue the tradition and graduated from Harvard before going to George Washington Law School to become an attorney. While he was still focused intently on chess, he was also smitten by Serilda Taylor and they were married in 1961.

Clayton’s first rated-tournament was the District of Columbia Open in 1959 in which he placed 6th. He got an impressive rating of 2020 as a result. In the early 60s, the Claytons bore two daughters. Darlene found humor in the fact that her father tried to expose his daughters to chess to no avail! “I couldn’t sit still that long,” she joked.

At this point, Clayton became deeply involved in computing sciences and was a specialist at Hydronautics, Inc. in Laurel, Maryland. At that point, he was still trying to maintain his chess activity along with family duties. During Memorial Day weekend in 1963, Clayton entered the U.S. Amateur in Asbury Park, New Jersey as the 8th ranked player in a field of 160 players.

With a rating of 2102, the 24-year old Clayton had kept pace with other youthful front-runners. Going into the last round, three players had 5-1/2 points, Clayton, Stan Tomchin and David Daniels. Clayton quickly drew with Tomchin and Daniels was held to a draw by Charles Rehberg. As a result, Clayton won on superior tiebreaks among several players ending with a 6-1 score. Here is his game with Milton Danon, who would later win the 1979 U.S. Amateur.

For the next few years, a number of events would change the course of his life as he continued to pursue chess ambitions. He took on a contract as a computer specialist in Vietnam. While Clayton was not involved with military operations, he was there during Vietnam’s conflict with the U.S.

Finally, Clayton would eclipse the 2200 rating barrier in June 1967 and earn the National Master title. He was the fourth Black player to earn the accolade. Walter Harris, Frank Street, and Leroy Jackson preceded him. While working in Vietnam, Clayton won the 1968 Vietnam Chess Championship held at the Tan Son Nhut USO in Saigon.

“He was one of the kindest people you can ever meet.”
~Paul Truong

In around 1970, Clayton met Tien Truong and his 5-year old son Hoainhan Truong, who assumed the name of “Paul.” His father had already taught him the basic chess moves. Despite the fact that the boy couldn’t speak English, Clayton took the inquisitive and curious boy under his wing. He taught him the finer points of the game, took him to tournaments and soon recognized that he possessed a talent for chess.

Randall Hough captured this relationship in a September 1986 article in Chess Life magazine. He interviewed Clayton in Saigon and asked about Paul, who had created a sensation by winning the equivalent of the national championship at age eight!! While the boy enjoyed swimming and other games, chess seemed to intrigue him. Clayton gave this assessment of Paul’s potential…

“He was always attentive, retained what I taught him, possessed good nerves and evaluated positions objectively. I recall one game against a strong player, whom Paul defeated in an ending in which he used a Bishop to trap his opponent’s Knight on the run of the board. Playing virtually a piece up, he just walked in with the King. He had seen a similar maneuver in one of my games.”

The relationship continued after the Vietnam War was over. Both Tien and Paul endured a tortuous journey to arrive in New Jersey December 1st, 1979. You can read Hough’s article here. On June 17th, 2007, The Chess Drum ran an article about Truong and Clayton’s special kinship. Truong sent The Chess Drum the following note about Clayton:

“He is the most instrumental person in my chess career (other than my father) who took me to all the chess tournaments when I was young. It was quite a challenge because we could not communicate with each other except for hand signals and pointing things out on the chess board. I developed my playing style through him. In addition to chess, I learned how to properly act on and off the chess board. He is a class act.”

FIDE Master Paul Truong (right) pictured here with Kenneth Clayton with his wife Grandmaster Susan Polgar in Rockville, Maryland. He stated, “A few years ago when the College Chess Final Four was in Washington, DC, he came to visit my wife and I. He even came to St. Louis to visit us and my sisters in law.” Photo courtesy of Paul Truong

Clayton continued to play intermittently and battled the then-World Champion Anatoly Karpov in a 1977 simultaneous exhibition in Maryland. Also included below is a bruising battle against his chess peer, the multi-talented Charles Covington and lastly a battle with IM Marcel Sisniega. Sisniega would become an 8-time Mexican champion, a Grandmaster and notable movie director. Sadly the Mexican legend died in 2013 at age 53.

Besides his own chess activity, Clayton helped Paul to rekindle his interest in chess after as he was adjusting to the U.S. Another one of the players he is famously associated with is Baraka Shabazz, a talented teen phenom who was the subject of widespread media attention in the early 80s. Clayton can be seen in the following three-minute video mentoring Baraka.

