During “Black History Month” in the U.S., there is a lot of pride taken in the pioneers who made proud accomplishments while fighting against the odds. Of course, this is an American invention, but we would do justice to extend accolades to the greater African Diaspora. Cuba is one such country with a rich African heritage.
Cuba’s Román Hernández is one who may not be known to much of the English-speaking chess world but is one who blazed the trail as the fourth Cuban to earn the official title of Grandmaster. He won the 1981-1982 national championship and represented Cuba in eight chess Olympiads (1970, 1972, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990).
GM Roman Hernandez (center) analyzing
Photo by MI ICCF José Guillermo de la Rosa Solórzano
Hernandez earned his International Master title in 1975 and his Grandmaster title in 1978. He earned his norms coming in 6th in Las Palmas, Spain 1977 (Cat. X), 3rd in Santa Fé, Bogotá 1978 (Cat. VII) and Kecskemet Tournament, Hungary (Cat. VIII). Interestingly enough, he earned his third GM norm before officially being awarded the IM title.
When looking at his profile in chessgames.com, he has competed against a Who’s Who of chess with opponents such as Vlastmil Hort, Dragoljub Velimirovic, Yefim Geller, Yuri Balashov, William Lombardy, Boris Spassky, Bent Larsen, Robert Huebner, Jan Timman, Mikhail Tal and Garry Kasparov. Among his victims are Tal, Geller (twice), and Larsen (twice).
Born in Santiago de Cuba, he is known as a man of humble means and even temperament. In an article published on Blog de Ajedrez de Ferriero (Enrique Ferreiro García), Venezuelan Uvencio Blanco (International Referee and Advisor to the World Commission on Educational Chess), had this to say about Román: “In addition to his recognized humility, he is one of the American chess players with the greatest culture and understanding of chess.” The article also states he would be considered the first Black player to earn the Grandmaster title. It is an accolade usually associated with the high-profile chess personality Maurice Ashley.
Nació en Santiago de Cuba el 23 de noviembre de 1949. Mulato, es el primer Gran Maestro (GM) de raza negra del mundo. Injustamente los periodistas del mundo le atribuyen el mérito al GM afronorteamericano Maurice Ashley. (link)
In all fairness, the language gap may be one reason that the U.S. chess public is not familiar with Afro-Cuban players. Most will know of 1966 Cuban National Champion Rogelio Ortega and perhaps GM Orelvis Mitjans Perez and Oleiny Linares, but there are others that we will feature at another time.
Venezuelan Uvencio Blanco (International Referee and Advisor to the World Commission on Educational Chess), says about Román: “In addition to his recognized humility, he is one of the American chess players with the greatest culture and understanding of chess.” Aptly, Hernandez become a FIDE Trainer in 2014.
Note: Thanks to Leonardo Castro (Brazil) and to IM José Guillermo de la Rosa Solórzano (Cuba) for tips on GM Hernandez!