US Chess

Dear Chess Community,

At 2019 Delegates Meeting in Orlando
Photo by Kevin Pryor

As a state delegate and a former board member of the Florida Chess Association, I have had the honor to participate in the decision-making process of our governing body. The Executive Board and Delegates meetings are exciting arenas for exchanging ideas about chess and learning how the organization functions. I remember being critical of an organization I was a member of until I worked for the national headquarters. Sometimes you can’t see the complete picture as a mere member. The same is true in U.S. Chess.


In my view, there needs to be more diversity in chess policy. In this, I am not merely talking about the ethnicity of people making the decisions, but the diversity of ideas.


Being involved in chess policy-making is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Most of us started as players and some as chess parents. All of us have our preferences. Have you ever thought of why people have taken the roles they take in chess? Why do some of us enjoy directing tournaments? Why do people like Bill Goichberg decide to make his legacy in hosting and directing tournaments? Why have I spent 20 years in chess journalism instead of playing my exciting brand of chess? You also have people like the recently deceased Harold Winston who became a life-long chess politician after running scholastic tournaments in Chicago. I enjoyed playing in them and thanked him years later.

Presenting Harold Winston with a copy of Triple Exclam at the Delegates’ meeting. I played in his scholastic tournaments held at the University of Chicago. Attorney Winston passed away in early April. Photo by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum


In my view, there needs to be more diversity in chess policy. In this, I am not merely talking about the ethnicity of people making the decisions, but the diversity of ideas.


Ability of a Disability

In my 40 years of tournament participation, I can say by the observation and my 20 years of covering chess activities in the Black community that the number of this segment competing in chess tournaments is proportionally low. U.S. Chess collects no demographic data on ethnicity. However, with some level of certainty, we can say that the level of participation is not proportional to the population (13.4%).

Currently, there is a lot of effort in focusing on gender issues, and since those data are known, the numbers are easier to analyze and address. There are commissions to engage more girls and women to play chess. It’s a good thing. There are also new initiatives for seniors (50+) and juniors. On the other hand, the public has always been skittish about discussing racial demographics because of the sensitive nature of the subject. Race/racism is still a hot-button topic, and it has even tarnished chess. FIDE made a statement on racism (as did U.S. Chess) and I penned a response on these pages.

Besides ethnic segments, there is also limited attention given to the disabled. I remember Joe Kennedy, Jr., a quadriplegic player from Indiana who won the blind championship eight times as a Expert-rated player. I watched his family wheel him to the board and position him near his braille board. In between moves, I would check on his games.

I remember a horrible event that may discourage a visually-impaired player from playing in an over-the-board (OTB) tournament. It is already a challenge, but then there may be implicit bias. One player forced a visually-impaired player to move a piece he grabbed accidentally. When the player insisted that he move the touched piece, he says, “I’m legally blind, and you make me move the piece?” After winning the game, the accusing player simply gathered his things, said nothing, and walked away. It was awful.

Not every blind player is as adept as Albert Sandrin, who played on a regular board with his brother Angelo Sandrin, recording the moves for him. I once saw a Grandmaster showing Sandrin his game by telling him the moves. It was intriguing to see this, even though I knew he could follow the game easily. Sandrin won the 1949 U.S. Open and the U.S. Blind a couple of times.

These are fascinating stories. Perhaps there are many more stories like this, but disabled players remain on the fringe. The U.S. Blind Championship seems to get little attention and the U.S. Blind Chess Association is barely known. Alex Relyea has been a noble advocate for disabled chess players. Incidentally, the U.S. team placed joint 10th in the 1st Online FIDE Chess Olympiad For People With Disabilities.

The U.S. Chess Open, a Chess Bonanza

My first foray into chess politics when I served three years on the Board of Directors of the Florida Chess Association under both William Bowman and Kevin Pryor. Florida is a very long state (eight hours drive from Tallahassee to Miami), so logistical challenges move many state-wide activities toward Orlando. Florida is very tournament friendly with the demographic suiting both juniors and seniors.

I visited the 2014 U.S. Open in Orlando as a spectator, but was fully engaged as a player and delegate at the 2019 U.S. Open in Orlando. In addition to playing in the Open tournament, I represented Florida in the 2019 National Senior Tournament of Champions!


