The Challenges of Black Chess Masters

GM Pontus Carlsson at 2008 European Championship.
Sweden’s GM Pontus Carlsson at 2008 European Championship.
Photo from
From time to time there is a question raised about the presence of Black players in the chess world. Players in this demographic can be seen at tournaments around the world and are seemingly enthusiastic about competition. However, those who have found success at the highest level have been few.

As of 2010, there are three Grandmasters of African descent (Maurice Ashley-USA, Pontus Carlsson-Sweden, Amon Simutowe-Zambia). Each of these players met unique challenges in their rise toward Grandmasterdom. No other player of African descent is close to making their third GM norm. Why is this? There are a number of challenges things that continue to inhibit this rise. In this brief essay, we will look at a few of the challenges that often come up.

(Note: As of 2022, the number of Black Grandmasters has reached double digits including earlier omissions.)


Let’s address this straight-on. I was once asked by a Latin American whether Blacks were intelligent enough to be Grandmasters. The question was not posed with any malice or ill-will; it was a person asking a genuine follow-up question about the small number of Black Grandmasters I had named for him.

However, there are other forums that make it a contentious issue. There was once a debate on a White supremacist website stating that it is unlikely that a Black person can be a chess Grandmaster. That was until one of the posters found an article on The Chess Drum about Ashley! The debate ended immediately. First, let’s ask the question, “Is chess really an adequate measure of requisite intelligence?” One study showed,

Chess is not necessarily a game reserved for people with IQ scores on par with Einstein. In fact, chess strategy may rely more heavily on spatial processing than on logic and computational skills. (see article)

The Mind. Copyright © 1998, Carol Barnes.

Of course, there are all types of historic racial stereotypes about the intelligence of Blacks, or people of African descent. There have been crackpot race theories, specious experiments about cranial size, and other notions taken from religious interpretations. All of these have been debated and while largely dismissed, the debate rages on. Incidentally, out of the small cadre of Black Masters in the world, many are involved in analytical fields such as computer science, physics, mathematics, finance, and medicine.

That chess players are necessarily smarter than the next person, appears to be a misnomer. There simply is too much variation in the socioeconomic background of chess players to make that assertion. Many chess players (of all backgrounds) share some degree of skill in pattern recognition and analytical ability, but if raw intelligence was the only prerequisite, many elite thinkers would master chess without difficulty.


Perhaps the biggest of challenges for Black players seeking higher heights in chess has always been obtaining the financial wherewithal to travel and earn the required norms for FIDE titles. To play chess is a choice, but what may inhibit a player from pursuing a dream is the lack of resources. While Black players living in the U.S. or Europe may have more norm opportunities than players in Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean, there are still the high costs associated with training and traveling.

Granted these are barriers that all players face, but Blacks tend to face greater financial hardship (on average) for a multitude of socioeconomic and historical reasons. Thus, the opportunity costs for focusing on chess remain exceedingly high. Since the payoff is usually not commensurate with the investment of time and money, the focus on chess becomes an afterthought. Many promising players have left the game for better economic opportunities and have relegated chess as a weekend hobby, or have quit altogether.


The issue of adequate opportunities is another issue. For those on the African continent, the chances are rare as there are few tournaments offering the competition needed to raise the level of one’s play. Thus, talented players like IM Watu Kobese (South Africa), IM Kenny Solomon (South Africa) and IM Robert Gwaze (Zimbabwe) have had to scramble for opportunities and raise thousands of dollars to travel on long and tortuous flights up the length of Africa and into Europe or to the U.S. In the Caribbean, there are a few more international tournaments being offered and perhaps the tourist venues can attract foreign players so that locals can get more experience.

IM Kenny Solomon at 2008 Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
IM Kenny Solomon of South Africa has been spending
a lot of time in Europe in search of GM norms.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
In the U.S., there are more chess opportunities than five years ago, but with the economy reeling, the cost of living being high, and returns from chess low, most players choose to put their chess ambitions on the back-burner or make an honest living elsewhere. While Ashley is still a chess professional he no longer makes his income primarily from chess tournaments. He once explained to me how impractical such a situation could be. He has not been consistently active since 2003. Most chess professionals in the U.S. make their living on training, lecturing, and writing books.

Race and Class

Race is always a controversial subject when discussing merit-based activities like chess. There has been no empirical research conducted to show that systematic racism has prevented Black players from excelling in chess. U.S. players like Walter Harris was certainly excluded from certain opportunities in the 60s, but one may argue that the issue is more of class than race. That does not mean instances of discrimination don’t exist. They do.

Walter Harris
Walter Harris (left), the first Black National Master in the U.S.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
In current events, there are some systematic notions that can ultimately impede the growth of chess in Black nations such as changing FIDE’s “one-nation, one-vote” system. This would render all smaller federations as less relevant thus relegating them to a second class. It would then be hard to gain leverage for aspiring players. This is a point of great contention in the current campaign for FIDE President.

Changing the number of qualifiers in the FIDE knockout would also be a blow to African players. One famous Grandmaster was quoted as saying that Africans did not rightfully deserve of six slots because they had lower ELO ratings. In another controversial issue, the idea of awarding IM titles to players at the subzonals is still up for debate. African and Caribbean players are often singled out in the debate despite the fact that the practice occurs in other regions.

Perhaps singling out these regions may show that race may be an underlying factor, but this is clearly a class issue since it affects all weaker federations. In other board sports like draughts (international checkers), Africans are among the game’s top competitors and thus, widely-respected. One problem with this issue is that one gains respect with a strong presence and apart from Carlsson, Simutowe, Solomon and legendary International Master Emory Tate, Black players are largely absent in international chess.


There is one other factor… talent. How does one measure talent in chess? There are always age-based accomplishments, but they are imprecise and predictions are often not linear. For example, because a player made Grandmaster (2500) at age 15 does not mean that a player has to be 2000 by age 10 and improve 100 ELO every year.

Talent is not measured in a linear progression. Nevertheless, talent can be more accurately measured by the quality of play. With someone to accurately assess this talent will be important in development. Unfortunately, there is not always coaching available and most players of African descent are self-taught and do not have any formal coaching. Simutowe earned a Grandmaster title without a trainer and few resources. He mentioned that he would have been a lot more efficient if he could have hired the services of a trainer… even for a short span.

Darrian Robinson at the 2010 World Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
Darrian Robinson at the 2010 World Open.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
One of the problems I have seen in the Black chess world is too much emphasis placed on five-minute or “blitz” chess. The gambling marathons and meaningless grudge matches proliferate in these circles. All of this means nothing in terms of the overall quality of play. The problem is that blitz prowess has come at the expense of comprehensive training… of which blitz should only play a part. Talent cannot be measured merely by who has the strongest game in blitz. It merely amounts to “fast food” chess, not a quality meal for chess nourishment.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, there must be three main ideas to confront the challenges of chess.

First, there has to be more of a collaborative effort between players. That can be attained through deeper networking. Joint analysis, sharing of data, and collaboration should be intensified. The legend of the “Black Bear School of Chess” was a novel idea of collaboration amongst Black players in New York. Maurice Ashley and several strong masters were raised from this organization. They were serious, focused, had study sessions and training matches. When Ashley became the first African-American Grandmaster in 1999, this served as its best example of harnessing talent. There is no reason these groups cannot function even through the use of online servers.

Second, there has to be a plan of mentorship for juniors. Scholastic chess is booming and features several talented players of African descent. The question with these players may be finding the right guidance to keep them motivated. There is also a need for the presence of role models and mentors for younger players. Typically, the impressions from a player with whom you share a commonality are deeper and perhaps more familiar. However, most of the top Black Masters are either not active or playing very little.

Lastly, there is a dearth of norm tournaments organized by players of African descent. This will be one way of ensuring more opportunities for aspiring GMs or IMs. Of course, these events require sponsorship and logistical support. There has to be a concerted effort to organize these tournaments or talent will continue to waste away without being realized. The question is, “Who makes the sacrifice?”

Note: When I asked GM Maurice Ashley about his personal challenges, he mentioned five of them:

  1. Traveling for international events
  2. Finding good training
  3. Having strong training partners
  4. Having a family
  5. Starting late

(read entire response)


  1. Was discussing this issue with Dr. Woody McClelland and we both agree that players tend to take the most economically-viable option and seek a career outside of chess. Unless you’re very resourceful or extremely talented, prospects to be successful in chess are grim.

