GM Ashley treks to South Africa!

GM Maurice Ashley recently spent time in South Africa touring the schools and promoting chess. He was able to leave the students with some valuable life lessons. The host was David Berman who runs the program, “Chess for Change”. Ashley sent the following letter:

Hey Daaim:

I just came back from a deeply humbling yet hopeful experience in Cape Town, South Africa. I spent 8 days there giving talks to young people (both Black and White), playing in a simul, playing in a few blindfold games, doing radio interviews and meeting the chess community. As you know, Cape Town features some very strong players (IM Kenny Solomons, for one). It was a thrill to be soaked with love and appreciation for my role in chess.

I also got to visit the infamous Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent so many years. To see his prison cell and to move on the grounds on which he and other political prisoners planned the future of South African is mind-blowing. That his spirit was never broken despite spending 30 years of his life incarcerated for his beliefs is a truly astounding concept. The tour guides made it feel as though I was in church revisiting the spirit of trials and tribulations to cleanse the soul. I can’t imagine the strength it took to endure those difficult times. I can only feel blessed to live the life I’ve lived.

I was in Cape Town under the auspices of a charity organization called Chess for Change. Created by a White South African named David Berman, the non-profit looks to bring the many benefits of chess to the children of South Africa. David not only talks the talk, but he walks to walk. It’s great to have truly sincere people who love chess and who put their time, energy and personal resources to see that all kids have opportunities to develop and excel. Chess for Change has been around for 3 years and is serving about 4,000 young people, a number that will be sure to grow exponentially in the next few years.

What I really like is that the organization is not wasting its time trying to make GMs. They are about giving kids hope and opportunity to develop themselves as people and critical thinkers first. If these young people then take the skills they learn from chess and go into business, education, sports, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Of course, a few will become strong chess players, but it’s the bigger number that Chess for Change is and should be focused on.

I look forward to returning to Africa again and again. I have to say I felt very much at home.



  1. Photos from Ashley’s Visit to South Africa

    Ashley giving a lecture at high school in Gugulethu township.

    Blindfold session

    Ashley takes an emotional tour of Robben Island, the wretched home of Nelson Mandela for 18 years… he was in prison a total of 27 years. The prisoners had to endure harsh conditions including cold nights, intense sun in summer, humidity and of course rats and mosquitos. When I visited Robben Island prison a few years back, it was hard to fathom living in such a place for so long without losing sanity. Don’t think of escaping because there are sharks in the waters surrounding the island. The prison is a museum, but there are inhabitants on the island. It was once a place housing the leper colony.

    These were pictures of incoming prisoners from the early days.
    Many would never leave.

    Ashley at Mandela’s cell.

    Appropriately, a chess set depicting
    the revolutionaries versus the apartheid establishment.

    Students in the courtyard waiting to hear GM Ashley. They waited 40 minutes to hear him speak in the open air. There is no auditorium. Education is not a luxury in South Africa.

    Ashley with David Berman posing with the students.

    Another school apparently in a different location.

    One of five blindfold games the Ashley played.

    The Grandmaster being mobbed for autographs.

    Where did Maurice go??

  2. Daaim, these photos and this story again shows why your site is so valuable, your posting here is my first knowledge about this visit by GM Ashley. I am a huge fan of Maurice not just for chess even though his combinations are amazing, but for the humanitarian and life skills he promotes through chess. I hope to meet him one day and talk chess on a deeper level. everything he is doing is what I dream about as a player and and as a coach. Pictures speak a thousand words , the reception from the white children shows attitudes can be changed and are changing.

  3. Wow. Keep the beat going! I hope I am able to see GM Ashley next week. I am bringing my 9 year old chess prodigy Jessica to play in the simul being held in Nashville, TN.

  4. Robert,

    Their minds probably have not been complicated by the details of racial politics of apartheid yet. I’m sure they know some of the history, but they are perhaps shielded the way children in America are shielded from the dark past. I will say that children are usually a lot more judicious in the assessment of character. However, there is still work to be done on the adult level.