Scored 3½-2½ in 2019 National Senior Tournament of Champions. Photo by Kevin Pryor

Scored 3½-2½ in 2019 National Senior Tournament of Champions
Photo by Kevin Pryor

2019 Florida Delegates
William Bowman, Bryan Tillis, Kevin Pryor, Jon Haskel, Daaim Shabazz
Photo by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

State Delegates: Larry Weston (Arkansas), David Blair (Kansas),
Daaim Shabazz (Florida)

It is understood that most in the chess community merely want to play chess, not organize tournaments, direct tournaments, coach scholastic players, or engage in policy decisions. Many are happy playing in whatever tournaments they can. However, it is important to be aware of policy decisions that affect the ability to participate in these tournaments.

There was an air of optimism in the Executive Board and Delegates meetings, and President Allen Priest was very able in navigating the agenda. The business meetings were very interesting, and workshops are held designed to improve different functions of the organizations. In the delegates’ meeting, I got a chance to meet some of the other state delegates, some familiar faces, and many new ones.

I also attended some of the many workshops. Some committee meetings were: Rules, College Chess, Ethics, Communications, Scholastic, Senior Chess, and Women’s Chess. I attended the rules committee and was able to bring up the issue of death at the chessboard, an issue that I have written about on these pages.

Stand Up and Be Counted!

Jennifer Shahade encourages girls at the award ceremony of the 2019 Haring Tournament of Champions. Photo by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

“Women’s Chess” has been receiving a lot of momentum with Jennifer Shahade and others leading the initiative. The chess community lends active support to increasing the participation of girls and women, which is a very positive development as far as the growth of chess is concerned.

As much as we applaud these efforts, it is very simplistic to believe that increasing the participation of girls/women is a goal desired only by that group. It would be equally naive to accept that only the disabled would advocate for the rights of those disabled or that Blacks would be the only ones pushing for more ethnic representation. Unfortunately, that is the way it is has been in American society. Every group segment initiates the fight for its own cause. This is understandable, but this represents neither a diversity of thinking nor a holistic way of problem-solving.

On a personal level, I have memories of two individuals who openly advocated for more participation of Black chess players. Without professing an agenda, my coach Tom Fineberg provided an arena for greater participation on the southside of Chicago. It was a passion of his until he passed away. There was also the legacy of Jerry Bibuld was often criticized for his advocacy of Black players. However, these men had diversity in their thinking and sought to create a favorable outcome for chess.

GM Alexander Shabalov is still dangerous over the chessboard, but is an advocate for “Senior Chess.” Photo by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

Senior chess has gotten a boost with the new “Senior Tournament of Champions.” Alexander Shabalov praised the move at the Banquet and pridefully announced the U.S. gold medal at the 2019 World Senior Team Championships (50+ section). They would repeat in 2020. With the changing of demographics in chess tournaments, perhaps there are more needs as far senior issues are concerned.


In my particular circles, I frequently hear chatter about the lack of Black representation in the upper echelons of chess. Yes, these issues do matter, but what do we do about it?


Community Engagement

What does all this mean? Perhaps we need more creativity. That pertains to addressing topics like outreach for underrepresented communities, more engagement with FIDE and international standards for tournaments, and more creative initiatives to elevate the profile of chess (i.e., Olympiad, World tournaments). There is also a tremendous void in writing about diverse topics in terms of chess content. If underrepresented communities within chess want to affect change, we have to become more involved at the state, national and international levels of chess.

EARL HAMMUD
Trenton New Jersey Maximum Security Prison
Photo by Oliver Fluck

Running The Chess Drum for 20 years has given me a chance to visit communities in different countries, to cover high-level events, and to see the beautiful world of chess in its glory. While I am primarily known for covering chess of the African Diaspora, I have written articles on prison chess, chess for the disabled, gender issues, and unheralded players in obscure locations. In my particular circles, I frequently hear chatter about the lack of Black representation in the upper echelons of chess. Yes, these issues do matter, but what do we do about it?

There is a way to have these issues addressed, but it is not to merely complain, show ambivalence, or disengage. Initiatives will initially come from within the affected segment or through those who express diversity in thinking. Bibuld organized the “Wilbert Paige Memorial Tournament” which was celebrated worldwide as a bold attempt to showcase master-level players of the African Diaspora. We all should be interested in seeing the chess community grow in different ways, and not only be when it benefits our own special-interest group. Far too often, that is the prism through which problems are seen in the U.S.