    With the relatively few Blacks playing at Master level, there is more a sense of urgency in survival than to study the latest openings. If a player does want to earn a GM title, it does not have to be done by age 15. It would be quite an accomplishment to earn the title and then carry on a normal career and family while passing the craft on to other aspiring players.

    Until chess is better funded and structured, there will not be many players of African descent who will be able to make such a sacrifice without jeopardizing their well-being. As I said four years ago, there needs to be grants for player development. Perhaps CACDEC can create these funds for aspiring GMs. It could be modeled on the Samford Fellowships as seen in the U.S.

  2. I just got some input from GM Maurice Ashley. He states as his biggest challenges in becoming a GM as:

    1. Playing in enough international events. This is the main problem for all US players, who eventually have to travel to Europe to play regularly. Of course, that requires a major commitment of time and money. For years, I had to fund my chase for the title out of pocket, while dealing with the pressures of raising a family. It wasn’t until my employer (whom I had been with for years) agreed to sponsor me that my life changed dramatically.

    2. Finding good training. Nowadays, there are plenty of GM’s and trainers to work with. Back then, it was not easy to find. Again, there’s an expense involved that is not cheap.

    3. Having a few strong training partners. I was actually a bit lucky on this score since I was very good friends with Josh Waitzkin. We both chased the GM title together for years, but we also felt a bit ostracized (rightly or wrongly) by top American players. In the US it often felt like every man for himself. Nowadays talented young players can go to the US Chess School or Kasparov’s training sessions. But back then there was no such structure in place. I think the idea of the lone maverick, while laudable, is a recipe for eventual frustration.

    4. Having a family. I would not trade my family for the world as they are the light of my life. But raising kids and trying to play chess professionally is not easy at all. It’s only now that my son is old enough that I feel I can really start thinking about a return to chess after my long lay-off.

    5. Starting late. I played my first tournament when I was 15 years old. This is like picking up a basketball for the first time when you’re in college and hoping to make it to the NBA. I would never recommend a high-school kid these days to try to be a serious player if he/she were just starting out. Of course, anything is possible. But I also made sure I got my college degree.

  3. Following are the comments from GM Pontus Carlsson.

    Hey Daaim

    I´m sorry that I haven´t answered you untill now. I have been extremely busy.

    My Challenges were mostly the rating and also maybe the lack of FIDE rated tournaments in Sweden. I felt all the time that I had the playing strenght and it was proved by the fact that I scored my first GM norm already in 2005.

    I just needed to be in good shape and then I knew that I would have god chances to score a norm. The rating was by far the biggest problem since my highest level was good but in order to pass 2500 I needed to improve my lowest level and improve my endgame knowledge that were not on GM-level. And as you know chess is a minor thing in Sweden why I always needed to travel abroad to tournaments and also I couldn´t train so much since I was working or studying. But I felt that I was improving just by playing and anaylising my games. For future GM-elects my advise is to play strong tournaments and analyse the games afterwards. Working on the endgame skill is good in order to improve the technique and by that also ones self confidence. But in modern chess I think that openings are the most important phase and in the future chess it´s gonna be even more important to be well prepared and to have a wide opening repertoire.

    I financed my tripps mostly with my own money or with support money from my swedish chess club Sollentuna SK. When I was representing the country ofcourse the swedish chess federation payed for me. Two tournaments were they payed for me and I scored a norm were in 2005 the European team championships and in 2007 Soller GM in Mallorca (Spain). Also sometimes the tournaments invited me and payed my expenses.

    If there comes more black talents that tries to reach the GM-title then I hope that they can be able to get some sponsorship so they can afford giving their chess career a chance. There should be some black wealthy chesslovers or some companies that are willing to support young talents. Then they can pay back with private lessions, exhibitions and exposing the company or the private sponsor if he or she wants on their homepage/blogg or other forums. It is also important so that the sponsor feels that he gets something back for the invested money.

    Otherwise I´m fine thanks just very busy. What abbout you how are you doing? Are you finally going to Russia?

    Best Regards

  4. Daaiim:
    Can you become a Grandmaster using computers alone?
    Many young people today depend on computers for training.
    Computers are a mainstay in the professional ranks today.
    Also, if you could give me some advice on improving my game, it would be appreciated (my current rank is 1066 USCF).

  5. Jeffrey,

    At this point, no one has made Grandmaster on computers alone. However, that time is coming. Players are becoming more adept at processing information with the help of a computer and there are all types of instructional videos to help explain the theory. However, my advice is to have a mixture of the two. You need the “human” insight and interaction in order to ask questions spontaneously. DVDs don’t allow this.

    Many players are using coaches and trainers. While they are not absolutely necessary for a casual player, for making Grandmaster they have become a must. They are very helpful in providing guidance and helping a player to focus and train more efficiently. It is important to choose the trainer that best suits your learning style, playing style and temperament.

    At your level, a trainer may not be the best thing. It is better to play as much as possible and learn more about your chess personality. It is important to learn all the basic openings (from A-Z), but then focus on those few that becomes part of your repertoire. After you develop enough experience and see some improvement, you can find sparring partners. Pay close attention to these games and try remembering them.

    Studying endgames are also very important. Unfortunately, players at lower levels often do not reach the endgame because someone has made a gross mistake and the game ends abruptly. However, knowing basic endings will help you understand what plans to execute in the middlegame.

    Below are some various opinions of advice:
    Well of Knowledge:

  6. The comment about spatial sense is interesting. I have been a witness to discussions about spatial sense (apart from chess) as being an aspect of the highly intelligent. Racists have asserted that ‘blacks don’t have spatial sense’. I think more than anything, chess mastery refutes that statement specifically. Spatial sense questions are asked on I.Q. tests. It’s also interesting that Albert Einstein was mentioned, because he was heavily talented in spatial sense. His renowned prowess in geometry requiring mental visualization is what made him famous. He was less talented at formulaic non-visualized mathematics.

  7. Another observation I have is that chess is a very good candidate for the racist ‘move the goal post’ trick. What happens is, any activity that does not include a significant representation of blacks is held in very high esteem. Then, when blacks break into it, the activity’s esteem lowers instead of blacks’ esteem rising. A good example is quarterbacking at the NFL level. When there were very few blacks, there was a largely unspoken opinion that the position required a lot of smarts. When there became a significant number of blacks doing it, then the focus shifted to the kind of quarterback; i.e. pocket passer versus mobile. Now its the pocket passer that requires a lot of smarts. He’s called a ‘field general’ (and by the way, ‘move the goalpost’ also applies to black command officers in the military). In the near future, when more blacks are pocket passers, the bigots will drop it all together and forget that they ever said that quarterbacking requires all those smarts. Unfortunately, the same pattern may appear with chess. This is especially a probability because the lay spectator doesn’t really understand what it takes to be a high level chess player–he understands quarterbacking better. I guess the goalpost won’t be able to move back any further once a black person wins a nobel prize in hard science–but then again, they may think of a way…

  8. I would strongly agree with economic viability and family responsibilities as playing the critical role in the success of more Black talents. Personally, I made the ‘easy’ choice toward academics and science long ago though I prefer chess more than most interests. Also, I do think that not having a chess playing family definitely influenced my decision, my relatively late start(self taught, first tournament at age 14, and achieved Top 50 list for Age 17-18), and infrequent playing schedule(I never played in the U.S. Junior Open events but I did play in the Denker Tourney…).
    I would also point to other examples than me like RO Mitchell(deceased) – former U.S. Junior Open Winner, Elvin Wilson – former National Highschool Winner (when in 11th grade), etc… as known from this site! Based on my knowledge and friendship with the two above, I know that economics have played a role in their chess choices yet their formidable talent is(was) undeniable.

    Kimani A. Stancil, PhD, Professor of Physics, School Board Member, Family man(and father), etc…, and always strong at chess(with little time to prepare).

  9. Leaving aside accusations of racism, there is more than ample evidence that black Americans have much lower average IQs than white Americans or those of Oriental origin. That doesn’t mean there are no very clever blacks – of course there are. It just means that there are far fewer per thousand people. That explains why there are some excellent black chess players but not too many. Accusing someone who says this of being racist is asinine and makes it impossible to address any race-related problems.

    1. That may be true if IQ is all you go by. There are so many factors not figured in to why there is a difference… particularly as it pertains to the past history of Blacks in this country. If you have only afforded access to education only 100-150 years ago there will be quite a difference in some measures. I still teach students who are the first in their families to attend the university. What is a miracle is the accomplishments Blacks have many in many fields despite all of the barriers that have been put in the way over a 400-year period in this country that other groups have not have had to endure.

