FM Ronald Simpson: 1960-2013

” I wouldn’t be the player I am today without him.”

~GM Maurice Ashley

For Ron, he enjoyed the tactical morass of positions (despite playing the positional English) and became known for his swashbuckling style of play. He played for the Carolina Cobras in the U.S. Chess League and was well-respected by players there. He won a number of tournaments and was a former North Carolina State champion. His passion for the game was noted and Chris Mabe even reflected on a recent visit with Ron about all matters pertaining to chess.

“I saw him over Labor Day at Duke medical center. Man, we talked for at least 2 hours about various chess positions and how we should educate people about the game. The point is that he was still full of life and excited about chess and the community.”

~Chris Mabe

There will be a viewing at Mitchell Funeral Home (7209 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh, NC) on Sunday, September 22nd from 2-4pm. The body will then be shipped to New York (where his mother lives) for a formal service. After the funeral, players in North Carolina are having a chess memorial service for at Caribou Coffee, 3300 Duraleigh Road Raleigh, NC 27612 (919) 787-9611. It will start at around 4:30pm. Players are encouraged to bring chess sets and memories of Ron to share. If there are any questions, call Gary Newsom at 704-618-1259. (Link:

Willie 'Pop' Johnson vs. FM Ron Simpson (front) & Jeffrey Mitchell vs. FM Maurice Ashley. Copyright © 2001, Jerry Bibuld.

Willie “Pops” Johnson vs. FM Ron Simpson (front) & Jeffrey Mitchell vs. FM Maurice Ashley (back); 2nd African-American Unity tournament, 7 March 1992. Photo by Jerry Bibuld.

Selected Games by FM Ronald Simpson
(Click here for full window)

Thanks to GM Hikaru Nakamura for notifying The Chess Drum!


  1. FM Ronald Simpson’s Chess Autobiography

    by FM Ronald Simpson
    Born – Feb. 1, 1960

    I grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in New York City. I learned to move the pieces at about the age of six from a neighbor. My cousin Clive Tulloch and I played almost every weekend. Clive was self-taught, and he introduced me to the Sicilian defense. He was my mentor, and I learned to think freely with his guidance. I learned my first opening from another cousin, Leopold Hall. It was a basic King pawn opening, filled with fundamentals.

    I was competitive and very hungry to play chess but there weren’t many kids playing chess in the late sixties. I was about ten years old when my mother took me to Melvin Brady’s barbershop for a haircut, and to my surprise this was where the men in the community played chess. It was like a local chess club. Many of men in the neighborhood would stop in just to play a quick game before going home. I remember many times they would keep one eye on their watches and the other eye on the board, while constantly glancing out of the barbershop window (hoping their wives wouldn’t catch them playing chess). Melvin and Herman Hacksaw (aka: Rock) had a great effect on me through my teenage years. Rock had a flashy style of playing. He played the Orangutan, or Polish opening, and Melvin had a solid conservative style, 1.e4 or 1.d4. These two men were my chess mentors and friends. I learned so much from them.

    The chess boom hit in 1972 when Robert James “Bobby” Fischer won the World Chess Championship and suddenly everyone was aware of chess. Chess went from a fun game to play to serious competition. I was no longer the kid who played chess well. I was a chess player who happened to be a kid. The transition matured me and prepared me for the tournament world of chess. I won many local tournaments in Brooklyn, but I will always relish the memory of winning the Malcolm X memorial tournament in the mid seventies. I beat Master Paul Robey, John Evans, and Steve Colding to win the tournament. Growing up in New York City allowed me the opportunity to play Chess in New York City’s famous Marshall Chess Club, Manhattan Chess Club, Washington Square Park, and in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. I won some very nice games against Grandmasters like Joel Benjamin, Alexander Ivanov, Patrick Wolf, etc…

    Enter the Black Bear School of Chess:

    The Black Bear School of Chess was the most significant influence in my development in chess. It was led by George Golden, “the Fire Breather.” I met George in 1973, and he introduced me to a group of older men who took chess seriously! There were tournaments, chess study sessions, passionate chess discussions, etc…these were my best years of chess. Looking back provokes extremely deep feelings for me. All of those men were like an extended family. Many of them are no longer with us, but in my heart they all live with every chess thought I have. Our motto : “The will to win is greater than material advantage” has helped me to this day, and its meaning extends beyond the chess board. By the early 1980s the Black Bear School was filled with masters and experts! William Morrison, Steve Colding, Chris Welcome, Mark Meeres, Willy Johnson (Pop), Leon Monroe, and the first African-American Grandmaster, Maurice Ashley!