One Last Reflection

I have cherished memories of my high school coach Thomas Fineberg lugging his tattered bags of chess sets and boards to Tuley Park on Saturdays. That made a deep impression on me and showed me how someone could be selflessly dedicated to chess. In addition, this corpulent, grey-bearded, asthmatic man gave every bit of his time to chess with the blessing of his wife, Maxine. What was even more important to me is that he provided players on the south side of Chicago the opportunities to play competitively.


With my high school coach, Tom Fineberg

Those who have been involved in chess and have professional backgrounds could serve chess in many constructive ways. Perhaps it is as a Tournament Director, coach/trainer, tournament organizer, photographer, or journalist. Maybe we may vie for a position on the U.S. Chess Executive Board or serve on a FIDE committee. We are not talking about choosing people for particular positions based on their ethnicity, gender, or age. For me, the issue is to bring up diverse topics and diverse thinking to advance the cause of chess.

Jimmy Canty

Online chess has experienced a boom and has been the subject of many news stories. The “Queen’s Gambit” TV series made a contribution, but chess streaming had catapulted chess into the spotlight through the platform, Twitch. Hikaru Nakamura was the first elite chess player to gain a footing after nearly 20 years of stardom on Internet servers. Earlier this month, chess.com announced that Frank Johnson and Jimmy Canty have signed on with Premier and Noble, respectively. Both have benefited from this wave and look forward to developing a larger platform for chess.

Now we’re in a new era and many players have taken on an Internet persona either through Twitch streaming or YouTube channels. The result has represented a boon to chess that some are calling the first since the “Fischer Boom.” The global pandemic has been a blessing in disguise with many being tethered to their computers through telecommuting and online education via ZOOM.


I believe that this new inclusion will fast-track competitive play not only for top-level players but also for players at the state and local levels. Chess as an esport also has the additional benefit of bringing even more potential players.

~Frank Johnson, ChessCoach.Net


chess-coach-net

An entire legion of streaming stars began to pop up around the world with some making into the six-figure salary including Canada’s Alexandra Botez and sister Andrea Botez. Canty and Johnson’s signings follow very steady followings of their online platforms.

As a university professor, I can attest to the weariness people feel at looking at screens for months. In fact, there was a recent article suggesting a “detox” from all the online activity. Conversely, many chess players are longing for over-the-board (OTB) action, and many chess organizations have announced a return to OTB play. However, the online chess platform is here to stay and there will be more options for chess competition. Chess organizers have filled a demand with online tournaments and even chess personalities like Maurice Ashley have jumped into the Twitch game.


“This is such a dream come true for me.”
~James Canty III


An entire legion of streaming stars began to pop up around the world with some making into the six-figure salary including Canada’s Alexandra Botez and sister Andrea Botez. Jimmy Canty and Frank Johnson were recently signed as premier esports personalities. This is after very steady traffic in their online platforms.

Both have had popular platforms while Canty has parlayed his skills as a chess commentator. After spending time as a participant in the National Blitz League, Canty started a Twitch channel after being inspired by Johnson. However, he also gives credit to the streaming trailblazers Nakamura and the Botez sisters. It should not be lost that “Coach Frank” and “Canty Cash” are two of the handful of African-American chess streamers with sizable followings. Ashley’s recent foray pushes him quickly to 27,000 followers and professional gameshow competitor Jonathan Corblahh joins this elite fraternity.

The Chess Drum salutes these pioneers!

Video by chess-coach.net

Brooklyn native Charles Smith is no stranger to these pages, and we are glad to announce the release of his new training book. For many years, he honed his chess education methods in Birmingham where he was locally recognized for his success. Founder of Magic City Chess University, he was honored by the Birmingham Mayor with the “2010 Hidden Heroes Award” and also worked with the Boys & Girls Club. In addition, he collaborated with the human rights organization NAACP to host a free program called the “Changing Lives One Mind At A Time Initiative”.

In February, Smith released a book titled, A Chess Primer: The Matrix Unleashed. Here is the Amazon description:

A Chess Primer The Matrix Unleashed is a beginner’s chess book teaching chess in a new way. This streamline approach is for anyone who ever wanted to learn the game of chess or teach it to their own or any children. What makes this book very different is the fun and easy approach invented by United States Chess Federation Level IV National Chess Coach Charles A Smith. The author’s proven method of rapid comprehension thru effective teaching is the key. The fastest way to learn chess and have fun doing it. Also great for chess coaches to use as their teaching method. This book will revolutionize the way chess is learned and taught. If you have ever wanted to learn chess or tried and gave up here is your chance to easily get it done. Chess On!!

