Issac Braswell dies tragically

Issac Braswell

In what has been a spate of misfortunes for the U.S. chess community, Issac Braswell became the most recent tragedy. The affable Chicago player allegedly took his own life on March 2nd, only a day after playing in a match in the Chicago Industrial Chess League (CICL). There was a confirmed eyewitness account reported.

Teammate and friend Bill Brock shared the details in an commemorative essay titled, “Love Supreme” after John Coltrane’s title jazz classic. Braswell was an “Expert” (with a final rating of 2075), loved to discuss chess on Facebook and was a regular poster here on The Chess Drum blog. Ironically, he sent his condolences to the family of Quinton Smith after the scholastic player died from a fall.

In this essay, Brock described Braswell’s gentle spirit and passion for chess. He even shared touching e-mail that lead up to his last days. One month ago, Braswell had notified Brock that he needed to take a break from league play. He cited, “social issues”. However he played in the U.S. Amateur Team two weeks later.

After a successful team tournament, he decided to continue his league play. He would play his last game on Thursday, March 1st… a win.

Brock reflected,

Isaac was one of the kindest and most good-natured people I’ve ever known. He “struggled daily with the demons of his past,” as a friend wrote, but he made other people smile. He was enthusiastic in his passions, whether mastery of chess or tyro at classical guitar, and he was enthusiastic about the success of his friends, always ready with smiles, laughs, and compliments.

Issac Braswell with GM Susan Polgar

Posing with GM Susan Polgar.

Issac at 2012 US Amateur Team.

Issac in action at 2012 U.S. Amateur Team.

While it is painful and perhaps uncomfortable to mention such a demise, we have been seeing more occurrences following the 2006 death (by apparent suicide) of Jessie Gilbert of England. More recently the chess community saw Quinton Smith’s mysterious fall from a hotel tower ruled a “suicide” (although there are still doubts in that case). On February 29th, Dana Hannibal’s took her own life as a result of bullying in an Oregon high school.

Issac helping to direct a tournament at Muhammad University of Islam.

Issac helping to direct a tournament at Muhammad University of Islam.
Photo by Kareem Abdullah.

While one may draw a negative connection, it is easy to understand that chess provided an outlet for these individuals who may have died under decidedly different circumstances. In Braswell’s case, he had lived a very tough life filled with health issues, destitution and despair. However, chess was one of his main outlets and he often signed his e-mail, “checkmate you later”. This playful jab was a testament to the joy he found in the game, but mostly the people he encountered.

The Lawson YMCA, where he lived, is having a memorial service this Tuesday March 13th at 30 W. Chicago Avenue at 11:00 a.m. The family is having a memorial service for Isaac on Thursday at 3:30pm. The location is A.A. Rayner Funeral Home 318 East 71st Chicago, Illinois 60619.

Bill Brock’s Tribute:


  1. I was fortunate enough to have known Issac, if only for a few brief encounters. We last communicated on Facebook back in January. It is unfortunate that people can have regrets after such a tragedy, but it may also show that we rarely get to know our friends outside of chess. I had no inkling of his problems and may have taken a different approach in reaching out to him more frequently. However, I will remember his posts on The Chess Drum, always positive and uplifting and a very lengthy conversation we had on Facebook back in December.

  2. Daaim – This is very sad news. I did not know Issac, but it is always painful when a member of the community dies under such circumstances.

    You mention that there has been a determination of the cause of Quinton Smith’s death. Do you have any further information?


  3. I did not know Brother Issac but I offer my condolences to his friends and family just the same! Peace – Kimani A. Stancil

  4. I knew Isaac well and he was one of my favorite people. He had a lot of demons and was sometimes emotially rash but considering what he went through, it was understandable. What stood out about him was that he was remarkably kind, thoughtful, honest, humerous, generous, humble and filled with joy. I will miss him greatly and I am brought to tears writing about him. He made the world a better place and I will miss him like an old friend.

  5. Thanks Daaim re Quinton Smith. I’m sure his mom has lots of questions that deserve answers. And even if it was indeed a suicide, there are aspects of what happened that many involved need to assess: How did he get on the roof, is there video, what does it show, was he alone, was there an alarm, and consider that the young man and his classmate were accompanied on the trip by two chaperones.