      The issue of chess is a totally different matter as it has very little to do with IQ. It is steeped primarily in pattern-recognition and cognition. This is the reason why some smart people are poor chess players and some unlearned persons are very capable Master-level players. Some of the low numbers of Blacks simply has to do with lack of exposure as chess in America for long was a game of aristocracy. The early Black chess players learned the game watching others play but there were no formal avenues to learn.

      To ignore that Blacks in America are only 50-70 years out impoverishment means that one cannot appreciate the differences. Playing chess and games held little value in terms of time spent. Blacks had to work! Chess? It was low on the list of priorities and still is. That is certainly true amongst the African Diaspora. However, in draughts African players are among some of the best in the world despite having small numbers. Of course there is a history of draughts in Africa but in chess, the history only goes back around slave emancipation.

      1. Agree with everything. I wrote some years ago that per capita, per total number of players, African American experts, masters, and titled players far exceed the expected norm for achieving these high rankings in chess! In fact, blacks continue to show a high degree of chess mastery despite the socio-economic-cultural- historical barriers and biases placed against them. Things have changed but not the thinking.

        1. OH thanks for bringing this post up cuz its very important for our people to move forward in this game we call chess , actually its for this very reason that yall drummas see me gettin on Adia right now becuz our thinkin has to change and in order for that to happen some of our young players need to know what we have available to them and She has had manny chances to tell them about ULTRAMODERNISM and for some ktazy reason did not speak about it apparently and its time for them to KNOW. She knows how i am and so do the traditional gms once i get at ya , UM A BE ALL OVER YA LIKE A CHEAP SUIT! lol Peace, ULTRAMODERNIST.

  10. Well from an Ultramodern perspective its clear that Traditionalism isnt any good for those of african descent, just go over Tates games and its obvious, so this is one of the main reasons for many of us not makin their traditional titles and rating requirements! as for me i just have been too busy with ULTRA to bother, although i did compete with their gms from 1998-2008 on the ICC and won rather simply. The old chess methods dont really suits most American players either so im not surprised when many dont do so hot internationally , even when ur talkin about the top U.S. representative naka who just won over the other traditionlist in the U.S. i think i heard them on the chess sites talkin about hes a minus 12 now vs lil magasparov, and i thought it was eleven! so this is news to me! oh HBD GARRY! Nice chess! LOL

  11. Wow! NEWS TO ME that GM Carlsson can speak so many different languages and is an “educated language teacher in Spanish and English and holds a huge linguistic interest. Therefore I can hold the classes in many languages like English, Spanish, German, French, Swedish or Chinese”. IM Tate had a similar interest in learning languages and was fluent in Russian.

  12. The theories about blacks being less intelligent than whites isn’t a crackpot race theory; it is the truth. That fact explains why blacks score less well in school grades and on standardized academic tests, why blacks underperform in intellectually demanding jobs (even though they get them through “equal opportunity” laws), why there aren’t many black chess grandmasters, and why blacks who do hold a GM title are all very low-Elo GMs, either barely qualified or, sometimes, not really qualified.

    Kenny Solomon’s Elo rating for standard chess is 2371. If he weren’t a black African, FIDE wouldn’t have awarded him a grandmaster title because, for any other kind of chess player, the minimum Elo rating required for the GM title is 2500.

    Likewise, for any race other than black African, a female chess player must have a minimum Elo rating of 2000 for the title of Woman Candidate Master, and a minimum Elo rating of 2100 for the title of Woman FIDE Master. Yet Phiona Mutesi of Uganda has the WCM title, even though her Elo is 1622, and Claire Ivy Amoko, Uganda’s current top female player, has the WFM title, even though her Elo rating is only 1822.

    The world chess Federation has been awarding titles to blacks upon reduced minimum criteria. If you are an African black, then FIDE will give you a title that no other kind of human being can get unless their Elo rating is 200 to 400 points higher than the rating that you have.

    Yes, there are black scientists and engineers. But, descriptions to the contrary notwithstanding, none of them have really been “great” ones. The racial situation in scientific professions is much the same as it is in chess: a few blacks are decently good, but the top performers are not blacks.

    And the main reason isn’t that blacks and whites differ in economic circumstances. It’s that they differ in brain size. Yes, they really do. The difference is somewhere between 80 grams and 100 grams of brain mass, mostly in the cerebrum, where abstract thinking occurs. That alone makes the white-black IQ gap, and the white-black intellectual achievement gap, and the white-black socio-economic gap, entirely understandable.

    In a sense, you don’t really deny this point by saying that, sometimes, blacks perform less well because they came from poor families. That’s because the poverty of those families was, in the first place, most often the result of inferior intelligence.

    Perfectly good psychometric studies carried out and published over the years has shown that, among persons resident in the United States, whites have an average IQ of 101.5 and a standard deviation in IQ of 16.4 points, while blacks have an average IQ of 85.0 and a standard deviation in IQ of 12.4 points. I’m using mixed sources, one of which is “Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development,” but those numbers should be pretty good.

    The fraction, f, of a race having an average IQ of x? and a standard deviation in IQ of ?, which is above the minimum IQ of ?, can be estimated as follows:

    f(?) = ½ ? [??(2?)]?¹ ?(x?,?) exp{ ?[(x?x?)/?]²/2 } dx

    For US-resident whites, x?=101.5 and ?=16.4.

    For US-resident blacks, x?=85.0 and ?=12.4.

    Let’s say that you need a minimum IQ of 140 to acquire a world Elo rating of 2500 for standard chess, thus being qualified for the World Chess Federation’s title of Grand Master. What would be the ratio of US-resident whites who could qualify to US-resident blacks who could qualify? Solving the equation above, we estimate that the fraction of US-resident whites with IQ’s above 140 is 0.0094484 (or 1 in 106), and that the fraction of US-resident blacks with IQs above 140 is 0.00000459328 (or 1 in 217709).

    Out of equal-sized populations of whites and blacks, we would expect to find 2057 whites for each black in the above-IQ140 group. Of course, there are about five whites for each black in the population of the United States, so for each black US-resident having an IQ above 140, there should be about ten thousand US-resident whites having IQs above 140.

    It really is that simple.

    1. Apologies. The Greek letters and the unicode symbols in my presentation of the integral definition for the area under a normal distribution were not correctly rendered, with question marks being substituted for them. You can get the equation from Wikipedia, which is usually reliable for mathematical inquiries. (Not so much for inquiries about biology pertaining to racial differences, race-related politics, and such.)

    2. David,

      Thanks for your post. You’ve proven that these spurious notions of racial intelligence are still alive.

      You are touting theories that have long been disproved by all types of science, yet you ignore all types of salient factors that have led to the gap in “intelligence scores”… such as deprivation, discrimination and social policies that have historically put Blacks in America at an inherent economic and social disadvantage. In America, you had a situation where Blacks were enslaved for 300 years and it was illegal to teach them any rudimentary knowledge. Another 100 years of social exclusion and racist policies have also contributed to this gap. You cannot cripple a people for 400 years and expect them to perform at an equal level. You must be aware of this. The fact that the numbers you point to are even that close show a rapid level of progress by Blacks (in 150 years). It may even disprove your theory more than prove it.

      As far as chess, many of the players of African descent are late comers to the game to say the least (since the African Moors). Honestly, what Black player has the time (10,000 hours ala Malcolm Gladwell) or wherewithal to engage in an professional activity with such little financial return? Few Blacks I know. It becomes a hobby that one has to subordinate to making a real living. The Blacks who have made GM, nevertheless have met all the requirements. None were given the title based on any affirmative action. All other Black GMs earned three norms, but Kenny Solomon got the title by winning a continental championship (which is automatic). It is a FIDE regulation that applies to all regions. Being “barely qualified” makes absolutely no sense. If you are 2535 ELO you are not a barely qualified GM; you simply are a GM. If you are a 2490 GM and have met requirements of FIDE of the GM title, you are not barely qualified; you are a GM… whether we like it or not. It does apply to ALL players.

      Unfortunately, you are not even familiar with the qualification measures for earning the title. There are many situations where a person can meet requirements for GM title. For example, one can get an automatic GM title in the World Senior or World Junior. GM Larry Kaufman, who won the World Senior, received the GM title without ever haven broken 2500 or getting three norms. He is a full GM, not “barely-qualified.” He would be the first to say he is not as strong as most GMs, but he has made many contributions and decided to earn the title in perhaps the only way that was available given his situation. There are countless other examples, much older cases. There are many GMs who are under the 2500 ELO… even 2300. Some resulted in the GM title with only two norms. Nona Gaprindashvili was also another famous case of getting the GM title without the three norms.