Smith holding classes at Birmingham Public Library

Smith holding classes at Birmingham Public Library.

Three years ago, Smith has taken his talents to Seattle, Washington where he has taught a number of promising talents including Cadets Girls World Champion under-12 Rochelle Wu. “She played for my K-3 team and was the best in the country that year. The number two girl was my student also both out of Alabama!” Smith told The Chess Drum.

Smith has coined a method centered around quick comprehension and application of chess principles. “This method was used to get both of them understanding the game fast and that is where the fun is in chess understanding! The method is sound and could work for anyone who wants to learn teach or novices that would like to improve easily.”

Smith has taken his Matrix methods to Seattle

Smith has taken his Matrix methods to Seattle.
Photo from winningwithcas.com

When asked why he wrote the book, Smith stated that he thought it would be a way to teach chess in a far less complicated manner than most beginners books or programs.

“I also wrote it so people who try to coach or teach chess but lack the real skill set that would not run children and other people away from such a wonderful game and experience. All games are no fun if you cannot win. No game is fun to learn if it’s too complicated.”

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/
Winning with CAS: http://www.winningwithcas.com/about-cas

During Black History Month, Chicago Public Schools hosted a Black History Empowerment program featuring Howard University Chess Team and Daaim Shabazz of The Chess Drum. The “Howard Bison” (Michele Bennett, Malcolm Wooten, Azeezah Muhammad and Naomi Baptiste) talked about their successful participation in the 2020-2021 Pan American Intercollegiate Championship held last December on chess.com. David Heiser and Jourdain Gant of Renaissance Knights Chess were hosts of the program. While this video was finally made available, it goes without saying that Black History should be celebrated every month!

CPS welcomes The Chess Drum!

Video courtesy of CPS Academic Chess Programs

ZOOM link: Black History Empowerment Workshop (full program)
Passcode: R98#iSc3

The Black community is full of success stories in chess, but oftentimes the works of hardworking pioneers go unnoticed and underappreciated. Mikyeil El-Mekki is one of those figures tapping potential in Philadelphia youth in a city also known for prowess in athletic pursuits. El-Mekki presents founded the Paul Robeson Chess Club in honor of the great scholar, singer, orator, and athlete who lived his last days in Philadelphia with his sister.

Robeson House in West Philadelphia

Paul Robeson with wife Eslanda and son, Paul Jr.

Chess is often used as a tool to view the possibilities of life. Many organizations have a similar ring, but each approach changes with the environment. The concept of “life strategies” has deep roots in the city’s culturally-rich traditions. Philadelphia is home to a well-known chess pedigree with the Vaux championship teams.


“Life is the only thing that has more possibilities than a chess game.”

~Mikyeil El-Mekki


With so many social challenges in the Black community, youth are looking for constructive outlets and there is none more inviting than chess. It is an activity to help in the development of social skills and analytical abilities. Lifechangers made some bold pronouncements when interviewed for the CBS affiliate. Take a look.

Link: https://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2020/02/20/gamechangers-mikyeil-el-mekki-paul-robeson-chess-club/

Robeson House in West Philadelphia

Robeson House in West Philadelphia

Tania Hernández Álvarez was a prominent player in the Cuba’s women’s circuit haven competed in the national championship several times. However, she joined a large migrant population of chess players and she settled abroad in Costa Rica and renewed passion for chess. A few years ago, she obtained Costa Rican citizenship and now competes for the country in international tournaments.

WIM Tania Hernández Álvarez
Photo from fcacostarica.com

Costa Rica Costa Rica Costa Rica

Hernandez is from Central Havana and started her chess journey in the walking grounds of Cuban legend Raul Capablanca. She participated in many Cuban championships and represented her country in four Olympiad tournaments (1984, 1994, 1996, 1998). Apparently, things were very challenging economically and in 2010, she charted a new course in life and settled in Costa Rica.

According to an interview conducted two years ago, she felt her love for chess rejuvenate and she became a national teacher in her adopted country.

At what age did you start playing chess?

I started at the age of 12 in Cuba.

What caught your attention?

