Renewed Energy @ Chicago Open!

The Chicago Open has been one of the marquee tournaments for two decades. It is the first major of the summer season and generally attracts a healthy mix of professionals, norm seekers and scholastic phenoms. However, what made this tournament different was the buzz created by the online battles that had been brewing over the past two years.

Daniel X Jones vs. FM James Canty III
Daniel X Jones and Jimmy Canty
in the first official cage match almost TWO years ago!
Photo by Nathan Kelly

Chicago Chess Blitzers (CCB) started a movement centered around the formation of several intercity matches. The action started with a Detroit-Chicago cage match between Jimmy Canty and Daniel X Jones. After a series of cage matches with different players, team matches become all the rave as Chicago set up successive matches with Cleveland, Memphis, St. Louis and Detroit. The battles have done more than provide players with opportunities to engage in battle, but it has also helped players to build cameraderie which is an important facet of chess improvement. Let’s talk specifically about the impact on the Black chess community.

The Chicago Factor

What was evident at the 2019 Chicago Open was that there is an energy that may translate into sustainable participation for the Black chess players. Why is this important? For decades, the issue of Black involvement in chess had been given little to no attention. So much has been said about the gender gap in chess and the May 2019 issue of Chess Life was declared “The Women’s Issue.”

On the other hand, there has been little outreach to the Black community which is why these efforts are so important. Unfortunately, U.S. Chess Federation does not keep ethnic data, so it is difficult to understand the demographic trends. Suffice it to say, observational data shows a lack of participation of Black players in USCF tournaments. This is why for 18 years The Chess Drum has served as a platform for encouraging more participation from this overlooked segment.

Joshua Colas on the move while Daaim Shabazz watches. Photo by Nathan Kelly.
Joshua Colas on the move while Daaim Shabazz watches.
Photo by Nathan Kelly

As far as the history of Black participation, it has become obvious that many of the players who were part of the strong wave in the 80s have either retired from tournaments, focused on family obligations, and even switched to poker (i.e., FM Norman Rogers). Unfortunately, quite a number of important figures have passed away in the past decade (R.O. Mitchell, IM Michael Schleifer, Jerry Bibuld, FM Ron Simpson, NM Leroy Muhammad, James “Black Knight” Taylor, Jose Espinosa, NM Everest Tucker, Beau Hardeman, NM Ray “Dragon Robinson, IM Emory Tate, Herminio Baez, Sammy Barton, Peter Roberts, Atty. George Leighton, NM Ken Clayton and Life Master Alfred Carlin).

Granted, some have rekindled their interest and come out of retirement to compete again, but there has been a net loss. The recent jolt of energy from the Chicago Chess Club has given a shot of adrenaline to the Black chess community. Many players who have met at one of the blitz match or through Facebook came to the Chicago Open with hopes of earning titles, rating points, prize money, or simply bragging rights. This kind of energy has not been seen at a Chicago Open in a long time.

Let’s Battle!

While there was the usual banter and trash talk in between rounds, there was a camaraderie and a support that extended beyond the inter-city rivalries. There was the Detroit “lion’s den” (AirBnB) that everyone visited to unwind, socialize and play blitz. It appears to be the beginning of a tradition. There were a couple of blitz matches before the tournament started with Gwayne Lambert facing Joseph Gadson (10½-10½) and Kameron Tolliver facing Tom Murphy (Murphy won 11½-7½). Daniel X battled Jimmy Canty in another round of their ongoing rivalry. It ended in a 5-5 tie.

Stephen Faulkner (Louisville), IM Kassa Korley (Brooklyn),
Kenneth Gaskin (Los Angeles) representing three iconic cities!
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

While players who form the National Blitz League came Detroit and Chicago, Ken Gaskins came from Los Angeles to take part. Stephen Faulkner came from Kentucky to enjoy the festivities. Long-time legends like Marvin Dandridge reveled in watching the blitz battles featuring Kassa Korley and CCB members. The Chicago Chess Blitzers were making all types of challenges. One of them bore fruit as the New York trio of Justus Williams, Josh Colas and James Black took on Atulya Shetty, Jimmy Canty, and Daniel X Jones. The first to 13 points wins.

New York City vs. The Mighty Midwest
27 May 2019, Wheeling Westin Hotel
Williams, J
Colas, J
Black, J
Jones, D
Canty, J
Shetty, A

After New York broke out to a 10½-7½ lead, the Midwest had more chance. So far everyone had played everyone twice, but there had to be another round. This ended with Jones 1-1 Williams, Shetty ½-1½ Colas, Canty 1½-½ Black giving New the three points needed for a 13½-10½ victory. New York won the battle, but the war will continue in Philadelphia at the World Open.