      As far as players earning titles, there are many ways to earn titles through subzonal tournaments, continental championships, Olympiads and world tournaments. They apply to all regions, not just Africa. There are many, many instances of players getting titles through these venues. I am not a proponent of the “one-shot” titles (and feel they should be abolished), but they are issued by FIDE to all qualifying players and there are players worldwide who have earned titles in this way. If you even watched the Olympiad, you would see many, many examples of players holding titles and their ELO rating. It is a problem that you can have IMs with rating 1900-2500. Again… I am not a proponent of this, but the point is that exceptions are not being made for African players as you assert.

      Some of your theories are completely crackpot and based on pseudo-science. Everyone knows that brain size does not necessarily have any bearing on intelligence. Sorry, your assertions are based on dubious science (long disproven) and racial fanaticism that were at one time used to justify racist policies of whites. You go from IQ scores to chess titles, to brain size, to the level of scientists, then from Africa to the U.S…. basically grasping at straws to prove the unprovable. Test scores are no much more a measurement of intelligence than whether you can solve the Rubix Cube. The instruments used have long been in question. Standardized exams do measure a number of factors, one is simply the level of determination at an activity. This is actually one of the problems with some test-taking cultures… a lot of emphasis on the testing and not enough on the content itself.

      Those studies are what they are… raw numbers with no bearing on other factors that may contribute the gap. If you have 500 years of uninterrupted development with all the rights and privileges granted and supported by society, you will expect a decent level of prosperity. If you are in an oppressive situation, you will find levels consistent with lack of stimulation and/or lack of access. The fact is, you cannot discount this variable in social development. Unfortunately, many people think as you do while ignoring all other social factors that may affect one’s success.

      Let’s say that you need a minimum IQ of 140 to acquire a world Elo rating of 2500 for standard chess, thus being qualified for the World Chess Federation’s title of Grand Master. What would be the ratio of US-resident whites who could qualify to US-resident blacks who could qualify? Solving the equation above, we estimate that the fraction of US-resident whites with IQ’s above 140 is 0.0094484 (or 1 in 106), and that the fraction of US-resident blacks with IQs above 140 is 0.00000459328 (or 1 in 217709).

      None of this makes any sense. You don’t use IQ to equate with chess skill. Full stop. They are not related as chess is not a game of raw intelligence otherwise all smart persons would become GMs after having made an attempt in it. They don’t. Einstein and Ben Franklin were brilliant scientists, but weak players. There is no proof that they would have been strong even if they had dedicated their lives to chess. You can’t simply multiply descriptive statistics (IQ and ELO) and come up with a conclusion on data that is not experiential. That is not how research works, sir. Far too many people associate chess skill with being intelligent and it is one of the biggest myths that persist. Being good at chess simply means… you’re good at chess and have some cognition and analytical skills. It does not mean you are intellectually superior.

      As long as you ignore historical factors in what may contribute to a performance gap, you are going to wallow in the filth of your own racially-concocted theories and die believe that Blacks are less intellectual because of raw numbers. I would certainly match my intelligence with yours… any day of the week. You need to find another argument, but in the end, the article is about earning the GM title, not intelligence. That is the whole point.

      (BTW… for Phiona to be 1622 given her background makes her fantastic story all the more special. Some people have all the advantages and cannot reach 1500.)

      1. Once more: the idea that blacks are less intelligent (on the average) than are whites is not a “spurious notion.” It is a fact that has been verified repeatedly for more than a hundred years, and it can be, and will be, verified many more times in the future.

        The spurious idea is the idea of racial equality in intelligence.

        The primary cause of generally inferior black intelligence is a generally smaller black brain. The difference is a distributed one. Not all blacks have brains of the same size. Not all whites have brains of the same size. And there is, between the white and black races, a degree of overlap in both brain size and intelligence. The blacks with the biggest brains have brains that are larger than the whites with the smallest brains. The smartest blacks are smarter than the stupidest whites.

        But the AVERAGE white is considerably smarter than is the average black, especially the relatively pure-blood African black.

        The average of the white-to-black RATIO in the fraction of the race having an IQ higher than a specified minimum rises, faster than linearly, as that specified minimum IQ rises.

        minimum IQ,
        fraction of US resident whites (101.5, 16.4) exceeding,
        fraction of US resident blacks (85.0, 12.4) exceeding,
        white fraction to black fraction ratio.

        100, 0.5364, 0.1132, 4.739
        110, 0.3021, 0.02189, 13.80
        120, 0.1296, 0.002382, 54.43
        130, 0.04112, 0.0001422, 289.1
        140, 0.009448, 0.000004593, 2057

        minimum IQ,
        fraction of US resident whites (101.5, 16.4) exceeding,
        fraction of African blacks (75, 15 estimated) exceeding,
        white fraction to black fraction ratio.

        100, 0.5364, 0.02275, 23.58
        110, 0.3021, 0.003830, 78.88
        120, 0.1296, 0.0004291, 302.1
        130, 0.04112, 0.00003167, 1298
        140, 0.009448, 0.000001531, 6173

        It is true that not all intelligent people are skilled chess players. But the biggest reason for that is that not all intelligent people strive to become skilled chess players. Many intelligent people discover better uses for their time and do not develop skill at chess. They could. But they don’t.

        That’s not the problem for black Africans, though. The problem for them is that their normal distribution for intelligence puts very few of them into the IQ range that can learn to play chess well, regardless of how much time they put into studying and practicing it.

        That’s why no black African has ever won a medal in any Chess Olympiad in history. It’s why all of the black Africans who hold the Grandmaster title are low-Elo GMs whose ratings indicate that they are barely qualified, and sometimes not-really-qualified, to hold that title.

        I get that you don’t like this. But whether you like it or not, it is the truth. Intelligence is, to a good approximation, normally distributed within a race, for reasons having to do with how biological inheritance works. The black race suffers from two disadvantages, one of which is the aforementioned (general) deficit in the mass of the cerebrum. The other is in the distribution of alleles for intelligence common among African blacks. The black race didn’t get a high proportion of the premium quality genes.

        1. That’s why no black African has ever won a medal in any Chess Olympiad in history. It’s why all of the black Africans who hold the Grandmaster title are low-Elo GMs whose ratings indicate that they are barely qualified, and sometimes not-really-qualified, to hold that title.


          Not sure where you are getting your information. I will not destroy each of your points with endless back and forth. Many Africans have won medals at the Olympiad. However, I will destroy one with a single picture.

          Gold medal winner at 2002 Bled Olympiad,
          IM Robert Gwaze of Zimbabwe with 9/9.

      2. The World Chess Federation awards titles based on Elo rating. The grandmaster minimum Elo rating is 2500. A player need not maintain that rating for life, however. He only needs to keep it for long enough that it is clear that his getting it was honestly done; i.e., that it wasn’t the result of collusion (e.g., paying opponents to lose). Once FIDE has given him the grandmaster title, he may keep it for life, even if his Elo rating slips below 2500 in later years.

        The question is whether the black grandmasters ever had an Elo rating above 2500 for long enough to demonstrate their worthiness.

        Personally, I don’t know which of them did, nor which of them didn’t. I suggest that it is something that should be investigated, since FIDE has obviously been doing reach-downs for certain black African players recently. It’s one thing to have an Elo rating that is almost high enough to qualify for a title, and get it anyway. It’s something else entirely when FIDE awards a title to a player whose Elo rating is nearly 400 points short of qualifying for that title.

        1. The FIDE awards titles based on ELO rating. No kidding?

          The GM minimum is conditional on the three norm route. As I told you there are different routes to the GM title.

          You are totally incompetent in your knowledge of FIDE regulation… I’m sorry to say. You have some facts, but you don’t have complete understanding. A GM is not required to hold any rating “long enough” to see that it was honestly done. Where did you get this regulation? There is no such thing. You are only required to have reached 2500 at any point in time UNLESS there is another requirement where the title is granted immediately such as winning continental championship, World Junior, World Senior, etc.

          There is a qualification process that is done and the three norms and other qualifications are verified in a orderly process. All of the GM of African descent were awarded the title based on accept FIDE requirements whether you agree or not.