Video by ABC News

Despite his first marriage ending in 1966, Clayton decided to remarry in 2010 to Miriam Parker. Besides being a Life Member of the U.S. Chess Federation, he enjoyed hobbies such as scuba- and cave-diving by exploring the beauty of marine life and the bowels of underwater caves. Unfortunately, he had to give up diving because he contracted a sinus condition aggravated by depth pressures. However, he also enjoyed photographing birds and riding his bike.

His daughter Darlene stated that in June her father was still lucid, but what followed was a precipitous decline in health. Clayton spent the last few weeks in hospice care where he died peacefully while surrounded by loved ones. He is survived by two daughters (Diane and Darlene) from his first marriage to Serilda Taylor, three grandchildren, his brother Robert Clayton, Esq. and a host of relatives and friends.

Four generations here! Ken Clayton with his mother Lela Yvonne Clayton (left), daughter Darlene and granddaughter Klarke. Photo courtesy of Darlene Clayton

Diane Clayton Koontz holding her father’s 1963 U.S. Amateur trophy
Photo courtesy of Darlene Clayton

There is a proverb, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground,” and it is certainly true in the case of Kenneth Clayton who lived during Bobby Fischer’s rise to prominence and had so many lessons to give. As his memory faded from the ravages of Alzheimer’s, he left behind some of the brighter moments in the sunrise of chess in America and remains one of the trailblazers who set the stage for popularizing chess in the Black communities. Many of our pioneers may never know how many hearts they’ve touched, but part of this library will remain!

Funeral Arrangements
Saturday, January 13th, 2018
Calvary Episcopal Church
820 6th St. NE
Washington, DC 20032

Visitation: 10am
Funeral: 11am


Baraka Shabazz at Dupont Circle
Photo by Washington Post

Recently on Facebook, BJ McCurdy of Los Angeles raised a question on the whereabouts of Baraka Shabazz (unrelated to this writer). For the uninitiated, Baraka was a teenage sensation who experienced a meteoric rise in the late 70s. She was the subject of many articles and enthralled a mass media audience. Born in Denver, Colorado, her chess story began when she learned the game at age 12 in an Alaska cabin during a harsh winter season. She improved rapidly and took the city of Anchorage by storm. Seeing her talent, the family moved her to a number of cities in search for the best training ground. The family ultimately settled in Washington, DC.

After quickly ascending and starring in World under-16 in England, Baraka had eclipsed the 2000 U.S. rating, or “Expert” level. To put that in perspective, it made her the 6th best player on the woman’s list and in the 98th percentile of players in the country. In those days being an Expert was a laudable accomplishment for a tournament player. Perhaps there was a tendency for her parents to believe that this status signaled potential in the obscure sport. In the midst of the “Fischer Boom,” there was the temptation to associate every talented youth with the world champion.

Baraka appeared regularly in the national print media and was interviewed for the following segment on ABC News. This is the impetus of this article and I wanted to take this opportunity to share this rare footage of Baraka for the first time.

Video by ABC News

In viewing this video, we can reflect on the short burst of light that Baraka shined over the chess horizon. She was an endearing 15-year old girl venturing into territory not yet explored. In the late 70s, many in the Black community followed her progress with great interest. I remember my mother excitedly showing me an article about Baraka in the Chicago Metro News, a community newspaper.

Baraka Shabazz’s being featured in Chicago Metro News, December 4, 1982 as part of Tony Brown Journal segment.

There she cut a striking figure at the board… demure and poised. I saved that article and the photo appears to the left. I met her in the early 80s during a tournament at the Chicago Palmer House. I noticed her confidence and her effort to speak with perfect diction. It turned out that things were a bit more complicated.

Baraka was gradually becoming disenchanted and sought another path in life. She left chess after participating in the 1983 World Open. Her story represents a common theme in today’s era of prodigious talents. This was before the Venus Williams/Serena Williams fame and the legend of Tiger Woods. Richard Williams wasn’t certain what his daughters would become, no less historic figures. Eldridge Woods may have had a better idea. As a parent, how can you be sure?

Today we have chess parents moving to the “chess capital” of St. Louis and the story of Samuel Sevian whose parents moved from the west coast to the east coast so he could realize his potential. If you add LaVar Ball to the list of parents who are seeking to elevate their prodigy children to new heights, it represents an increasing trend. However, Yusef and Raqiba Shabazz were venturing into uncharted waters in the 70s… at least in chess.

Baraka Shabazz

Baraka Shabazz’s charm and angelic face belied her tenacity. At 15, she carried her hopes into the 1981 U.S. Women’s Championship. Still was taken from ABC News footage.