    A Luta Continua.

  5. Why visit a country where Chess is already established?why not Gabon,Burundi,Togo or Sudan.

    On the other hand why is Mandela so overrated??some even died in prison ,he was lucky to be pardoned.What did he do for black South Africans after prison??

  6. Brilliant Job Mo!! and it seems well organized too! Mr.Mckenzie thats a great blog for some wonderful photos,true harmony there! If you have chessbase go to Ashley’s games and study his work with the BIG PIECES (Queen+2Rooks) and you will see some of the most remarkable and creative moves in the history of chess and it will be clear why he is the First Black Grandmaster of our game. Many black chessplayers often draw comparisons between Tate and Tal, however once you study Ashley’s games in this direction you will find that Maurice and Tal are also extremely close! Great work Mo great work! I cant wait to see what these kids do !!! HAHA

  7. Darren,

    Maurice went to South Africa because he was invited, full stop.

    Have you ever spent one day in jail? For you to imply that Mandela was not worthy because he didn’t die (after suffering 27 years), is foolish. Certainly, some spent longer periods and some died, but why are we comparing?

    Mandela fought for the collective will of self-determination (as a lawyer) and he suffered a price of being imprisoned for his activist beliefs. As far as I’m concerned, Mandela’s courage speaks for itself. What has Mandela done? If Mandela did nothing after his release but sit at home, drink tea, look out over the horizon and write his memoirs, he would be deserving of the freedom to do that. Twenty-seven years is a long time to take from someone.

  8. Fantastic trip – thanks Daaim for giving to us Maurice’s report.

    Regarding Nelson Mandela, what he has lived through and accomplished is not some idealized story .. it is real, and that reality was harsher and more brutal than all but a few of us can ever imagine. And not only did he survive it, but he overcame a repression that would break (did break) even a very strong person. His strong and visionary leadership of South Africa through the period of dismantling of apartheid is nothing short of brilliant.

  9. People like Chris Hani,Oliver Tambo,Steve Biko ,Jacob Zuma suffered greatly Hani and Biko even suffering cruel death.Mandela would not even correct injustices of apartheid ,no wonder his western masters adore him.The Boers in RSA live in absolute comfort while black Southa Africans wake up in shakes in Soweto and Alexandria,shame.

    “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for
    people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

    — Noam Chomsky

  10. It’s hard to criticize a man who sacrificed 27 years in prison for his people. I have not always agreed with Mandela’s approach, but he had a just cause and he believed 100% in it. I believe his “one man, one vote” was only the beginning and not the end of the struggle. Of course, with such a system, the Black people will rule, but without the equitable or proportional distribution of resources, there will continue to be an socioeconomic divide. Shanties are still despicable and poverty has fueled the crime epidemic. I went to South Africa a few years ago and it was an enriching experience. It was great interacting with South Africans and most are still hopeful. However, there is still much work to be done. These interactions help to strengthen the Diaspora since that is yet another story we can share.

  11. Darren,

    You surprise me at times with your rancor and overall negativism. If you can’t say anything good about our historic figures (chessplayers and non-chessplayers), there’s no hope. What I don’t understand is why you continue to compare these men who sacrificed their lives (in one way or another) for their nation. It makes no sense at all. Each of those men (and many women) played different roles in the struggle. They faced the threat of death and imprisonment each day.

    Of course Mandela suffered greatly and was separated from his family for decades. It’s easy to say he could have corrected 100 years of apartheid fresh out of prison as a 72-year old. Maybe you’re right, but that doesn’t nullify his courage and fortitude… surviving a terrible ordeal. We can debate his approach, but do not say he didn’t dedicate his life in a honorable way. He sacrificed quite a bit and was willing to give his life.

