Reflections on the Wilbert Paige Memorial

The 2nd Harlem Renaissance!!
All photos Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum)

2001 Wilbert Paige Memorial Chess Tournament

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 historic Hotel Theresa (top left)

The famous Apollo theater. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

The famous Apollo theater

125th and Malcolm X. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

125th street… the stomping grounds of the “Harlem Renaissance” in the 20s

Creative artistic expressions EVERYWHERE! Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Creative artistic expressions EVERYWHERE!

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.

Clash of the blitz titans. . . FM Stephen Muhammad vs. GM Maurice Ashley

Editor: The two would play a 28-game match two years later
at the 2003 U.S. Championship!

FM Ron Simpson takes on the legendary NM Frank Street as Willie 'Pop' Johnson looks on. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

FM Ron Simpson takes on the legendary NM Frank Street
as Willie ‘Pop’ Johnson looks on.

Battle of the 'Black Bears'. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Battle of the ‘Black Bears’ … Simpson vs. Colding

Post-tournament match. . . GM Ashley vs. FM Solomon. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Post-tournament match. . . GM Ashley vs. FM Solomon

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 Iwu, David 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!!

GM Maurice Ashley 'on point!' Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

GM Maurice Ashley was ‘on point!

NM Jerald Times and FM Muhammad analyzing Simutowe-Simpson match as FM Morrison looks on. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

NM Jerald Times and FM Stephen Muhammad
analyzing Simutowe-Simpson match as FM Morrison looks on.

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.

IM Simutowe analyzing with FM Morrison at the 'big board'. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

IM Amon Simutowe analyzing with FM William Morrison at the ‘big board’.

Attentive audience. . . probably thinking of refutations. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Attentive audience. . . probably thinking of refutations.

The atmosphere was great, and the players were provided with a daily supply of fresh fruit and coffee for the energy they were certain to need for the ensuing battles. The conditions were remarkable and many notable spectators visited to witness the action, and to be part of a historic moment. International Arbiter Jerry Bibuld ran a smooth tournament and furnished the visitors with daily bulletin of games found on The Chess Drum. Display boards were run by a number of staff, but anchored by Beejay Hicks, who did a wonderful job in handling this department.

The analysis room was a popular venue for chess players as GM Ashley spurred all kinds of laughter and enthusiasm from the spectators. . . everyone freely participated in the discussions. It was certainly a learning experience for the spectators as well as the players who participated in the post-mortems. NM Jerald Times and NM Elvin Wilson also performed well in their respective roles as commentators. As Charu Robinson diligently relayed the moves from the playing room, it was very exciting to see the games unfold and to compare the spectator analysis with actual play. Fritz 6 was also utilized.

Arbiter Jerry Bibuld makes announcements before the battles begin. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Arbiter Jerry Bibuld makes announcements before the battles begin.

Beejay Hicks did a fantastic job with the demo boards. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Beejay Hicks did a fantastic job with the demo boards.

NMs Elvin Wilson and Jerald Times analyzing Schleifer-Kobese match. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

NMs Elvin Wilson and Jerald Times analyzing Schleifer-Kobese match.

Fritz 6 was at work too! Charu Robinson at the controls. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Fritz 6 was at work too! Charu Robinson at the controls.

The tournament was more than a historic event. Who ever said that chess masters were self-centered egomaniacs? Well. . . on Friday, the 20th of July, seven of the ten participants (two others were playing) visited the students from the HEAF organization (a tournament sponsor) to share their insights for chess excellence. After GM Ashley gave introductions of the players, there was a question and answer session where students asked questions ranging from “What’s your favorite opening?” to “Is chess popular in Africa?” Each player had a unique way of addressing the questions and it was interesting to see their various styles of communication. The players were asked by Daaim Shabazz how each of them learned to play and the amazing thing was that each player learned from a family member!

After the Q&A, it was time to play chess. Teams were formed to play “consultation chess” where a student-master team was paired against another master-student team. How many tournaments feature the participants doing community service other than a simul? The event was such a beautiful sight to see as the students’ eyes lit up with enthusiasm. . . their excitement spilled out onto the boards. IM Amon Simutowe was very impressed with the fact that student actually saw chess ideas as opposed to just learning tactical themes. Of course, trash-talking found it’s way even to these friendly games. There was lots of laughter and smiling and everyone had a great time.

GM Ashley introduces seven of the Wilbert Paige participants.

FM Stephen Muhammad watches his student-partner make move. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

GM Ashley with the ever-eager student. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

IM Simutowe showing enthused student finer points. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

As the tournament wore on, the possibility of norm results caused a constant buzz amongst the spectators. Many predictions swirled about the tournament site. After FM Muhammad earned his IM norm with two rounds to spare, most of the attention focused on FM William Morrison, FM Kenny Solomonand NM Norman Rogers. By the end of the seventh round, FM Solomon was eliminated from norm contention.

Before the 8th round, everyone was getting their programs autographed and savoring the historic moment. A beautiful group photo was shot as this tournament was officially immortalized. After all of the pleasantries were exchanged, it was time to get back to business! FM Morrison and NM Rogers continued their respective marches toward an IM norm by winning clutch games in the 8th round. Excitement increased and the buzz only got louder. Players scrambled with their preparations for the big “throw down” in the 9th round. Up until the last pawn was pushed, norm possibilities were still in the air.

The tough South African contingent of IM Watu Kobese and FM Solomon would serve as “spoilers” to any other norms earned at the Wilbert Paige tournament. During the Solomon-Morrison match, the analysis room was going back and forth in their assessment of the position, but when the smoke cleared, it was obvious that a draw was imminent. So only one norm was earned. In the end, neither of the two remaining candidates could muster the number of points needed.

Players and staff personnel getting autographed programs. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Players and staff personnel getting autographed programs. Bob Ali, a local long-time chess resident gets a signature from Simutowe.

Wilbert Paige Memorial players and commentators. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Wilbert Paige Memorial players and commentators

Finally... the Wilbert Paige Memorial is history... Solomon and Morrison engage in post-mortem as crowd watches. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Finally… the Wilbert Paige Memorial is history… Solomon and Morrison engage in post-mortem as crowd watches.

Tournament laborers: Jerry Bibuld (Arbiter), Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum), Beejay Hicks (tournament hall manager), Jeffery Mitchell (Deputy Arbiter). Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Tournament laborers: Jerry Bibuld (Arbiter), Daaim Shabazz (webmaster), Beejay Hicks (tournament hall manager), Jeffery Mitchell (Deputy Arbiter)

Immediately after the tournament, there was already talk of Wilbert Paige 2002. In addition, talks of a GM tournament were raised. Of course, a tournament of this manner would no doubt attract more attention as well as players such as GM Ashley, FM Emory Tate, IM Oladapo Adu, any of the FIDE titled players in Wilbert Paige 2001, and Black chess masters throughout the world.

This seminal event has served as the culmination of a vibrant spirit that has swept the Black chess world as there is more talk than ever of players seeking to earn titles and seeking higher heights in the international chess world. One thing for sure, the first Wilbert Paige Memorial will leave an indelible impression etched in the minds of those who witnessed an occasion “for the ages.” It was truly special. . . a Black chess renaissance. Hope you enjoyed it!!

Dr. Daaim Shabazz of the The Chess Drum, the official website. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Dr. Daaim Shabazz of the The Chess Drum, the official website of the Wilbert Paige Memorial tournament.

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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