On the 13 July 2001, 10 players of African descent traveled to historic Harlem to help fulfill a dream for many. The Wilbert Paige Memorial tournament, which  had been conceived months earlier by Dr. Jones Murphy Jr. and put together largely by the efforts of Jerry Bibuld, was now on the brink of happening! Held at the Hotel Theresa, a place where Fidel Castro sought refuge during his 1960 visit, who would have known what was to become of such a gathering of brilliant minds. When one walks about on 125th street in Harlem, there is a certain amount of electricity generated amongst the people in the bustling district. This tournament was held in an ideal location; perhaps the residents of Harlem were not aware that a new renaissance was taking place. . . a chess renaissance!!

The historic Hotel Theresa (top left). Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. The famous Apollo theater. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. Home of the Black Renaissance. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. Creative artistic expressions EVERYWHERE! Copyright , Daaim Shabazz.

In addition to the presence of chess excellence gracing historic Harlem, something more important was happening. A high level of bonding took place, and that was also felt when the players interacted with each other, the spectators, and with the youth on the rest day. The anticipation and enthusiasm spurred by the chess masters was enough to last generations. The level of fraternization via analysis sessions, blitz matches, or just chess "small talk" was a sight to see! Everyone was in such a good mood.

One knew this event would be special when after the opening ceremonies,
NM Jerald Times and FM Ronald Simpson had a spirited blitz match. Trash-talking was rampant as FM Simpson dominated. Times would later get some revenge. Attention turned to GM Maurice Ashley and FM Stephen Muhammad who upstaged the Simpson-Times match with one of their own.  FM Muhammad, with a 3000+ ICC blitz rating, took on GM Ashley and it was neck-and-neck before Ashley went on a 7-0 run. Throughout the tournament there were other battles: Kobese-Simpson; Simutowe-Simpson; Schleifer-Ashley; Solomon-Ashley. Even the legendary NM Frank Street showed up talking trash! The 57-year old NM Street, on the cover of the July 1965 Chess Life, took on the likes of Drum editor, Daaim Shabazz and later, FM Simpson. Certainly, a certain spirit was ignited!

Clash of the blitz titans. . . FM Muhammad vs. GM Ashley. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. FM Ron Simpson takes on the legendary NM Frank Street as Willie 'Pop' Johnson looks on. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. Battle of the 'Black Bears'. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. Post-tournament match. . . GM Ashley vs. FM Solomon. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz.

During the tournament, many spectators visited the site including players from the New York, DC, Philly, and Maryland areas. Some of those visiting were: Willie "Pop" Johnson, the popular "Poe" (who briefly appeared in movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer"), NM Frank Street (of Maryland), John Evans (former national player for Panama), Philly natives Glenn Bady, Bruce Thompson and son, Akeem, IM Oladapo Adu from the Virginia/Maryland area, NM Okechukwu IwuDavid Diamond, Bob Ali, Michelle Ottley, and NM Ylon Schwartz (who was probably the most frequent visitor). IM Bobby Kurniawan and WIM Jennifer Shahade also stopped by. In addition, The Chess Drum, had almost 10,000 visitors from all over the world to visit the site in the duration of the tournament. The site peaked at 22,000 hits (on different pages) in one day!! There were e-mail from South Africa, Uganda, Canada, Pakistan, Jamaica following the action. TWIC, SmartChess.com, Notzai.com, Canadian Chess Federation, the Pakistan Chess Player, and the  Internet Chess Club (ICC) established links to The Chess Drum, the tournament's official site. So the Wilbert Paige Memorial was prime time!!

In the analysis room, GM Ashley led the charge with incisive commentary on the featured games of the round. This room was "jumping" as spectators joined in the fray as the games took shape. Of course, GM Ashley was in his element with the audience as he rattled off variations with alarming speed and accented his commentary with his sharp humor. Since his audience was almost all from the Black community, he used many phrases, jokes, and analogies that made it very real! It made the commentary refreshing, down-to-earth, and the spectators felt free to proclaim a brilliancy they  saw. Of course, many of these ideas were refuted, and the room would at times break into loud laughter. After players completed their games, they would adjourn to the analysis room to go over their games with the spectators.
IM Amon Simutowe has a hit as he often talked about his "grandmother's tactics."  He added a word to most players chess lexicon when he spoke of his opponent "donating" material. FM Muhammad was also an analysis room favorite. . . his ideas were very clear, articulated well with a timely amount of humor.

GM Maurice Ashley 'on point!' Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. NM Jerald Times and FM Muhammad analyzing Simutowe-Simpson match as FM Morrison looks on. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. IM Simutowe analyzing with FM Morrison at the 'big board'. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz. Attentive audience. . . probably thinking of refutations. Copyright , Daaim Shabazz.

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Copyright © 2001, 2002 by Daaim Shabazz.  All rights reserved.  The content contained on this page of this website may not copied or electronically transmitted without the expressed consent of the author.