Smith moves Birmingham’s Chess Agenda

Michele Wilson-Morris of Birmingham believes there is a good reason Charles Smith has been honored by the city Mayor with the “2010 Hidden Heroes Award” from the Division of Youth Services.

His ability to teach the game in such a short period of time and his overall methodology is very unique, but I guess the main thing is that he has put Birmingham on the map as far as chess goes, especially for inner city students, and exposed inner city kids to chess and other opportunities that they would not have were it not for chess.

Magic City Chess U

Smith appears to have built a sustainable program in the Birmingham, Alabama area, dubbed, “Magic City Chess U.” Over the past several years, he has worked with inner city youth in Birmingham and as an outreach to schools for implementation in curricula. Magic City U is also working with the Boys & Girls Club and has joined with the NAACP to host a free program called the “Changing Lives One Mind At A Time Initiative”. The program began in October 2009 and runs throughout the school year.

Smith has been teaching chess in Birmingham for the last eight years. His students have won numerous team and individual championships and tournaments at the city, state, regional and national levels. During this stint, he has exposed his students to influential figures such as IM Emory Tate. Tate has visited Smith’s class and the two hope to collaborate in the future. As a player, Smith was the D.C. Amateur Champion and 30 minute Champion in the 1990’s. He continues to spread his knowledge to inspire legions of aspiring chess players.

Charles A. Smith, Founder and Director
Magic City Chess University
Birmingham, AL 35261
(205) 370-7094


  1. Sydney Morris won 5 out of 5 games at the Alabama State Scholastic Chess Tournament to become the first African American female to win the title of Alabama State Middle School Chess Champion. The tournament was hosted by Indian Springs School.

    Coached by Charles A. Smith of Magic City Chess U, Sydney takes chess lessons at W. J. Christian School as her daily elective. She’s been playing for the last three years, following her older brother Justin’s footsteps in competitive chess. Commenting on her new title as the 2010 Alabama State Scholastic Middle School Chess Champion, Coach Charles Smith said, “I’m not surprised that Sydney won the title because she is an outstanding student, and is very focused and disciplined. Those characteristics are well suited for the game of chess. She defeated several players who were actually rated much higher than she was.”

    There was some incentive for the win. Sydney and her mother were involved in a car accident the night before on the way home from seeing a movie together, and her mother was taken to the hospital by ambulance to be checked. Before her mom was lifted into the ambulance, Sydney went up to her and said “I’m going to win it all for you tomorrow mommy.”

    As for Sydney, she’s trying to catch up to her brother Justin Morris, who is also one of Smith’s students, and currently plays 1st board for the Indian Springs School chess team. Indian Springs won the 2010 High School State Team Championship. Oddly enough, the brother and sister faced each other in the last round in the team tournament on Sunday, April 11th, each playing first board for their school. Justin won the round, but Sydney is still determined to sit across the board from him and shake his hand as the winner one day soon.

    Ever determined, Sydney talked about her new role as Middle School State Chess Champion stating, “I just did what I had to do. I owed that to the people who supported me the most – Mr. Smith, my mom, and my family and friends”.

    Sydney’s mother has also made history in the state of Alabama in the chess arena. While she does not play chess, she is the Program Director for Magic City Chess U, and the first African American and first female to ever serve on the Executive Board of Directors of the Alabama Chess Federation. She began serving as Treasurer in October 2009

  2. Birmingham’s Sydney Morris is state’s top middle school player
    By Anne Ruisi — The Birmingham News
    May 19, 2010, 7:02AM

    The Birmingham NewsState middle school chess champ Sydney Morris, 12, plays against Omar Abdulahad, 13, at W.J. Christian K-8 School. Sydney will represent Alabama this summer at a national tournament in Texas.

    Birmingham’s Sydney Morris said she had her doubts about doing well in the state middle school chess championship. The night before, she’d gotten home late because she and her mother were in a wreck that sent Michele Wilson-Morris to the emergency room.

    “But a friend said I could do it,” said Sydney, 12, who went on to win five out of five games at Indian Springs School last month to become Alabama State Scholastic Middle School Chess Champion for 2010.

    “She seems very quiet but she adapts very well to any situation,” said her mother, who was able to go home from the hospital the night of the wreck.

    The win also means she’ll represent Alabama July 25-30 at the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls in Lubbock, Texas. The weeklong intensive chess experience at Texas Tech University includes coaching by Polgar, an internationally known chess player, and a tournament.

    Sydney, a seventh-grader at W.J. Christian K-8 School, also is the first African-American girl to win the middle school chess title, said her coach, Charles A. Smith of Magic City Chess U.

    “I think it’s outstanding,” Smith said. “She’s very disciplined.”

    Sydney started playing chess about four years ago, when she saw how much her older brother, Justin Morris, enjoyed playing the game. Justin, a high schooler who is on the Indian Springs School chess team, is a skilled player who brought home a lot of trophies, his sister said.

    “I saw how much fun he had, and I wanted to learn myself,” Sydney said.

    Her school offered chess as a daily elective, so she signed up. It took her two to three weeks to learn the game.

    “If you’re learning (chess), you have to be patient,” Sydney said. “A lot of people confuse chess and checkers and jump the pieces.”

    Her advice is to practice, practice, practice, which she does at home in addition to her daily chess class at school. At her home in the Winewood subdivision of Birmingham’s Echo Highlands Neighborhood, it means playing against a computer, or preferably, against people logged onto game websites such as, Sydney said.

    Chess helps her develop skills in logic and critical thinking, and Sydney said it has helped improve her math grade by five to 10 points over last year. This year her average in math is 90.

    Sydney still plays chess with her brother, but Justin is so good, “I’ve only beat him once or twice,” she said.

    When she’s not playing or practicing, Sydney enjoys shopping, texting her friends and reading, especially stories about King Arthur, Merlin and dragons. She also loves to write stories and poems and wants to write a novel when she’s older.

    Sydney’s principal, Michael A. Davis, said he’s proud of her win and is pleased with her success.

    “I think it’s a remarkable achievement and it couldn’t happen to a nicer person,” Davis said. “She’s a well-rounded kid with a perfect disposition. … It’s truly a joy to work with her.”

    1. Knight you are one of my best teachers. Some of the things you taught me in D.C. I teach the kids like “don’t feel the hit” . Thank you James Taylor( Black Knight).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button