Renewed passion in chess!
Photo from fideamerica.com

As soon as I saw a chess game with my uncle-in-law (aunt’s husband), it struck me that it looked like a maze because I like everything that has to do with thinking, with the mystery, that there is beyond, and it caught my attention. Therefore, the other day I was already in a chess academy in Cuba, which had many very good ones. I did visit the next day after learning the game, which is normally learned very easily… in a few hours or a day.

Who prompted you to practice this discipline?

My uncle-in-law, my mother, the family taught me to practice discipline and my thing with chess was love at first sight.

What do you remember from that first game?

The truth is that I do not remember, but obviously it must have been in my favor because I stayed all the time in chess and it was a vice, an addiction that I had. I grew up very fast in chess, I studied many hours a day and was already beating the big boys. That first year I did very well.

How much do you dedicate to this sport?

I try to dedicate at least four hours to it, I can’t always do it for work.

How many sacrifices has it taken you to prepare well and become a national champion and climb to the FIDE level?

The sacrifices to prepare and be the Costa Rican champion have been immense, because I have had to change my whole mentality, to begin with. I am a diabetic, hence I had to change my diet, begin to prepare myself physically to endure so many hours in chess. I am 55 years old, which is a disadvantage compared to other girls, but I think that everything is in the mind, what you want, what you want. If you have the mental strength you can do it all.


It is my life, it is clear to me that it is an indissoluble marriage with which I will never separate, I am super in love, I have had several stages, even divorce too. When I arrived in Costa Rica I was totally discouraged, but Costa Rica healed me, made me fall in love with chess again, and rescue that marriage and that is worth gold.

~ Tania Hernández


What do you project in chess?

What I am projecting right now is to stay at the high level, because honestly, it is not only with being a chess coach, I had to get involved after having left being a player, because it helps me pay my expenses, and my passion for playing games, playing chess tournaments when I saw that I couldn’t pay taxes just by being a chess coach. And I want immensely since I became a Costa Rican citizen, thank God last year, to attend the next chess Olympiad playing for Costa Rica, I want to give that to this country, it deserves it for how well they have treated me, it is my project gold and if God allows me to bring me a medal, I will do everything possible to train myself to fulfill this project. I don’t think there are two athletes in the world who participate in two countries and have good results.

Tania Hernandez with Costa Rican teammates.

What is the adrenaline rush of being in a game?

The adrenaline that is experienced in chess games is immense, your heart from the moment you sit down beats very strong, you already know that you are going to have a battle with someone and that you have to get into their mind and try not to get into yours, therefore, that generates all kinds of things. In my case it fascinates me, I don’t know what to compare what one feels in those 3, 4, or 5 hours of play; And that is what sustains me and keeps me going in chess. If I lose that love, that desire, I will leave this sport, which has already happened to me in Cuba.

How much does a game wear?

It wears out a lot, especially at my age, you have to eat very well, think very well, have a lot of mental strength, it is very tiring. And as the game progresses a lot in my case, I have less chance of winning it because of my age, therefore, I am doing an extra job.

What does chess represent for Tania?

It is my life, it is clear to me that it is an indissoluble marriage with which I will never separate, I am super in love, I have had several stages, even divorce too. When I arrived in Costa Rica I was totally discouraged, but Costa Rica healed me, made me fall in love with chess again, and rescue that marriage and that is worth gold. So thank you very much Costa Rica, God bless you.

Tania Hernandez teaching Costa Rican school children. Photo from fideamerica.com.

Photo from fideamerica.com

Interview (Spanish): https://www.fideamerica.com/index.php/costa-rica/12174-tania-hernandez-costa-rica-hizo-que-me-volviera-a-enamorar-del-ajedrez
Games: https://players.chessbase.com/en/player/hernandez%20alvarez_tania%20regla/105315

Interview in Managua, Nicaragua at 2014 Subzonal 2.3
where she was coaching Costa Rica

Video by Tico Chess

Somalia

In a country will so much turmoil in the past five decades, it becomes important to try to find a way to bring normalcy to ever-present social challenges in Somalia. Chess is played in more than 200 countries with federations in more than 180. Somalia has also ushered in “Chess in Schools” and is fully engaged. Chess is described in many languages, but many probably cannot recall what the game is called in Somalia. It’s Ciyaarta Shataranjiga which simply means “Game of Chess.”