    I first achieved Master level in 1984, and I was awarded the USCF Life Master honor soon after. I achieved Senior Master level in 1991, and I reached my highest USCF rating of 2427 in 1999. The World Chess Federation, known as FIDE (Federation International Des Echecs) awarded me the title of Master in the late 1980s, and I earned a FIDE rating of about 2300.

    I am now living and playing chess in North Carolina. The North Carolina Chess Association is a wonderful chess organization and I expect big chess things to happen here in the years to come. I am also teaching chess at the Southern Wake Montessori School. I am amazed at how well their system of teaching fits chess development. The kids are absolutely wonderful and a joy to teach.

    It would be extremely difficult to play chess seriously without the support of my wife and kids. I am very blessed to have them.

    Edited by Mark D. Stout & Tom Hales

  2. Photo from Wilbert Paige Memorial (Harlem, New York, USA)

    FM Stephen Muhammad vs FM Ron Simpson (foreground)
    FM William Morrison vs. IM Michael Schleifer (background)
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

  3. My condolences to Ron’s family. I hope that many will celebrate his strength, talent, and depth.
    – with heartfelt Sincerity, Kimani A. Stancil.

  4. Pingback: Daily Chess News Links September 21, 2013 |
  5. I’m stunned, Ron was one of the best people I ever had the opportunity to meet! It was my pleasure to play him in the World Open twenty five years ago! I would see Ron from time to time at the major tournaments and he always gave me a warm friendly greeting, a wonderful person! May God be with his family!

  6. from Jones Murphy (Facebook)

    I met Ron when we were at college with Maurice Ashley. Ron was our #2 board, and our City College of New York team was one of the top finishers at the Pan Am of 1987 in Columbus OH.

    I was always amazed at how Ron combined incredible warmth with ferocious competitiveness. That’s a hard balance to achieve(for me anyway), but it’s just how he was, from the time I met him around 27 years ago. He taught me a lot about chess(and about more important things, by his example of sportsmanship and human warmth and kindness). We last ran into each other in Prospect Park(Brooklyn) a few years ago when he came up on a visit from North Carolina. He was as competitive as ever, and as warm and generous a soul as I’ve ever met.

  7. What a great loss to the U.S. Chess community. I met Ron for the first time a couple of years ago at the Land of the Sky tournament. I had the honor of sharing first place with him in the blitz tournament over GM Alexander Ivanov, but Ron took the Official first on tie breaks. I was beaten by Ron in the last round of the regular tourney with a tactical flurry out of the blue. He was a gentleman with a peaceful spirit and demeanor. I am truly sad at his passing, but cherish the time I had to spend with this great chess personality.

  8. This was my tribute on the page.

    I knew FM Ron Simpson from my work with The Chess Drum website. Of course, I had known of this New York legend, but officially met him in 2001 at the Wilbert Paige Memorial in Harlem, NY. I had flown in from Florida for this historic event hosted by Maurice Ashley, sponsored by Jones Murphy and organized by Jerry Bibuld. It featured ten of the top Black players in the world at that time (including IMs Amon Simutowe of Zambia, Watu Kobese of South Africa and Michael Schleifer of Canada) and was won by (then FM) Stephen Muhammad.

    When I came in the room, there were blitz battle going on before the opening ceremonies. He knifed his way through individuals and extended his hand introducing himself. I was really flattered. Here is a man whom I have written about as a chess legend and he wants to shake MY hand! He was really appreciative of those who supported chess and who shared his passion.

    It was also a joy to watch him play speed chess. Before the opening ceremonies of the Wilbert Paige tournament, he clobbered one other National Master about seven games in a row and was merciless in doing so. He was using all types of quotes and creative language. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely while sacrificing pieces all over the place. It was entertaining, but there were no airs from him.