It would be another 15-20 years before girls became regular participants in tournament chess. Whether she knew it or not Baraka represented a hope that girls could be successful and thrive in chess. There were other contemporaries such as Dr. Alexey Root who remains deeply involved in chess development for girls. She played in the 1981 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship with Baraka as the two youngest participants.

Unfortunately for Baraka, her poor showing in the 1981 Women’s Chess Championship may have been a turning point. She became despondent. In a brutally candid 1988 article titled “Ex-Queen’s Gambit,” she stated that the pressure was stifling and that chess ultimately had a destabilizing effect on the family. Relations with her family became strained and she eventually moved to England. Despite moving away from chess, one can sense that she still got tremendous joy from the game and that it had a lasting impact on her life. In turn, she made a lasting impression on us.

She is not exactly scarred by her love-hate relationship with chess, just changed in ways that even she doesn’t fully understand. She believes the discipline, the stardom, even the rejection by some of her family have made her stronger. She shows this strength when she speaks of her child. She says she may, someday, teach him to play chess.

~Excerpt from “Ex-Queen’s Gambit”

Perhaps in retrospect, we can say that things did not turn out as we would’ve hoped for her, but what’s important was that Baraka decided to choose her own path. There is a lot that we can learn from Baraka’s story and chess parents of today would do well to heed to these lessons. Chess is a difficult sport to attain material success, but some parents have learned that it is a wonderful activity for developing academic discipline, social skills and the discipline. We only hope that Baraka will understand the impact she made in chess during her short, but noble run.


Fédération Internationale des Échecs  (FIDE)

The chess horizon has been quiet since capping off a busy year with the Grand Chess Tour. Last week, I started wondering about 2018 chess year. Apart from the Alpha Zero buzz and the firestorm over the World Championship logo, there hasn’t been much in the way of chess news. What is also very strange is the lack of information concerning candidates in FIDE’s Presidential election next year in Batumi, Georgia.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
Photo by David Llada

There has been one announcement of a candidate and it is the incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov who seems to be serving as FIDE President in name only. After being sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury last November 25th, he could not make an appearance at the 2017 World Chess Championship last fall due to the sanctions. He then transferred his authority to his Deputy President, Georgios Makropoulos.

In addition, his authority was radically reduced in a no-confidence vote by the FIDE Board. There were rumors that he had resigned and it was posted on the FIDE website. These reports were later rebuffed by Ilyumzhinov. What the hell is going on?? There were questions of whether a coup d’etat had been executed. Those reports were denied by FIDE. Jamaica’s Ian Wilkinson, an attorney who stood with Garry Kasparov in his failed bid for FIDE President, filed a petition calling for the removal of Ilyumzhinov because of sanctions.

“I want to continue uniting the chess world. I will be working towards my goal to have one billion people playing chess.”

~ Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of FIDE

Last month Ilyumzhinov announced that he was running in the 2018 election for FIDE President. There has been no announcement of a opposing candidate, but it is less than a year away. Georgios Makropoulos is the Acting President despite the fact that Ilyumzhinov still operates in the capacity of the FIDE President. He has appeared at tournaments making presentations to winners.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov making ceremonial move in World Women's Championship final. Photo by David Llada.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov making ceremonial move in
2017 World Women’s Championship final.
Photo by David Llada

When asked about the situation, Makropoulos told chess.com,

“At the last meeting of the Presidential Board, it was a unanimous conclusion of the members that Kirsan should not run in the next elections. This opinion had already been expressed by several Presidential Board members during the General Assembly in Baku 2016—except myself—I remember clearly Israel Gelfer and Jorge Vega. (link)

This begs the question, “Who else will enter the race?” Over the past 12 years, three candidates (Bessel Kok, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov) have attempted and all three were soundly defeated. Is there a sense of helplessness in potential candidates? FIDE appears to be operating under a cloud of uncertainty. Ilyumzhinov has announced his candidacy, but it’s not certain if he is eligible. If he is not, then what happens? Does Makropoulos assume the position? It will be a very chaotic situation since federations have to prepare for the political season and have enough information to consider the alternatives.

Will someone emerge? Perhaps the strategy would be to keep any aspirations undercover to prevent any preemptive moves by competition. The last election in 2014 was extremely bitter and tore some federations apart. In fact, Africa was one region that suffered. It was a pitiful sight. What will the future hold for FIDE with the Olympiad, Presidential Election and the World Championship less than a year away? Can we look to a more civil process? With an embattled President barred by sanctions and no viable election slates to come forward, it should be an eventful 2018.

Elections are less than a year away!

Video by Batumi Chess Olympiad


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