The Future of Black Chess

One of the ongoing discussions often heard at the tournament was the prospects of harnessing talent in the Black community. In various podcasts hosted by Detroit’s Derek Wilder this has been an ongoing theme. This question has been the $1million question and has been discussed in a special session at the 2002 World Open. Many of those players are no longer active although National Master Glenn Bady, who took part in the 2002 discussion, was at the Chicago Open with his children Grace and Ayo.

Here is Grace Bady at 2014 World Open. She is the daughter of National Master Glenn Bady and still going strong. She scored 4/7 at 2019 Chicago Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

When asked the question during a recent podcast, I offered that blitz can be used as a training tool, but too much emphasis on the discipline will not result in accomplishment of goals that are often stated for classical chess. There are many expressed goals of earning titles, rating heights and norms, but these are only a distant goal if the right steps are not taken.

In a world where 12 and 13 year olds are becoming Grandmasters, we can no long be content when our youth are making a 1800 rating in high school. The youngest Black master ever is just over 13. The record for youngest U.S. National Master nationwide was set by Abhimanyu “Abhi” Mishra at 9 years, 2 months and 17 days! The current world’s youngest GM (Dommaraju Gukesh of India) earned the title at 12 years, 7 months and 10 days, ten days behind the record of Sergey Karjakin.

Justus Williams, Josh Colas and James Black still striving at 2019 Chicago Open.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

National Masters Justus Williams, James Black, Jr. and Josh Colas. Photo by Guy Colas.
“Young Lions” Justus Williams, James Black, Jr and Josh Colas in 2012. All made National Master in their 13th year. Photo by Guy Colas

If we don’t want to wait another 20 years for our next GM, we have to put a support system in place. Of course one can argue that not every player wants to be a chess master and that is fine, but for those showing a talent, they may be able to earn a scholarship or admission to a university based on their chess prowess. Chess seems to be the new currency in college admissions. Asian parents have understood this very well.

International Master Kassa Korley, IM-elect Justus Williams, IM-elect Josh Colas and National Master James Black, Jr. are still pursuing chess and that is admirable, but what kind of assistance are they getting? What kind of support is Jimmy Canty getting? How about 13-year old Expert Tremil Anderson of Los Angeles and 10-year old Brewington Hardaway of New York?

YouTube sensation Tremil Anderson giving an intermediate lesson!
Video by Los Angeles Chess Club

Stephanie Ballom, formerly a scholastic state champion of Texas, now lives in New York. Along with Adia Onyango, Stephanie serves as a role model for girls and boys! Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Sharika Luster, Trechelle Williams, Imani Hill
of St. Ethelreda School (8734 S. Paulina Avenue, Chicago)
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

What about our young girls? Jessica Hyatt? Charisse Williams? Janell Warner? I met a trio of girls from St. Ethelreda School and they have received media attention. Shakira Luster wants to be the first African-American female National Master. We’ve heard it before, but we are still looking for that historic mark to fall.

New Road Ahead

The World Open will be a very critical moment with a number of players from the east coast joining the fray. In addition, African and Caribbean contingents are usually in the crowd. Five years ago in Arlington, ten Nigerians came to compete in the World Open. They made quite an impression.

Nigerians & two friends: (L-R) Charles Campbell, Iyobebe Owolo Hanson, Precious Acheru, Efemuai Odafe Benedict, Uche Agu, Daaim Shabazz, Lolomari E. George, Robert Asibor, Vanita Young and Paul Obiwame. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

NIGERIA & two friends!

(L-R) Charles Campbell, Iyobebe Owolo Hanson, Precious Acheru, Efemuai Odafe Benedict, Uche Agu, Daaim Shabazz, Lolomari E. George, Robert Asibor, Vanita Young and Paul Obiwame. Photo by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

The World Open is still the marquee tournament in the U.S. It is a reunion of sorts and an event during which lifelong friendships are made. It is also where many ideas are exchanged. While we miss the exciting post-mortems displays of Emory Tate, perhaps we will start a new tradition of chess advancement.

While blitz chess is a popular magnet for activity, we must venture into more serious efforts at chess excellence or many of the sought after goals will only remain dreams. The World Open is typically where there are breakout performances of Black players. George Umezinwa’s $18,000 haul in the under-2000 section is still part of history and there have been many norms taken at this tournament. Let’s take advantage of this energy! Philadelphia awaits.

2019 Chicago Open (Drum Coverage):
World Open (Drum Coverage): 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001
Official Site:
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