    I am glad Ron found a home in North Carolina chess community. What was New York’s loss was NC’s gain, but we all benefited and were touched by his spirit.

  9. I did not know Mr. Simpson well, but a few things about him impressed me greatly. His demeanor of quiet intensity at the board. His evident great skill and love for the game. Perhaps what he will be remembered for most here in NC, though, is his generosity of spirit. He played anyone, without regard for rating, and I would often see him helping young players analyze between rounds. Too many masters seem to disdain even conversation with the lowly ordinary amateur player; Mr. Simpson was different.

    My condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones. He will be greatly missed.

  10. The last game Ron and I played (Charlotte, 2009) ended in a rare (for both) quick draw after 11 moves. When I accepted the draw offer Ron who played black said something along “Timur, I think it is equal now and I respect your chess skills to play for a win”.
    I will always remember the warm smile on Ron’s face, his intelligence, his love of chess and the positive energy that Ron always brought into a playing hall.
    I am very sad today.
    My condolences to Ron’s family and friends.

  11. I have received from Adia Onyango the following arrangements for Ronald Simpson’s New York funeral.

    Grace Deliverance Tabernacle Church of God
    650 Remsen Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11236
    10:00am Friday, September 27

    Viewing of the Body:
    Thursday, September 26
    Guarino Funeral Home
    9222 Flatlands Avenue 11236

  12. A most beautiful eulogy from FM Kassa Martei Korley (Facebook)…

    I first met Ron Simpson upon my arrival at Duke University in the fall of 2011. The North Carolina chess community welcomed me with open arms, and one of the most prominent faces was Ron. Many of us who had the pleasure of knowing Ron knew about his passion for the game of chess. He loved the dynamics of the game, and played with a unique energy at the board. However, what really separated him from most strong chess players was his character off the board. He was a guy that talked to everyone and wasn’t difficult to approach. He loved to exchange ideas and share his knowledge of the game, because he truly believed that when he did so he had the opportunity to get something back. Sometimes what he would get in return was an opening refinement; he probably would have preferred chess started in a messy middle game position where his tactical brilliance and creativity could shine through. But other times, from individuals he knew he was clearly stronger than, he got a smile or a handshake, and that would suffice.

    Ron and I would sometimes talk about the Black Bear school chess that he grew up apart of, and the future of African-American chess players in the United States. Though he and I were a generation apart, our chess educations were similar, and I think that’s why we related so well. It was a very raw education, molded not necessarily by formal chess instruction but by street players in parks, and blitz throughout NYC. A formal chess education was something I think we both had to take the initiative to acquire, and while this may sound discouraging, it isn’t. When you want something bad enough, you get it, and that’s why Ron’s passion for chess was so great. If you remember nothing else about Ron, remember this: he was a good teacher, a great chess player, and a brilliant friend.

  13. In a conversation near the Marshall CC one weekend, Ron confided that he wished he hadn’t played so much speed chess coming up, the implcation was he felt that it hurt his game. He also told me that if the opportunities in Chess today were available when he came along he would have “jumped on it” In my only tournament victory, I was 1400 and he was 1900, He said ” I was waiting for you to make a mistake and you didn’t make any” Like people said before me in the comments section he was truly a “Black Bear” warm and fluffy but ferocious over the board.

  14. I have a video of him playing blitz with my son and James from last year. He looked great and was in high spirit. May his soul rest in peace.

  15. I am deeply saddened by the loss of Ron Simpson. I enjoyed what little time I spent in his presence. He is a fine human being, and will be greatly missed in the chess community.

  16. I was shocked and saddened when I saw that Ron passed away. I was thinking I would see him in North Carolina for Labor Day but he was not there. I met him at the Land of the Sky some years ago. We played a few times in the tournament and played blitz many times. He was very nice every time we played and offered to review the game with me. Very sad news. My deepest condolences to his family and everyone who knew him.