	
(front row, from left to right), Mohamad Roble (Bd. 1), Abdulle Jimale (Bd. 2), Maohamed Osman (Bd. 3) and  Sufi Hagi (Bd. 5); (in the rear, from left to right), Abukar Mohamud (Bd. 4), Abshir Osman (Bd. 6) and Ahmed Moalim Mohamed, (captain). Photo by Jerry Bibuld.

Somalia at 2002 Chess Olympiad (Bled, Slovenia)

(front row, from left to right), Mohamad Roble (Bd. 1), Abdulle Jimale (Bd. 2), Mohamed Osman (Bd. 3) and Sufi Hagi (Bd. 5); (in the rear, from left to right), Abukar Mohamud (Bd. 4), Abshir Osman (Bd. 6) and Ahmed Moalim Mohamed, (captain). Photo by Jerry Bibuld.

Recently, there was a Somali program on Facebook reporting on chess in Somalia. While non-Somali would have trouble following the broadcast, it is wonderful to note that there is an activity in the country. Somalia participated in Chess Olympiads in Bled, Slovenia (2002), Baku, Azerbaijan (2016) and Batumi, Georgia (2018). The segment below is in Somali language. It matters not that we do not understand, but rest assured they are celebrating chess!

Video by Astaan Sports


Photo by Hadalsame Media

Brazil Brazil Brazil

Ryan Wesley da Costa Caetano of Brazil is an aspiring Grandmaster and was the 2019 Brazilian Junior Champion. Aged 19, he currently has a FIDE rating of 2243. Five months ago, Ryan was profiled in an interview on chess.com where he discussed his beginnings, inspirations, and aspirations. Here is the translation of the Portuguese-language interview. Unfortunately, English-speakers may not get a chance to learn about such players, but here is Ryan Caetano!

Ryan Wesley da Costa Caetano

Ryan Wesley da Costa Caetano

1. Tell your story in chess. How did it start? Who taught you how to play?

I met chess at the age of 9 when I was studying at my old school, but I didn’t like it very much. I started to enjoy it only after the age of 11 when I started going to the city club and participating in tournaments.

2. Does your family encourage you to play chess, participate in competitions?

Yes, my mother in particular always tried to help as much as possible so that I could participate in the tournaments.

3. Name your main titles.

FENAC – Campeonato Brasileiro Pré-Infantil (Under-14 and Under-18 champion), JESC subregional champion and Brazilian School 2019.

Ryan Caetano with championship trophy at FENAC 2019!

Ryan Caetano with championship trophy at FENAC 2019!

4. Which players do you admire?

I have always admired Mikhail Tal and Bobby Fischer because of their legacy, but currently, I try to mirror myself in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen.

5. Over the years that you participate in competitions, do you have a game that you consider remarkable or the best game played by you until today?

The game that touched me most was this year against Neuris (GM Neuris Delgado), because in addition to being a great player, he was one of my main teachers and helped me to evolve a lot.

6.What are your goals as a player?

Getting the GM title, and I still want to travel to Europe to play the tournaments there.

7.Which book (s) helped you to evolve?

Mastering Chess Strategies (Johan Hellsten), Complete Chess Training (Artur Yusupov), My Best Matches (Alexander Alekhine), My 60 Memorable Games (Bobby Fischer)

8. A final message and / or thanks.

I would like to thank my family for always insisting and not letting me give up, to my teachers because without them I would not be at that level and to my chess friends who always served as an incentive for me to improve.

Follow me on Twitch and Instagram for more news!

Video by Clube de Xadrez de Blumenau

Good Times in South Africa!! Jerald Times with some of the members of his Guguletu team. Photo courtesy of Jerald Times.

It can be said that Jerald Times has a story to tell. Having trod the stony roads of Harlem, New York, and the pastures of South Africa, he has come full circle and continued with his craft as a chess educator. On next week, he will be honored for his life’s work by the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD).

Times is known as a Maurice Ashley contemporary who reinvigorated the Mott Hall Darks Knights that won national acclaim under Ashley. Times was the subject of a 2002 article highlighting his challenges and successes.