  12. well done your trip sounds amazing and should certtainly have inspired so many thousands of children!! its honorable of you to go. as for this guy porter, perhaps he should live in zimbabwe where mugabe followed what he wanted the great mandela to do.

  13. Daaim you ask If I have ever been to jail because I cquestioned Mandela’s hero status.If the same measure is applied to you ;I ask you this;Should we also dismiss you for commenting on Alexander Alekhine games simply because you did not play at San Remo and Bled??

  14. No… you questioned Mandela’s courage and integrity. I asked if you had spent time in jail (lost your freedom) because you apparently do not appreciate what he had to endure for 27 years. We can be critical of the progress that South Africa has made, but to belittle his effort and sacrifice is mean-spirited and callous.

  15. I just stated he is overrated ,he is not the only hero ,there are a lot of heroes .Anyway maybe its better to talk about Amon’s latest exploits in Zagreb than dwell on this.

  16. We’re not comparing basketball or football players here. Overrated is relative to someone else and there is no need to draw comparisons and debate on who was the highest rated revolutionary or “hero”.

    I heard from Amon recently, but the topic here is Maurice Ashley.

  17. Hi Everyone,
    I think Darren is free to express his opinion on issues, events and personalities alike.
    However, if one criticizes the most recognised symbol of what he represents, then he needs to re-evaluate his course…
    Mandela being overated or underated is so irrelevant when talking about such a great icon of equality, peace and progress.
    Anyone who thinks otherwise, could simply try telling us what he has achieved in like fashion… Even if it’s on the chess board!

    I really hope this puts paid to the Mandela issue…
    Daaim, you have been great at what you do… Keep it up!

  18. congratulations david
    May I use this medium to congratulate david berman on the chess for change project. The choice of maurice ashley being a
    history making chessplayer is also commendable.There are lots
    of lesson to learn from this great philantropic exercise, and we chess activist hope that more sponsors assist chess in view of its
    numerous attributes
    dr owen maduka
    national chessmaster

  19. Great entry! SA needs more publicity when it comes to chess, but unfortunately, you will always get people linking anything to Apartheid (ugh! what a word which you get anywhere in the world, but not called by that name…ask me!)Let’s keep it at chess when it comes to chess, it’s more fun talking chess. South Africa has always been a GREAT country and MOST people got along with one another. I grew up on a farm, had only black kids as friends and they’re still my friends today… many Saffas never had problems with other races.. like other countries, with other issues, the Media/News are always grabbing every little straw to blow things up. Ok, I know things happened which was NOT nice, we can not get away from all other things/issues in other countries, which they don’t talk about (Australia) and don’t want to talk about it. (US too). Many things all over the world happened that was not nice..Hitler/Jews/Concentration Camps by the British in SA etc etc etc…let’s move on and make the most of this wonderful world we’re living in and let’s build bridges via chess! yeah yeah for Chess! Mandela spent 27 years in prison…the last few years in a “prison”…which was more like an the actual years in prison wasn’t 27, but I still admire him for the time and his effort to bring nations together. The fact that everything went smoothly on that big day in 1994 shows how we in SA accepted each other already—-before!…so the “progress” wasn’t/isn’t that big as you’s more the people who were/are the “real” racists..that had to make a mind change… and that can be referred to as progress…

  20. Hi GM Maurice Ashely,
    I am a very big fan of your (even bought your Secrets DVD). I was not aware you came to SA, I would have loved to meet you.

    Next time, I will keep my eyes and ears open. A quote from RSA:
    “….Mintirho ya wena ya vulavula….” which translates to your work speaks for you.
    I will be following in your footsteps!

  21. Hi

    I have seen the pictures of the apartheid chess set you have, do you have any idea where I would be able to purchase one these days?



  22. Our school has powerful chess teams. We are looking for assistance for funds because we have to pay the coach and we are from disadvantageous area where parents don’t manage to finance. We are pleading and kneel down so that these learners can stay away from street doing unnecessary things like smoking etc

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