  17. What a tragedy. I know he was near a great institute at Duke. I collaborated with them. In the 80’s and 90’s I played most every master east of the Mississippi and can honestly agree with the statement on the USCL. He was one of the nicest and a pleasure to talk with. He will be missed by many. Condolences to his family.

  18. Fortunately, Ron and I played at the Reverse Angle in Charlotte just a few months ago, just before his health had took a turn for the worse. I never knew of his condition until a friend of mine told me in July that Ron may never return to the chessboard. I couldnt believe my ears and didnt want to believe it. It was always a dream of mine to play such a strong player as Ron and I had been itching at the opportunity to play him at every tournament that I attended. Finally, I got that chance! After years of hoping, we sat down in front of each other as we both were 2-0 and playing on the money board. I was nervous, but excited as I had always wanted a chance at the best in the state. The game was a sharp f3 Nimzo that I had looked at a few weeks before the tournament. Im sure Ron didnt see it coming and probably wasn’t too surprised because of his knowingly Irregular Opening repertoire. In a time scramble, I blundered away a dead draw position and Ron took sole first place. I couldn’t have been happier with a loss because I at least knew I gave him a good game and walked away learning much more in the process! Ron and I went over the endgame for a few minutes and he showed me the “easy” drawing line and even uttered “you’re a lot stronger than your rating.” Hearing that made me want to improve my chess significantly. Ron was a kind, gentle soul, that the NC Chess Community needed and will sorely miss! I enjoyed my only encounter with Ron and I hope that we will have more chess battles in our next life.

  19. With tears in my eyes I write this . Ronnie was a sweet heart of a person . I remember the many hours at the barber shop ,the park , The sessions at the fire breathers home went on for hours and hours the egos were checked at the door . The feeling of friendship and respect dominated cause that is what BLACK BEARS were about . So sad Love ya Ron god rest you. Tell fire breather “whats up ” I miss him.
    Herminio “Minio ” Baez founding member THE BLACK BEAR SCHOOL of CHESS

  20. Condolences from the Jamaican Chess fraternity to the family and friends of Ronald Simpson who has made an ineffaceable impact on, and left an indelible legacy to, the Chess World. May his soul rest in peace and that great perpetual light shine on him (and his games!) forever!

  21. I was shocked to learn that Ron had cancer and that he passed last week.We worked at the National Weather Service HQ in Bohemia, Suffolk County Long Island,NY. We were attending Electrical System Analyst training in Kansas City and Ron entered and Won a Chess tournament while we were there. He was Great Friend and Co-Worker.

  22. I heard today from Jones Murphy that the funeral for Ron Simpson was an emotional one with a Caribbean flavor. Ron’s mother, originally from Jamaica, was present as was his mother-in-law. Word is they both were overcome with grief. His wife Beverly and sons were very strong.

    Maurice Ashley gave a moving eulogy which was less than three minutes, but I was told he was extremely touching, moving and beautiful. Maurice and Ron were very close and he no doubt put everything he had into his words. The service was in Brooklyn, but Ron was buried in Long Island, 30 minutes away.

    I am waiting for an obituary, photos and perhaps a recording of Maurice’s words.

  23. My deepest condolences to the Simpson family and friends for the loss of a great person and legendary chess master. The global village has lost a fierce but gentle warrior!

  24. Sad. And I was not familiar with him. I also see that IM Michael Schleifer pictured above playing FM Morrison, lost his life as well a few years ago. My condolences to both families.

  25. I very much want to echo the sentiments of my current NC + USCF chess colleagues LM Chris Mabe, Josh Lawson, Scott Baldwin, Dr. Joseph Graves, Mr. Tom Hales, and several others. Despite the time that has gone by since Ron’s passing, we’ve yet to find a chess presence in the state that is of Ron’s caliber. He took the time to watch some of my tournament games, from my side of the board, in Asheboro. I will never forget that. He even played me in one casual blitz game, one that Ron won handily, between rounds of one of the Asheboro tournaments. He didn’t have to do this with me or any other player .. he did it as a favor to his chess community. GM Ashley was also incredible enough to give me some of his recent free time, online, to further reflect on Ron’s legacy. Chess in Asheboro, and throughout the entire state of NC, will never be the same without Ron !

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