The African beat of the 2016 World Open!

The World Open is the biggest stage of American chess where the stars here and abroad come to vie for the $225,000 guaranteed prize fund. The landscape of chess in America has changed over the last 40 years, with a number of bright young stars mixed with a potpourri of international Grandmasters and aspiring prizewinners. The playing hall is dotted with a number of scholastic players mostly with roots from China and India.

The fact that the tournament has gotten younger is in contrast to the stereotype of old men looking through bifocals and peering over the board. The landscape has also gotten richer with an array of colors, figuratively and literally. While the game of chess has gone back to its “Asian” roots, what role do the sons and daughters of Africa play in today’s game of chess? The World Open is usually a stage where the top players of African descent come to test their mettle.

Prince Eric Bopala

Nine-year old Prince Eric Bopala (Montreal, Canada) got 7/9 in under-1800.
His parents are from Central African Republic.

Webster University’s New York “Dream Team” FM Justus Williams, Shawn Swindell, FM Josh Colas at 2016 World Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

New Yorkers FM Justus Williams, Shawn Swindell, FM Josh Colas
of Webster University.

Darrian Robinson just graduated from University of Chicago. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Darrian Robinson is a 2016 graduate of the University of Chicago.

Zimbabwe, Trinidad, Nigeria, Canada, Kenya, Jamaica (and others) all came to play. National champion FM Kevin Cupid was on hand as well as Jamaica’s Duane Rowe. While Nigeria didn’t have IM Oladapo Adu, there was FM Oluwafemi Balogun representing the green and white. Zimbabwe had IM Farai Mandizha representing. Spanish-speaking countries have a strong African presence and William Del Castillo of Ecuador and IM Dionisio Aldama of Cuba were present. Majur Juac of South Sudan has been a fixture in this tournament and has a personal story that will warm the hearts of anyone with one.

Players such as Noah Fields from Seattle Washington and New York contingent were hoping to make a presence. FMs Josh Colas and Justus Williams were in the field representing New York. Also from New York are the women who: Darrian Robinson, Rochelle Ballantyne and Adia Onyango. Then there are the up-and-coming talents like Tyrone Davis III.

Tyrone Davis

15-year old Tyrone Davis III of New York is a rising talent and
is about to earn his National Master title.

Joshua Alexander

Joshua Alexander (Oklahoma) got 7/9 in under-2200.

Tyrone Davis

FM Oluwafemi Balogun (Nigeria)

What does all of this mean? It means that chess continues to expand into all demographics which is a great marketing tool for its promotion. While Black players make up a small percentage in open tournaments, some of the performances are notable despite low numbers. Onyango broke the 2000 rating barrier for the first time as did Ian Wiggins who got 7.5/9 in under-2000.

Duane Rowe (Jamaica)

Joshua Alexander got 7/9 in under-2200 losing a heartbreaking last round game to the winner. Nine-year old Prince Eric Guipi Bopala got 7/9 in under-1800. Morrison and Colas got IM norms in Open section. The point here is that chess supersedes all boundaries of ethnicity, nationality, class, income, education and religion. While neanderthal ideas that certain ethnicities cannot accomplish intellectual feats should be put in the dustbin of failed eugenics theories, they persist.

With the changing of the guard and many new players emerging, it remains to be seen if the current crop of players will break into the ranks of Grandmasterdom. In America, only Maurice Ashley has earned the coveted title back in 1999. Colas has one GM norm and aspires to be a professional player in the future. Players like Justus Williams (two IM norms) and Tyrone Davis also show tremendous promise. Veterans like FM William Morrison (three IM norms) are still in the game.

FM William Morrison showing his win over GM Irina Krush.

FM William Morrison showing his win over GM Irina Krush
clinching his 3rd IM norm.

Tom Murphy (Chicago) blitzing with “Brooklyn Jerry” (New York)

Tom Murphy (Chicago) blitzing with “Brooklyn Jerry” (New York)
All photos by Daaim Shabazz.

There is something to be said about the hustlers who come from around the country to play blitz for stakes. Groups of players from Chicago, DC, Maryland, New York, Atlanta and Detroit come to Philadelphia for marathon blitz sessions in the grimy confines of the skittles rooms. Players come toting all types of fancy nicknames and a swagger like no other. While these self-proclaimed “Street Masters” prefer blitz to the longer form of tournament chess, they are certainly entertaining and their passion is inspirational. It would remind you of the same energy seen on the basketball courts in any major city.

Blitz Battle!

Jonathan Corbblah (right) was a regular attraction in blitz battles.
Corbblah’s father is Ghanaian.

