Historic Moments: African-American Unity Chess Tournaments (1992)

When those following chess in the Black chess community worldwide are asked about a famous tournament in Harlem comprising of strong chess players of African descent, they will invariably mention the Wilbert Paige Memorial. However, there was a precedent. Maurice Ashley (right) sent a provocative letter calling for an initiative to “educate, uplift, and unify the strongest players of African descent in the United States.”

Most of the chess world knows Ashley for his play and for his commentating skills, but he is at least as adept as a chess visionary. In this letter dated the 8th of February 1992, Ashley developed a 8-point initiative launching the Unity Chess Tournament Series (UCTS). He also identified the top players of African descent and their U.S. ratings at that time they were:

  1. Maurice Ashley (NY) – 2485
  2. Emory A. Tate Jr. (NY) – 2441 (USCF 12/92)
  3. Ronald Buckmire (NY) – 2424
  4. Morris Giles (IL) – 2423
  5. Maurice Broomes (PA) – 2408
  6. Ronald Simpson (NY) – 2390
  7. Stephen Booth (CA) – 2387
  8. Alfred Blake Carlin (LA) – 2386
  9. Charles Lawton (MO) – 2363
  10. Marvin Dandridge (IL) – 2351

His hope was to draw other Masters to these theme tournaments as a way of strengthening the cadre of strong players. What occurred was the most ambitious plan that had ever been hatched at that time. The idea of the UCTS was to have a series of tournaments in which topical thematic positions would be played at every board. Two weeks to the date of that letter, the first tournament started at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, New York.

1st African-American Unity Chess Tournament, 22 February 1992

Theme: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Nd2 a5 10.Rb1 Nd7 11.a3 f5 12.b4 Kh8 13.Qc2 Ng8 (diagram)

Top Scores: 1st-Maurice Ashley (3½-½); 2nd-Jerald Times (2½-1½); 3rd-5th-Ronald Simpson, Mark Meeres, Charu Robinson (2-2).

Highlights:
The series got off to a promising start with four Masters participating. Wilbert Paige of Philadelphia had to withdraw, but junior players Charu Robinson and Kasaun Henry fought hard.

Full Report (Maurice Ashley)

Selected Games

Ronald Simpson-Kasaun Henry, 1-0
Jerald Times-Maurice Ashley, 0-1
Maurice Ashley-Ronald Simpson, ½½
Maurice Ashley-Mark Meeres, 1-0
Ronald Simpson-Jerald Times, ½½

PGN Games (incomplete)

2nd African-American Unity Chess Tournament, 7 March 1992

Theme: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.a4 h6 12.Nbd2 Bf8 13.Bc2 exd4 14.cxd4 Nb4 15.Bb1 c5 (diagram)

Top Scores: 1st-Jeffrey Mitchell (3½-½); 2nd-Maurice Ashley (3-1); 3rd-Ernest Colding (2½-1½).

Highlights: Expert Mitchell won the tournament by holding Ashley and beating Colding. This time, all the games were included in the bulletin. Four Masters participated.

Full Report (Maurice Ashley)

Selected Games

Maurice Ashley-Jeffrey Mitchell, ½½
Ernest Colding-Leon Munro, 1-0
Jeffrey Mitchell-Willie Johnson, 1-0
Ronald Simpson-Maurice Ashley, 0-1
Maurice Ashley-Nathaniel Jackson-1-0

PGN Games (All Games)

Willie 'Pop' Johnson vs. FM Ron Simpson (front) & NM Elvin Wilson vs. FM Maurice Ashley. Copyright © 2001, Jerry Bibuld.

Willie “Pops” Johnson vs. FM Ron Simpson (front) & Jeffrey Mitchell vs. FM Maurice Ashley (back); 2nd African-American Unity tournament, 7 March 1992. Photo by Jerry Bibuld.

3rd African-American Unity Chess Tournament, 21 March 1992

Theme: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.e4 b4 10.Na4 c5 11.a5 Nd5 (diagram)

Top Scores: 1st-Maurice Ashley (3½-½); 2nd-Ronald Simpson (3-1); 3rd-5th-Mark Meeres, Leon Munro, Willie Johnson (2-2).

Highlights: Ashley wins the 3rd UCTS event, but Simpson would put on a clinic with two identical wins. This was the first UCTS tournament with no byes or fillers. Getting better!