          I am not sure which player you are mentioning that is 400 points lower of acquiring the GM title. There are plenty of examples on the other titles which I am also against. There should be more congruence in the titles, but it occurs in all regions and not unique to Africa.

      3. Nona Gaprindashvili’s present Elo rating is 2311. But she was awarded he Grand Master title in 1978 (38 years ago), and her Elo rating has been above 2500.

        If similar things can be said about each African black GM, then you’ll have made a good point.

        1. No need to make such a point. Those who are GMs have already made the point. Pontus Carlsson has been as high as 2531 and is clearly of African descent. Your assertions are foolish.

          BTW, when was Gaprindashvili’s rating over 2500?

      4. It is known that IQ and chess Elo rating are correlated. What isn’t certain, yet, is an equation that gives a close equivalence between the two. Some have been proposed, but they are speculative.

        Chess can be an IQ test of sorts, but it is an unwieldy one, requiring a considerable period of acquiring skill in it to the point of diminishing returns. That’s the point that would indicate your IQ: when further practice no longer measurably increases your skill.

        1. Totally wrong. What research can you cite to show IQ and chess ELO are correlated? There is no such data. Any such connection would be based on spurious associations. They are of course speculative since playing chess in and of itself, is not a measure of intelligence.

          BTW, your second paragraph makes absolutely no sense. Chess is not a subject like math. You can study chess for 40 years and still be horrible at it. Not likely for other subjects. Chess is not a pure IQ instrument although there are certain aspects of cognition that can be measured.

    1. There’s always nonsense being published by leftist academics. In reality, the racial gap in school grades, in standardized test scores, in career success, and in chess… all of them, mean exactly what they seem to mean. The excuses put forth by leftists are just that: excuses. Stereotype threat is psychobabble, not a real phenomenon. If poverty contributes to poor performance, it is a very minor contribution. Race makes a much larger one. The more you know about race differences, the more you realize that the far right is usually quite right.

  13. Daaim Shabazz wrote:

    “Those studies are what they are… raw numbers with no bearing on other factors that may contribute the gap. If you have 500 years of uninterrupted development with all the rights and privileges granted and supported by society, you will expect a decent level of prosperity.”

    Society doesn’t sprout from the plains like the spring grass. It is what people make it.

    For thousands of years, the races generally lived apart. Not entirely, but far more so than they do today. During all that time, each race had, over wide territories, ample opportunity to produce the kind of society that fit them best. Or try to.

    The Africans didn’t do so well. The Asians and the whites did much better. And the reason for that is intelligence, mostly.

    Now, for a while Europe was in a kind of religion-induced intellectual depression, during which it did not show its full potential. But prior to that time, it generally did. And after that time was done, it awoke once again to heights of achievement that the world had never previously seen.

    Meanwhile, the Africans were killing each other in tribal wars by the hundreds of thousands year in and year out. Whites put a stop to some of that during their colonial expansions. Where whites colonized, they made life better – not worse – for the blacks living there. In fact, once word got around, the blacks came pouring into the lands that the whites settled, trying to get the goodies that the whites had made on that land for themselves. And most of the time the whites tried to be accommodating. During South Africa’s apartheid years, whites spent more of their tax money on the blacks than they did on themselves. The extent to which the African has risen above that warlike tribal society is due to the “meddling” of white people.

    Indeed whites have occasionally, if not always by choice, handed over to blacks ready-made countries, complete with all of the lore and infrastructure that should have been needed for the blacks to just assume control of it all and keep it running like clockwork thenceforth. Of course, that’s not what actually happened. What happened, instead, was that what was once a prosperous nation became a pest-hole of poverty and crime.

    And the reason that happens, mostly, is intelligence. Or, rather, the lack of a sufficient amount thereof.

    So don’t expect to gain anything from your notion that blacks would excel in nation-building, or in chess, or in spaceflight, or in anything else, if whites would just leave them alone for 500 years. Whites are the Atlas holding up the black world, and if the whites shrug them off, the blacks will be again in a jungle, either aboreal or urban, within only a few years.

    1. The Africans didn’t do so well. The Asians and the whites did much better. And the reason for that is intelligence, mostly.

      You have a very interesting version of history. You have so little understanding of how history actually evolved, that it is senseless to discuss any further.

    2. Meanwhile, the Africans were killing each other in tribal wars by the hundreds of thousands year in and year out. Whites put a stop to some of that during their colonial expansions. Where whites colonized, they made life better – not worse – for the blacks living there. In fact, once word got around, the blacks came pouring into the lands that the whites settled, trying to get the goodies that the whites had made on that land for themselves. And most of the time the whites tried to be accommodating.

      If you believe this, I have some swamp land to sell you.

  14. Daaim Shabazz wrote: “Honestly, what Black player has the time… or wherewithal to engage in an professional activity with such little financial return? Few Blacks I know.”

    The condition of having limited resources and limited time is not restricted to blacks. You could control for this, and, if you did, I predict that a racial gap, to the favor of whites, in chess Elo ratings would nevertheless appear.

    “It becomes a hobby that one has to subordinate to making a real living.”

    True. But this isn’t a unique condition of blacks. It applies to everyone. Partly for reasons of an intelligence deficit, a higher percentage of blacks than whites are poor. But if you were to restrict your study to poor people who pursue chess, you’d still see the familiar distributed difference in Elo rating, as much there as you see in school grades, or scores on standardized tests, among whites and blacks who attend the same schools.

    “The Blacks who have made GM, nevertheless and all have met all the requirements. None were given the title based on any affirmative action… It is a FIDE regulation that applies to all regions. Being “barely qualified” makes absolutely no sense. If you are 2535 ELO you are not a barely qualified GM; you simply are a GM. If you are a 2490 GM and have met requirements of FIDE of the GM title, you are not barely qualified; you are a GM… whether we like it or not. It does apply to ALL players.”

    Ah. If you are correct about that, then you do have a point. It might not be the most important of the points that can be made, but it is a noteworthy one. I’ve been proceeding under the assumption that Wikipedia’s article on FIDE title qualifications is correct. It gives the impression that FIDE titles are more firmly connected to the Elo rating than you’ve asserted.

    If you are correct, then titles don’t mean nearly as much as people think that they do. The Elo rating is a sensible safeguard against corruption in title award, which otherwise might be covertly bought or acquired through cheating (e.g. paying your opponent to lose) or acquired through the “big fish in a small pond” mechanism or by an atypically fortunate result in a single game. One does not like to think that the World Chess Federation would make itself easy prey for such undue influence. But, as I hope that I’ve illustrated, what “one does not like to think” can, sometimes, be true anyway.

    “Again… I am not a proponent of this [one-shot titles], but the point is that exceptions are not being made for African players as you assert.”

    What I see as I look around is (mostly) blacks getting more recognition, including titles, than their actual skills as measured by their Elo rating would justify. Maybe there are whites who also have taken advantage of irregular and ad hoc routes for titles, but I haven’t found as many of them. Indeed, I’ve found the opposite with regard to white players.

    Contrast Phiona Mutesi, Elo rating 1622, and current holder of the FIDE WCM title that usually requires a minimum Elo of 2000, with Nicholas Checa, Elo rating 2422, current holder of the FIDE title of FIDE Master, although his Elo rating makes him qualified for the title next higher up: International Master. I do admit that I need to look around more, but I’ve taken first light, and this is the kind of thing that I’ve seen so far.

    1. As long as you don’t recognize the damage and lingering effects that slavery had on the population here, you will never understand why such a gap exists.

      What I see as I look around is (mostly) blacks getting more recognition, including titles, than their actual skills as measured by their Elo rating would justify. Maybe there are whites who also have taken advantage of irregular and ad hoc routes for titles, but I haven’t found as many of them. Indeed, I’ve found the opposite with regard to white players.

      Not true… you see more PEOPLE getting more recognition, including titles. It’s not just Africans. If you attended some of the FIDE meetings, as I have, you’d really know what’s going on. You make all types of assertions and few have any solid footing.

      Again… Phiona Mutesi’s 1622 is EXCELLENT given what she has endured in the poorest of cities in the poorest of countries in the poorest continent. Her story is less about chess than the triumph over one’s obstacles and poor conditions. Not sure why you can’t see that her story is not about chess at all, but for one to even make 1622 when the world’s average player is 1500, is quite an accomplishment in itself.