  6. Isaac was very soft spoken but his game wasn’t and we will truly miss his presence. He vame in 1st place at the Allen Hammond Memorial a few years ago with no losses.

  7. Here is a post from Issac to Jose Espinosa…

    edit this on 05 Oct 2011 at 2:42 pm13Isaac M. BraswellI(BigBrothaIke)

    Hi Jose Espinosa! This is Isaac M. Braswell(BigBrothaIke) from Chicago, Illinois. I don’t know if you remember me. I am a black gentleman from the Wild Onion Chess Club. Which the club is not running anymore and the gentleman named Arnulfo Benesa, passed away about atleast two years ago. He was the Philipine master that ran the place with Philipino IM Angelo Young along with many other unselfish warm hearted Philipine chess players and non-chess players, Philipine and other ethnic race individuals that went through there. One individual you might remember is William Aramil. Who has been a master since around some of the time you may have saw him when he was younger back then. He’s much bigger, mature yet still young and going strong. I wondered what happened to you and why you weren’t coming to the club like you use too. You would come and I believe it was when the Chicago Open was going on like after the tournament you would play at the club and Williams father Rick Aramil would make sure you got a ride back to the airport where you would go back home. Those times were fun and so much heart full filled. Your presents was not one that could be called in vain. If it was, I probably wouldn’t be giving this message now. I remember you. You were vibrant, wholesome, loving, cheerful, witty, humorous, filled with laughter, fun and just always ready to have a good ole time! You helped my chess game and the kids’! You know, the one they call, “Will, The Thrill, Aramil!” Yeah he thinks he’s big stuff. I had been homeless too for that same amount of time. I have a stable place of living at this present time. Knowing how things have been for me, I might know how things have been for you. Your story is different from mine. That’s why I said that I might know how things have been for you. I would just like to say, that I thank you for being the heart filled and positive kind individual you are, and most definately will always be. Happy to know you are still holding down the fort! Can’t wait to see you next, some time in the future. Keep on chessin’! I’ll checkmate you later. 🙂


    Jose Espinosa Reply:
    October 12th, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Ike, thanks for the comments!!! I no longer work for the company that sent me to Chicago.I do remember william and his father. Bill would stay with me, and his father would take us to the tournaments. He had a dog that had human qualities, nice ones.I wonder what happen to that dog? I remember arnulfo well,sad to hear that he had passed. IM AngeloYoung I remember well.I am going to improve my game so ,lookout. Jose Espinosa

  8. Wait, wait, wait…Allen Hammond Memorial? If this is the Allen Hammond I’m thinking of, he was around my age. We both played in the Illinois High School Invitational in 1991, and he was a nice kid. I didn’t even know he’d passed away.

    Isaac Braswell is another player who I knew from my time in the Chicago area. I didn’t know about his various issues; all I knew was that he was rated in the mid-1700s when I knew him, he always seemed happy, and he was severely underrated.

    Too many, gone too young. Another loss for Chicago chess.

  9. Just happened upon your blog. I am the captain of Isaac’s CICL team, and a friend who had known Isaac for several years from the chess community. The week before Isaac’s death I talked to him for about 2 hours in a light rain outside of Union Station. He told me a lot about his troubles, and I tried my darndest to help him that night. He gave me no indication that this might happen, and I’m still crushed (as many of us have been) about his loss.

    Just FYI: I wrote up a 4-page memorial for Isaac that I believe will be published in the next Chicago Industrial Chess League bulletin. It’s mostly about his last 2 years, but check the CICL website in the next couple weeks if you’re interested in reading it. Or contact me ( and I’ll send a copy.

    All the best. RIP Isaac.

    1. I probably will not remember to check the CICL site in a couple of weeks. I’ll request a copy.

      I played in the CICL in the late 80s for the Argonne Knights. We won two years and runner-up in my four years.

      BTW… this is a full-blown website with over 9,000 pages since 2001. The blog I launched in 2007.

  10. Just found out tonight while playing at a Starbucks where Isaac used to come play. Sucks man..too bad. He is one of the coolest people I met and I had a yon of great laughs watching him trash talk in chess games. I am grateful I got to see him just a few weeks before it happened . Glad I found this page.

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