Jonathan Corbblah running the tables.

Blitzing with Peter Pritchett of Memphis, Tennessee

Jonathan Corbblah running the tables.

Corbblah (left) with Herbert Carswell.
All photos by Daaim Shabazz.

Jonathan Corbblah, a professional gameshow player, was giving someone odds of five minutes to his 40 seconds for $5/game. Others like the DC legend Tom Murphy opted for a more sane approach of 3:3 games. There were challenges of $100/game, but of course, none of these high stakes games could take place before the red-coated security came to crash the party. That would be for another time. Certainly, there is flair added to the chess halls when colorful personalities come to the World Open. At what point does the public learn that chess has such a far-reaching social impact on so many demographics? One day they will learn.


  1. Photos from the 2016 World Open
    (Daaim Shabazz)

    FM Justus Williams. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    FM Justus Williams

    Kevin Cupid. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Tyrone Davis battling FM Arvind Kumar.
    Davis’ coach Majur Juac (center) watches.

    Kevin Cupid. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Tense battle in time pressure! Game ended in a draw.

    Kevin Cupid. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    FM Kevin Cupid (Trinidad & Tobago)

    Yvette Fannell. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Yvette Fannell

    IM Kassa Korley. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    IM Kassa Korley currently plays under the Danish flag.

    IM Farai Mandizha. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    IM Farai Mandizha (Zimbabwe)

    Adia Onyango showing one of her games.

    Mario Marshall and James Jeffrey. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Mario Marshall and James Jeffrey (Jamaica)

  2. As you pointed out, 15-yo Tyrone Davis III at 2198 is soon to be 2200 National Master. I looked up Shawn Swindell to see how close he is. In one tourney he goes 2155 to 2198, next tourney 2198 to 2199, next tourney 2199 to 2199!, next tourney 2199 to 2184, this tourney 2184 to 2158! Ratings software doesn’t feel emotions!!

    Another interesting thing is this 9-yo Prince Bopala. I looked him up. He started last year with a low provisional rating coming from Canada. By the time he entered this tourney he was only up to 1307 USCF. However, glancing at this FIDE card, it somehow shows a FIDE blitz rating of 1745 with no classical rating.

    Apparently that’s a better indication of his strength. 7/9 and almost every opponent was above 1700 USCF. So he goes from 1307 to 1638 in one tournament. I think he’s on track to be like Josh and Justus: over 2000 USCF at the age of 10.

    1. Yes…. the last mile of making National Master is tough indeed.

      I will track the progress of Bopala. I see that he has been very active since starting tournament play and he shined in the World Open. Things look bright.

  3. More photos from the 2016 World Open
    (Daaim Shabazz)

    Dominique Myers vs. Kazim Gulamali. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Dominique Myers vs. Kazim Gulamali

    FM Kenneth Odeh. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    FM Kenneth Odeh (Nigeria)

    Eric Kennedy. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Eric Kennedy, yet another New Yorker

    Eric Kennedy. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Blitz pop-up!

  4. Mr. Shabazz,
    I would like to thank you for including me in your special report on the world open. Ony starting chess a few years ago, it is nice that I can inspire young black youth to follow in my footsteps. I would like to thank my coaches Majur Juac and Justus Williams.

  5. Ive a question perhaps someone may know? What does it take for a person of african descent to win events on this level over the top gm guys? lets say the World Opens, Millionare, U.S. Championship? practices like that, does anyone KNOW? Drummas? Buffalonians? Adia? Etc. ULTRAMODERNIST.

  6. Hi, Daaim

    I’m getting curious about Diamond Shakoor. She doesn’t have a USCF event for a year now. It’s weird because she did so well in her last couple of tournaments even earning 50+ points in one tourney. But there is nothing after 8-30-15

    1. Not sure. I believe she has stopped playing. Looking at her Facebook page, she seems to have developed a number of other interests and is enjoying herself. She is very outgoing and seems to have a lot of friends. The thing about chess is it the social networks are not as fulfilling for girls and they tend to drop off precipitously. I don’t believe it has anything to do with numbers… it is a social matter. Perhaps she is only taking a break and will come back to the game when she needs it or it needs her.

      1. oh well hopefully she will return, clearly one of our strongest talents! Ya know Drummas this is one of the reason im gettin on Adia for not letting Papa Shakoor and Mr. Colas know about our Ultramodern Chess School here in Buffalo it would have given our young people another possibility to learn the game in a new and magical type of way and be more encouraging to them instead of the typical traditional learnin they gettin in NY and St.Louis. Buffalonians? ULTRAMODERNIST.

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