      Again… you making dubious points. Ratings and titles are not nice and neat little boxes. There are so many variations. Your rating does not automatically qualify you for a title. You have to either get three norms or earn it in a zonal tournament or a specific international tournament. There are all types of scenarios. There is a player from Iran who is 16-years old with a rating of 2566 with no title. There are IMs with 1900 ratings! So point out Africans for a flaw in the title system is a strawman argument.

      I suppose there is something in the water up there in Rochester.

  15. Mr. Sims, Nona Gaprindashvili reached a highest world Elo rating of 2495 in July 1987. The only occasion she rose higher than that was her rating within specific chess competitions, where she was once at 2510.

    Mr. Shabazz, Pontus Carlsson has a current Elo rating of 2436. Although it isn’t hard to believe that he has had an Elo rating above 2500 at some time, could you tell us when it happened?

    Black chess GMs do have low Elo ratings for chess grandmasters. And most of what Sims said on that subject is true, including that no black player has ever won a medal in any Chess Olympiad, going all the way back to the 1920s. It is certainly possible that a black shortfall in mental ability is to blame for that, rather than economic conditions.

    Moreover, you (Shabazz) have been comparing the best of the black grandmasters with the least of the white grandmasters, as if you were proving some sort of point about intellectual equality between the races. That’s dishonest. You should compare the best of each race, and then their relative strengths become clear.

    1. The point is not whether these GMs have reached 2500. That is not the sole requirement. I respect Nona Gaprindashvili as a trailblazer. Pontus became a GM in 2007 and held 2500 rating until recently after he stopped competing regularly. How is it that you can question these things and you don’t know where to look to find the information???

      Black chess GMs do have low Elo ratings for chess grandmasters. And most of what Sims said on that subject is true, including that no black player has ever won a medal in any Chess Olympiad, going all the way back to the 1920s.

      WRONG!!! You have lost all credibility if you are affirming Sims’ false belief that no Black players have won Olympiad medals (since 1920). There are quite a number of them. Do some research.

      Cuba’s Oleiney Linares Napoles winning a silver medal
      at the 2008 Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany.

      Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

      Yes… Black GMs have lower ratings but also represent an infinitesimally small percentage of professional players. In fact, I only know of a few who are involved in chess for a living and they are coaches and organizers. None, that I know of, play full-time. In addition, Blacks represent a small percentage of overall tournament players on the planet… probably less than 5%.

      Unfortunately, chess does not offer an economic incentive for someone at the lower end of the economic spectrum to spend an inordinate amount of time needed to be a professional. In fact, chess is not a viable profession at this point unless you are top 20. Otherwise, you will struggle to make a living. Thus, those who struggle with finances at the outset will not spend hours studying and playing chess when there is little return on investment. That is a huge opportunity cost. Do you know the term?

      The prize funds are relatively small and the expense of travel is often prohibitive. So for most, it becomes a hobby… especially for the few who compete.

      Moreover, you (Shabazz) have been comparing the best of the black grandmasters with the least of the white grandmasters, as if you were proving some sort of point about intellectual equality between the races. That’s dishonest. You should compare the best of each race, and then their relative strengths become clear.

      You’re delusional. No one has compared anything. The point is that there are Black GMs. Full stop. They have met requirements. Full stop. Deal with it.

      Chess is not a measure of intellectual attainment although some would like to believe so. If you are a good chess player, it doesn’t mean you have a higher IQ. That’s a very dubious conclusion that Sims makes repeatedly in his writings on different white supremacist websites.

  16. Mr. Shabazz, I agree that Phiona Mutesi’s struggle to gain an Elo rating of 1622 is commendable and that it shows devotion to the game. But Phiona isn’t the only person from a poor background to play chess at least as well as she does. Regardless of someone’s origins, an Elo rating of 1622 is the strength of an average player in local chess club. Phiona should be respected for playing the game as well as she can, but she’s getting a much greater dose of props and celebrity status than her real skill merits. The world’s “average player,” after all, is merely an average player, and Phiona is only a little better than that. I think that FIDE reached too far down in order to give the Woman Candidate Master title to Phiona. When standards for recognition get broken that badly, the recognition itself becomes meaningless.

    1. Your entire post is about her rating and strength. The real point of Phiona’s story is not her chess level and if you read the book, you would know that. It is amazing that she has any rating at all. She is not getting “a much greater dose of props and celebrity status” due to her chess. You and others miss this point. Yes… chess is involved in her story and she is a club-level player, but that is not the point. No one is saying she is a great player and certainly no one (i.e., David Sims) should even compare her with Judit Polgar (a professional player who spent her whole life competing). Are you even vaguely familiar with the story line?

      BTW, if you are support of Sims’ view of racial bigotry, then there is no hope for you.

    1. Not reliable sir. Why not go to the FIDE website? There are so many details missing in how titles can be earned. If he relies on Wikipedia, it is indicative of why his comments are so erroneous.

  17. “Mutesi grew up in the Ugandan slum of Katwe. When she was about three, her father died of AIDS and shortly afterwards her older sister Juliet died of an unknown cause. When Mutesi was about nine, and had already dropped out of school because her family could not afford to send her there…”<–only sadistic monster would compare this extremely challenged person to the average person in the world today.

    1. Jones,

      They are sadistic and megalomaniacs who deny that racism, slavery and colonialism had a traumatic effect on the African Diaspora…. socially, intellectually economically, culturally and any other “…ally” you can think of. I have not heard either of these “authorities” mention anything about the 400-500 year period of slavery and the impact. This also affected Africa as well due to lost of human capital. Sims said colonialists made it better for Africans and mentioned they came running for “goodies”. What an intellectual heavyweight he is! Wow.

      Then this other person “Peak1” says,

      Moreover, you (Shabazz) have been comparing the best of the black grandmasters with the least of the white grandmasters, as if you were proving some sort of point about intellectual equality between the races. That’s dishonest. You should compare the best of each race, and then their relative strengths become clear.

      Comparing the best of race is impossible, unless both are on equal playing fields. If you are comparing Black-White accomplishments in chess and one group has been in survival mode for the past 500 years, who are you fooling? No other continent has had tens of of millions people displaced and robbed of their history, culture, tradition, language and dumped in strange lands… and we’re expected to be equal when it comes to certain feats? We’re still learning how to survive in a foreign system 150 years after emancipation. It’s mind-boggling that these apologists for the worst human tragedy ignores these socio-historic factors when comparisons are made.

      Jones… these white supremacists don’t even check their sources!

  18. Jones,

    This is what has the vile, foaming-at-the-mouth racists trying to justify their agendas. This lab researcher (and grad assistant) ran an analysis on 2300 chess studies (making a connection between IQ and Elo rating). Check out this research at Michigan State.

    For the in-depth study, known as a meta-analysis, the researchers considered nearly 2,300 scholarly articles on chess skill, looking specifically for studies that included a measure of cognitive ability (such as IQ score) and objective chess skill (such as the Elo rating, which ranks players based on game performance). The final sample included 19 studies with about 1,800 total participants.

    The journalist used a basketball and height analogy to explain this research? Sheesh. Using this analogy is the journalist saying all tall people can become good basketball players?? I hope not. I review articles all the time for academic journals and there are some serious questions I’d raise about the instruments they used to draw these conclusions. Academic reviewers won’t catch it unless they are intricately familiar with chess and the process of how chess players develop. They are mostly concerned with theoretical frameworks and whether they followed the research methodology.

    Intelligence is just one factor. Talent is also a factor, resources, intelligence, economic level, beginning age of exposure, years of immersion, coaching or not, etc.

    Imagine that a genius can become a skilled chess player relatively easily, whereas a person with average intelligence may take longer.

    There are at least a dozen factors that may determine skill level at chess… one may discover that IQ correlates with aspects of knowledge attainment. However, they’re making a spurious connection if they believe that a high IQ is a requirement to become a strong chess player (2000+) or that all people with high IQs can become strong chess players. Uh no. Chess does have the ability to help one with cognition and other mental faculties, but having a high IQ is not sufficient.

    It’s a bit dubious. How are they determining that a genius can become a skilled chess player relatively easily? Are they using pre- and post-testing samples? Are they conducting longitudinal studies where they track the subjects and measure the progress? Otherwise, I’m not sure how they come to the conclusion. There are tons of very intelligent people who have being studying chess for decades without a measurable increase in skill.

    Conclusion is that chess skill is a combination of many factors. While intelligence may be one of the salient factors, you’d need a more rigorous regression to see what other factors are necessary in developing chess skill… no small task.