The chess master and teacher at Mott Hall School, Jerald Times, has a thousand-watt gaze and skin the color of bitter chocolate. He radiates energy as he patrols the classroom, urging fourth and fifth graders to fight through chess problems that he has given them. Mr. Times is looking for potential prodigies who could join the Mott Hall Dark Knights, a mainly black and Latino chess team from a poor community that has won six national championships over the last decade. (link)

Jerald Times
Photo courtesy of Jerald Times

James Stallings, Director of Chess at UTD announced a couple of weeks ago that Times would be honored during a ZOOM ceremony. The program was originally scheduled for February 23rd, but due to the inclement weather and power outages in Texas, it has been moved to March 9th at 7:00 PM.

All of those interested in attending must reply to Jim Stallings to receive the ZOOM link. Capacity is limited. The proud Harlem native will speak on “Closing the Gap in Scholastic Chess,” a timely subject. It will be interesting to see which gap he is referring to, whether ethnic, gender or class.

In the press release, it reads:

For the first time ever, we will have the Chess Educator of the Year Event online. This should allow far more Texans to see the presentation and award ceremony. Parents and educators will enjoy this presentation. Jerald Times has a great story to tell.

Times cut his teeth in the parks of New York and joined the “Black Bear Chess of Chess,” an assemblage of competitive Black players. Ashley, FM William Morrison, and FM Ron Simpson were also members of that group. Times was one of many National Masters produced from that group and earned the title in 2002.

Times on his way to winning against Emory Tate
at the 2005 HB Global Chess Challenge.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

In 2010, Jerald traveled to South Africa on a grant and became immersed in the culture of his assigned South African Township. It was only a couple decades after the end of apartheid and the wounds have not yet healed. Times did so well with his Township team that he was hired to coach the national South African team at the 2010 All-African Games before he returned to the U.S. to work at Dalton.

The South African trip gave Times international exposure that is often lacking among African-American coaches. He chronicled his observations in an interesting essay. Times is one of many selfless figures sharing his love for chess and helping to improve the game’s profile during this growth period.

For more information, contact:

James Stallings james.stallings@utdallas.edu and
(972) 883-4899

Levon Aronian has completely started a new chapter in life.
He is with his new love, Ani Ayvazyan and dog “Ponchik“.
Photo by Armenian Aravot

Shocking report out of Armenia today as the chess world is grappling with news that Levon Aronian, the country’s top player will emigrate to the U.S. This is after political turmoil within the new administration has create an unstable situation. On his Facebook page, Aronian wrote an emotional letter. We are presenting the Armenian version (out of respect) and the English translation is below:

My darlings,

Last year was too hard for all of us: epidemic, war, in my case, also personal adversity and absolute indifference of the state towards Armenian chess. I was facing the choice to leave my life’s job or move to where I was appreciated.

After more than a year of waiting for the fulfillment of current government promises, I realized that I had to make a breakthrough decision and leave my native country. Obviously, every year of expectation of change is a wasted year from my sports career. And I appreciate my family, especially my mother’s sacrifices. as a chess player in my parking lot not to use my opportunity to make the most of it.

I’m sincerely proud of having had the honor of making a significant contribution to the greatest achievement of Armenian chess: three Olympic gold, gold in the world and European championships, two world cups, a number of individual and team victories. I think it’s clear that it’s impossible to achieve in chess World heights without long-term huge work and targeted support of the state. It is important to note that the third president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan’s personal attention and important support for years in our chess successes.
After the revolution in 2018, the new government promised to continue the line, but the promise was limited to only one year of partial assistance, after which it stopped.

Meanwhile, the chess arena was invaded by absolutely ignorant new sports state figures who rewritten our successes to themselves, began to self-proclaim even through blackmail. They managed to divide the chess solid family and sphere into chaos. I have tried many times to present the former minister of education, science, culture and sports Arayik Harutyunyan, other responsibilities of the sphere, as well as RA Prime Minister, with him these 3 At the only meeting in years, for which he strictly set 15 minutes.

All my attempts to suspend the devastating decisions in the chess sphere have been overthrown. I still failed to explain to the new government that chess is a great legacy in our country and that our successes in this sphere are perhaps one of the biggest achievements in our country. Personally, Armenian chess victories for me, independent Armenia the second pride is 1992-1994 Artsakh freedom after our victory.

I couldn’t pass on the simple truth that I ask for state support not for me personally but for our successes to serve and bring glory to our homeland, which for decades may not have Armenia anymore.

The answer was, “Our experts find that Levon Aronyan has no more potential.”

Immediately after this ‘verdict’ at Stavanger’s prestigious tournament, I lost both the world champion and the number two players in the world.