Full Report (Maurice Ashley)

Selected Games

Leon Munro-Maurice Ashley, 0-1
Ronald Simpson-Jeffrey Mitchell, 1-0
Ernest Colding-Mark Meeres, 1-0
Timothy Harris-Leon Munro, 0-1
Mark Meeres-Willie Johnson, ½½

PGN Games (All Games)

4th African-American Unity Chess Tournament, 4 April 1992

Theme: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.g4 h6 7.h4 Nc6 8.Rg1 h5 (diagram)

Top Scores: 1st-Mark Meeres (3½-½); 2nd-3rd-Wilbert Paige, Ernest Colding (3-1); 4th-Maurice Ashley (2½-1½).

Highlights: The final UCTS was perhaps the most successful. There were five Masters including Wilbert Paige. Paige and Elvin Wilson (2187) made the trip from Philadelphia.

Full Report (Maurice Ashley)

Selected Games

Maurice Ashley-Elvin Wilson, ½½
Ernest Colding-Maurice Ashley, 1-0
Elvin Wilson-Wilbert Paige, ½½
Wilbert Paige-Ronald Simpson, 1-0
Mark Meeres-Wilbert Paige, ½½

PGN Games (All Games)

NM Mark Meeres (R) playing Nathan Jackson. Copyright © 2001, Jerome Bibuld.

Nathan Jackson (left) glaring at Mark Meeres; 4th African-American Unity Tournament, 4 April 1992. Photo by Jerry Bibuld.

Synopsis: Courageous effort by Maurice Ashley. Although he didn’t get the participation he sought, this series can perhaps be a benchmark for other theme tournaments. There was also the Murphy APC tournaments in 1994 which featured Ashley, Norman “Pete” Rogers, Okechukwu “George” Umezinwa and Deon Solomons. Of course, Ashley has been instrumental in other tournaments such as the historic Wilbert Paige Memorial and the “no draw” Generation Tournament.

Perhaps distance may have been a factor in players competing. This has always been a problem since many players are on restricted budgets. If these tournaments are to draw a wide variety of players, conditions will have to be met well in advance and perhaps sponsors found to defray the costs. However, with airfares at reasonable levels, such a tournament may have a greater chance for success. Both Meeres and Paige are now deceased, so it is important that more tournaments be held in order to immortalize the contributions of these talented players while they are here.

Original Version (2004)
https://www.thechessdrum.net/historicmoments/HM_AAunity92/

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.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you Daaim Shabazz for the reminder of some great games and memories. I feel immense sadness looking at the photo of Nate Jackson and Mark Meeres. Both masters were dear friends of mine, now departed.

  2. Nice event, let me know when ya wanna do it again im ready and willing to provide some new chess, spoke with Maurice at the St. Louis
    Club on August 25 at the Sinquefeld Cup. I wuz tellin Seirwan we gotta play a blitz match and Maurice started talkin so i told him im gunna play na6-c7-e6 and see how he react. Mo talkin like he wants to play so maybe he will brave it out. We have two young players, Justus and Josh at the Marshall Chess Club tryna learn the game of chess right now by practicing with some traditional gms, im sure they would learn alot more in this type of event instead of messin around in NYC .Sup Murphy Long time no see u lookin good in Chitown bro! me,Daaim and fISHER from there. lol Negash Belaazel u should play too and show how strong you actually are at chess instead of just the few masters listed here and if yall wanna get together and go to one of their major tournaments and win it over their traditional gms im down with that too Instead of just havin fun them on the internet. Oh Negash, Carlsen, Anand and Naka and the rest of the traditional gms saw me in st. louie,I went there to see examine their “over the board chess” that they been talkin about on the internet, looks like the same ole stuff to me. They dont talk gm talk to me in Buffalo NY anymore, they aint no fun no more. Falafelbackgammon(GENIUS) the greatest backgammon who ever lived has passed he was a close friend and a chessplayer, we entered our first chess tournament at the University of Buffalo, N.Y. a College back in 1984 if i recall. R.I. P. “True Genius Is Always Simple”. ULTRAMODERNIST.

  3. oh my bad drummas i meant Kassa Korley in NYC, ya boi Justus is in a tournament in Montreal apparently tryna get his im norm! lol. GO JUSTUS!!! BUBBAFISHA.

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