Chess in the Washington, DC area has a long history… particularly as it relates to the Black community. This fact was highlighted in an essay written by Gregory Kearse, “A Brief History of Black Chess Masters in America.” Charles Covington was mentioned as one of the pioneers of the 60s who followed the path of Walter Harris, Kenneth Clayton and Frank Street in breaking down the social walls of a game known for its elitism.
Covington is an interesting phenomenon, having made a name for himself in music, also doubled as a weekend punisher over the chess board. Appropriately, he and three others assembled a team and competed in the 1981 U.S. Amateur Team Championship which was held in February 1981 in Somerset, New Jersey. In his book titled, ‘Memoirs of an African American Chess Master,” Covington told the story:
“Competition was certainly not lacking in the 1981 U.S. amateur Team Championship, held February 14-16 at the Marriott hotel in Somerset, NJ., when 131 teams with a total of 563 players took part in the 14th running of this event. The three grandmasters (Roman Dzindzihashvili, Arthur Bisguier and Samuel Reshevsky), 41 masters and 88 experts who participated made this one of the strongest team tournament in recent years.
The Capitol Punishers, an African American team tied for first place with a final score of 5½-½. Held to a draw by the precious year’s champions, Heraldica #1, they went on to defeat the No. 1 ranked jersey City Knight Moves and Columbia University.
The team member consisted of Vincent Moore 1st board, Charles Green 2nd board, Charles Covington 3rd board and Nathaniel Hoff 4th board. But, not surprisinlgy for some convenient reas Eugene Meyer’s team, the District of Columbia-based Materialists, which ranked sixth at the outset, took 1st on tiebreak over our team, the Capitol Punishers.
I was the only one on my team to go undefeated with a final score of 5½-½, therefore they decided to let me take home the plaque which still hangs on my wall today.
Of course, not much was mentioned about our team in Chess Life magazine so I am including all six of my game in this section.”
Pioneers such as Harris, Clayton, Street and Covington would pave the way for another generation of Masters (Moore, Green, William Morrison, Andre Sergeon and Baraka Shabazz) and help to usher in a competitive spirit seen in DC’s Dupont Circle. While U.S. chess magazines has often failed in covering diverse elements of its participants, finally the “Capitol Punishers” will get their due recognition they deserve.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to James Taylor who provided the inspiration for this forgotten story. I have also been informed by Lawrence Pugh that a team from Philadelphia scored 5½-½ to win 1st in the 1995 U.S. Amateur Team Championship. The “Mate by Force” team consisted of Norman “Pete” Rogers, Wilbert Paige, Elvin Wilson and Jeffery Johnson… all of Philadelphia. Thanks!