I’ve received many attractive offers from different countries for years. Including great American philanthropist and chess lover Rex Sinkefeld who repeated his offer to move to the United States every year. I’ve been denying everything that was done It was priceless for chess development by my state and that no material value could compare to the respect that the chess player enjoyed in Armenia.

I would like to express my gratitude to the respected Rex Sinkefeld for still believing in me today. Thanks also to Fabiano Caruana, who is America’s strongest player, supports me and shares my decision to be teammates. I am very grateful to my family, relatives, friends and all that people who know my principles and understand me.

My mother often repeats the Armenian saying. “God gives every man a test in his own way.” There have been many trials in my life, and every new one I accept with humility and willingness to be better than yesterday. I hope I overcome this one with dignity.

I am sure that time will pass and chess will return to its status in Armenia. Instead of closing chess schools and departed devotees, we will see again respect for the sport where we, as a nation and country, had and I think we will still have our stable place
Until then, I want to assure you once again that I am connected with all the threads of my homeland and I will continue to do my best and impossible for my country from a distance.

Armenia men rejoicing over 2nd consecutive Olympiad gold.

Armenia men rejoicing over 2nd consecutive Olympiad gold in 2008.

GMs Levon Aronian and Gabriel Sargissian at 2008 Olympiad in Dresden, Germany. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

GMs Levon Aronian and Gabriel Sargissian at 2008 Olympiad in Dresden, Germany after winning team gold. Photos by Daaim Shabazz

So there you have it. In the past couple of years, Aronian has had to endure the death of his beloved wife Arianna Caoli, the derailment of his chess activity, and now political instability of his homeland. On the other hand, he has met a new love of his life in Ani Ayvazyan who has shown tremendous support during Aronian’s darkest days.

I met Levon when we were running in the same group at Hamalir. He became one of the most important people in my life, and he changed my life. I believe that I also changed his life. Levon once told me that I brought him back to life and gave him a second chance at life. I am happy to have met Levon during the most difficult part of his life. I will always be by his side, and I will help him in any way I can. Perhaps that is all I have to say about us. But we have more important problems today. We have set our personal lives aside. Our personal lives and careers are now secondary. Now, we have a more important value: our homeland. Our whole nation has one dream: to live and win. We will do everything so we can live. And we will all do our part to make that dream come true. We will do everything so we can live. We will do everything so we can flourish. We will do everything so our nation can grow and so we can have lots of children who are like Aronian and other great Armenians. (link)

The two will chart a new course in life together, but away from their native Armenia.

The news traveled rather fast and the comments were both supportive and critical. Some simplified the situation to Rex Sinquefield offering a lot of incentives at the expense of other nations. Both Wesley So (2014) and Leinier Dominguez Perez (2018) have switched federations and Fabiano Caruana (2016) has returned to his native land.

Levon Aronian (right) playing Magnus Carlsen in 2013 Sinquefield Cup
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Some of the criticisms were based on the fact that America’s team is certainly a United Nations General Assembly. Only Caruana is American-born, Hikaru Nakamura came from Japan at age two, but with Aronian, So and Dominguez, the U.S. looks to be a formidable team when the next Olympiad is finally rescheduled. Aronian is still a contender but will have to wait until the next cycle in quest of a world championship crown.

New In Chess (2012-2)

The rich have gotten richer. There is hardly a ripple when an FM, IM, or average 2600-GM switches federations, but when you have three top 20 players who had no previous ties to the U.S. switch in less than ten years, it is ground-breaking. Armenians have expressed sadness, but encouragement in the new chapter of Aronian’s life. He is still a national hero and perhaps if the situation changes, he may change his mind, who knows? In the meantime, when he is eligible to play for the U.S. it will be a bit strange to see. However, he has always been open about his love for the U.S. particularly California and his new home St. Louis. He will join one of the strongest Olympiad teams in history.

Aronian is not only an elite chess player, but possesses a genial persona. He has always been genuinely curious of international cultures and has expressed support of The Chess Drum mission. Over the years, I have had a chance to interview the free-spirited GM Levon Aronian three times. Each time it was under victorious circumstances! Take a listen to these brief encounters… (2008, 2012 and 2017).

Daaim Shabazz interviewing Levon Aronian
after the closing ceremonies of 2017 Rapid & Blitz.
Photo by Peter Doggers

Older Posts »