    So the idea is, as you practice more and develop more skills and knowledge about the game, you may be able to circumvent limitations in cognitive ability.

    This is true, but I’m not sure the researchers are getting to the real issue. Practice is one thing, but intensity of practice and methods used may determine how much one improves. When someone says, “How long have you been playing chess,” it is the wrong question. Years of playing has less to do with skill attainment than the intensity of your immersion.

    A person studying chess intensely for a couple of years will be much stronger than a person who is a casual duffer for 30-40 years. The streets are full of such players claiming to having played all of their lives as an indication of their skill. They usually go down easily. So citing practice without measuring the intensity is not going to mean much at all.

    Chess skill is linked to intelligence

    Practice makes perfect? Not so much

    I did some digging, but I’m not paying $35.95 to download the paper. Here is the abstract….


    Why are some people more skilled in complex domains than other people? Here, we conducted a meta-analysis to evaluate the relationship between cognitive ability and skill in chess. Chess skill correlated positively and significantly with fluid reasoning (Gf) (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.24), comprehension-knowledge (Gc) (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.22), short-term memory (Gsm) (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.25), and processing speed (Gs) (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.24); the meta-analytic average of the correlations was (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.24). Moreover, the correlation between Gf and chess skill was moderated by age (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.32 for youth samples vs. View the MathML sourcer? = 0.11 for adult samples), and skill level (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.32 for unranked samples vs. View the MathML sourcer? = 0.14 for ranked samples). Interestingly, chess skill correlated more strongly with numerical ability (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.35) than with verbal ability (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.19) or visuospatial ability (View the MathML sourcer? = 0.13). The results suggest that cognitive ability contributes meaningfully to individual differences in chess skill, particularly in young chess players and/or at lower levels of skill.

  19. “For thousands of years, the races generally lived apart. Not entirely, but far more so than they do today. During all that time, each race had, over wide territories, ample opportunity to produce the kind of society that fit them best. Or try to. The Africans didn’t do so well. The Asians and the whites did much better. And the reason for that is intelligence, mostly.” — David Sims

    It’s no accident that much of modern white racist belief is based on the myth that sub-Saharan Africans never produced high civilizations. The European conquerors of sub-Saharan Africa tried to bury its history precisely to establish this ideology. It’s been thoroughly exposed, but they still don’t know. It should even be common knowledge by now that the wealthiest man in history (by historian concensus) was a Sub-Saharan African. And he held this wealth at the same time that Europe was in the throws of the bubonic plague.

    Their beliefs are also predicated upon the idea that achievement belongs to a race. This is another myth. Achievements belongs to localities and then they spread it to others. The cradle of European civilization is its southern coast. Northern Europe had nothing to contribute for centuries. It would be just as valid to argue that dark-haired, dark-eyed southern Europeans were simply more intelligent

    1. Theodore,

      There is so much history that many apologists for slavery and colonialism overlook. We have people wondering why we are not excelling in chess while ignoring the historical precedent. It assumes that we all came to the same starting line with the same resources. Race science is where many white supremacists and eugenicists get their drivel… religious manifest destiny, cranium sizes, comparative culture, social Darwinian law and other criteria that held certain races in disrepute. Much of these theories of superiority were based on deceptions, lies, pseudo science and racism… later to be fed to charlatans like David Sims.

  20. What a load of Apologist BS.
    We all know the reason is IQ.
    We find in chess just what 100 Years of IQ tests say, and would predict.
    There’s no more barrier, financial or otherwise, than there is to become a Football/basketball/track star. If someone can run fast, they find em.
    If someone can play chess.. they find em. There have been some black ‘prodigies,’ they just couldn’t get that far.
    In Int’l competition tho, she’s chopped meat.
    OTOH, African Runners get found, and Can not only compete, but win easily.

    IQ tests say Ashkenazi Jews are on top, and guess what?
    The TINY population of that descent (1/4 of 1% of world pop) have made up 50% World Chess Champions.

    Culture-wise, the vast majority of those Champs are/were in the SAME class as other Russians who vastly outnumber them.

    1. You don’t have a clue. IQ is not a predictor of one’s chess excellence… and being good in chess does not mean you have a high IQ or are “smart.” It simply means you’re good at chess. I don’t care what those hack researchers have told you.

      BTW, Phiona Mutesi is not considered a prodigy in the chess world. That is a Hollywood mischaracterization, but don’t blame her for that. Phiona has never had serious training, but she is still at a better level than many amateurs who have had years of practice and an abundance of resources. There are players who have had all the resources and have never attained her average level.

      In fact, the way you are writing, it doesn’t sound like you even play chess. If so, what is your level? You compare skill attainment in chess with skill attainment in football??? There is quite a bit more to be gained financially from practicing athletics than playing chess… in finance, it’s called “opportunity cost.”

      Phiona’s story is not about her chess skill. It is about her triumph over hopelessness and despair in one of the poorest parts of the world. Chess was simply the avenue out of a poverty of thinking. She now has a chance at a better life.

  21. “”You don’t have a clue. IQ is not a predictor of one’s chess excellence… and being good in chess does not mean you have a IQ or are “smart.” It simply means you’re good at chess. I don’t care what those hack researchers have told you.””

    Of course it IS. Chess is all about abstract thinking and problem solving.

    and of course, I gave you a Real World Actual example which was UNTOUCHED: Ashkenazi Jews impossible-otherwise Triumphs in Chess. ANSWER?
    And of course the Lack/under-representation of Blacks. AGAIN, Just what IQ tests would predict.

    And I love Your anti-intellectual and Goofy Denialism…
    “”I don’t care what researchers have told you””
    IOW, I should believe what YOU told me with NO evidence, as opposed to my post which Does have it.

    We got plenty, in fact, a majority, of Black Running talent, BUT….

    1. abu afak,

      Again… you are absolutely clueless about chess. There is no reliable research to indicate that because you good at chess that your IQ is higher or vice versa. There was a recent study that attempted to deduce that all top-level players in their sample were inherently “smart”. What a hack of research!

      Honestly, chess has little to do with the type of intelligence that people associate with being “smart.” What it does mean is that at higher levels you may have advanced visualization, cognitive discipline, memory control and pattern recognition. I will agree that chess involves abstract thinking and problem solving, but so does so many other activities. Even XBOX video games require these characteristics. However, you sound as if you have no basis of experience in chess affairs or have no exposure to the community of chess players. You would know IN PRACTICE chess is not like an IQ test like the puzzle you showed. It’s not that simplistic. There are additional factors that are needed in chess mastery that are not related to overall skill set that I mentioned above.

      Ashkenazi Jews? So what? They were exposed to chess in Europe; they practiced and they excelled. Good for them. People excel at what they spending time honing their skills for. It takes effort, discipline and hard work to excel in any activity including athletics. Athletes don’t just go out and become supreme runners any more than “smart” people simply go out and become Grandmasters at chess. Chess is an exercise in mental discipline. You have extrapolated it as being part of some genetic inheritance, but chess is part of a culture as you will find in certain societies.

      The Ashkenazi Jews may have found a tradition in the game until it became a pastime of sorts. That’s exactly what happened with the Moors (African Muslims) who were the absolute best players before the Spaniards changed adopted and changed the game to what it is today. In the chess world, those nations with some type of tradition tend to be the most successful… including Russia, U.S., Armenia, Cuba and most recently China and India. Doesn’t necessarily mean their IQs are higher. In fact, I have covered chess for 15 years, written thousands of articles and have interviewed a number top players from various countries. They are of reasonably good intelligence, no question. However, for me to say there was anything extraordinary would be overreaching.

  22. The linking between race and intelligence has been a subject of debate going back many years and it will continue to be a vague issue for many more years. Nothing will help change the mind of the nominal racist folks who feel that no matter what sum of convincing evidence is put in front of them, they cannot come to a logical conclusion because they believe that they are intellectually superior to blacks. And trying to reason with folks like that is simply a waste of time. I wonder if there has ever been a study where they take a group of black chess “prodigies” and a group of white” prodigies “and give them the same resources, training, tournament exposure, etc. and see if there’s any significant difference in their Elo rating after say 4 years. I would not be surprised to find out that the result didn’t displayed any substantial difference between the two groups. IMO, noticeable talent has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin, it’s simply a matter of being blessed with the gift of creativity; you either have it or you don’t.

    1. Guy,

      You have deal with these stormfront and vanguard guys (for the record). Many of them posting here have the IQ of a pear, but they tout all of these theories. It makes them feel superior to say that others are inferior. That’s the insecurity that leads to racist bigotry so often seen around the world. It’s perpetuated when they demean success stories like Phiona’s by citing her skill level. This is the level of people we’re dealing with. That may be why Trump attracts so many uneducated followers.

    2. Guy,

      This guy “abu afak” (based in New York City) e-mails me with more information (and wiki links) about Ashkenazi Jews when this post has nothing to do with that topic. It’s OK to make that case on a site discussing this issue, but why become a troll on a Black-oriented website about how Ashkenazi Jews are so much more superior than Blacks in chess? He then gets upset that I blocked his petulant and insulting behavior. We won’t waste valuable time and focus on positive energy… not low energy. Many of these ethnocentric ideologues are incorrigible and can remain in their own dark places of smug superiority.

  23. If this website was mentioned in a previous post, I apologize. In it, chess expert Ronald Jones of DC hits the nail so squarely on the head that I bust out laughing. Quote:

    “Most of the people that play, they have disposable income. They can afford to spend $300 for a tournament, $500 for a hotel, another $1000 for an airline ticket to another state.” Jones, who frequents Dupont Circle, a well-known place to find a street game in Washington, added, “That’s why we play in the park.”

    Chess master Jerald Times of New York also believes that grandmaster is more an economic measurement than an intellectual one. It holds a lot of weight. For many African Americans on the lower economic rung, if it’s Monday, their primary purpose is to make it -to Tuesday. I would agree with anyone that its more feasible to get strong in this day and age with computers and technology, but the ability to travel, hotel costs, entry fees, etc. makes it difficult. Heck, I once slept in a hotel staircase with my duffle bag as a pillow, hoping I wouldn’t get caught by security so I could play the final two rounds of a tourney.

      1. Brian,

        Yes… Jamaal contacted me for information on that article. He read this posting as well.

        There are trolls here who want to ignore history (slavery, colonialism, economic and social exclusion) and other socioeconomic barriers contributing to gap in upward mobility and thus, the choice of how one spends their time. Since people in the lower economic strata are constantly focusing on survival mode, there is little motivation to spend an inordinate amount of time on non-essentials that do not improve one’s economic plight… like chess.

        Some of these gaps in chess activity have to do with exposure (lack thereof) in Black communities. Activities like chess, tennis, golf, fencing, swimming, lacrosse, gymnastics, badminton, field hockey, soccer and squash were not commonplace in most Black neighborhoods. These were originally class-specific activities, or for the upper-class elites. We have begun to excel in many of these sports as exposure has increased.

        In Chicago, I grew up playing all major sports, including hockey. No ice rinks in my neighborhood, so no Blacks pursued hockey. Only a handful do so today and most of them are Canadian. Baseball was my best sport (Cubs!!) and there were a lot of role models. When I took up chess in mid-teens, there were not a lot of Black Masters in chess (although my Black public high school had 100 players in the chess club). The question of why (from a White Chess Master) is one of the things that led me to conceive of The Chess Drum.

        The question is, how do we improve exposure to chess in the Black community while providing an incentive to dedicate the time needed to become a strong player? Chess is a wonderful activity for K-12 and I highly recommend it. However, after high school, there is not the incentive to dedicate weekends and evenings studying the wrinkles of the Sicilian Najdorf. While I still competed during undergrad, my attention was divided with my high-profile student involvement. My chess aspirations were all but done.

        The path for a lot of youth now is to use chess as a stepping-stone for university applications. After graduation, many leave chess and then move onto successful careers where they can make a living. Competitive chess becomes a pleasant memory, but not a professional aspiration to earn a living. At Maurice Ashley’s Hall of Fame speech in April, he said something very poignant…

        The reality for a person like me is if you never make it to the top 20 in the world, there are very limited ways to make money in chess. Teaching is the most consistent because people want to get coached by a grandmaster. That’s nice money. Writing books, doing lectures, doing appearances. I do live commentary online for tournaments around the world. So a grandmaster has to cobble together all that stuff. Otherwise you’ll starve. You can’t make a living only if you play.

        At this point, there is no way to make a decent living playing chess (unless you’re top 20), so many relegate it to hobby status and do not play professionally. There is a large opportunity cost in terms of time and resources. This is the reality for the African Diaspora. If other groups can spend time mastering games, studying birds/insects or painting abstract art, then so be it. I will admire their work and accomplishments. However, for challenges of Black Chess Masters, there are a multitude of reasons that chess becomes a nice diversion instead of a noble profession that it was in the old Soviet Union.

        Ashley created the Millionaire Chess franchise to bring some luster to chess and present chess as an professional option, but apparently most are not ready for this type of investment in chess. As long as chess, does not offer incentives other than earning titles and getting a rating, we will continue to see lower levels of participation among people of African descent.

      2. Brian,

        I have also noted over the years that there is a disproportionate amount of Black players in America who make 2000-2200 and languish there. In an essay years ago, I called it “The Curse of the Chess Expert.” In the recent Millionaire Chess Open, there were more than 20 Black players in the Expert category out of about 100 players. This included several Nigerians, one of whom was a neurosurgeon and a few other doctors like Jones Murphy who has a Ph.D. in Physics. Given the low percentage of Black players in the tournament, the professional success is relatively high among this group of players.

        “Experts” are in the top 3% of US Chess Federation rating, but most do not make National or Senior Master. While some have made Master and tumbled back below 2200, most could not afford the opportunity cost of immersing in chess due to charting a career path. What is the opportunity cost for spending an hour of study on chess as you go beyond age 18? Certainly depends on a number of factors including your age, rating level, economic standing and location. I would imagine the cost rises each year. That would make a good study. It is a very real decision that ALL talented chess players make. Should I pursue chess full-time or focus on my studies?

        Today many of the top youth players are home-schooled to give them that chance to focus on chess goals. Some families are even moving to locations to maximize chances of chess success for their child. I just interviewed 15-year old Grandmaster Samuel Sevian (2600 rating) and his mother said they moved from California to Massachusetts so that Sam could be closer to Europe to play in international tournaments. Some parents are moving to the chess magnet of St. Louis to pursue chess for their children! These are tremendous economic sacrifices that do not provide any financial guarantees. However, as a youth, chess can provide opportunities for entering a good university. Chess still looks great on the application and fits the “smart” narrative.

        There were a number of Black players in the under-2000 and under-1800 sections (at Millionaire Chess), BUT only a few Black youth playing. There was a girl from the famed IS-318 and the talented 9-year old Prince Eric Junior Guipi Bopala from Canada (parents from Central Africa Republic). Unfortunately, if you’re not starting chess early, chances significantly go down to reach a high level of play. Few in our community see chess as the stepping-stone while Asian children are being pushed into chess as a way for upward mobility and good college applications. After age 18, most of these youth abandon the game regardless of racial makeup. In other situations, funding is simply not there to continue programs in these schools. Chess is one of the first things cut.

        Some of these antagonists who post racist drivel here believe the dearth of Black players in chess is due to the intellectual deficits and spout stats from the Internet about Ashkenazi Jews and such. This is a very simplistic view, but points to age old stereotypes and theories about people of African ancestry (many were debunked long ago). You could beat one of these racist guys 100 games in a row in chess and he will still think he’s a better player… or try to demean you in some other way. That is the level of people you are dealing with when you read their blogs… and I read them.

        Anyway… we don’t quibble over what type of racist one may be. If one is saying Blacks are too inferior to play chess, it all looks the same to us. A gazelle doesn’t distinguish between a hyena and a lion as far as a preference. It knows that one tears you apart while you’re alive and the other asphyxiates you and then tears you apart. The end result is the same.

  24. I completely agree with you putting a stop in permitting aliens who wants to continue with destructive racial stereotypes to get their voices heard here. The discussion about a small group of Jewish people with high IQ does not belong here. (IQ- test is not something I personally give much weight to) .This is a website dedicated to highlighting what’s happening in chess with an emphasis on what the black players are up to. Let’s continue to keep it positive and keep moving forward! If we had the financial means and those with talents were given the opportunity that whites or Asians talent have been given, we might have exceeded them. FACTS-We always have to be 3x better to even be considered, so be it.

    1. Yes… the funny thing is these trolls posting here don’t even play chess! You can tell.

      BTW, I am doing a brief about Josh annotating in Chess Life along with William Morrison. Great job!

      I believe Morrison is going to be granted the IM title, but I don’t see his name on the FIDE list of applications. I’ll check. Long overdue.

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