Black History Month 2022-Day 5: Wilbert Paige Memorial

National Master Wilbert Paige
NM Wilbert Paige (1959-1994)
Photo by Jerry Bibuld

One of the most important chess events in Black history had to have been the Wilbert Paige Memorial. The tournament was held in honor of Philadelphia master Wilbert Paige who died in 1994 in his mid-30s. A product of West Philadelphia High School he teamed with Glenn Bady against the like of Norman Rogers and Raymond Robinson who attended rival Bartram H.S.

Jerry Bibuld had an idea to organize a tournament and found Dr. Jones Murphy who had sponsored previous tournaments to give Black masters a chance at FIDE title norms. The venue would be held at the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF) office in the Hotel Theresa, a historical landmark.

This previously Black-owned hotel is where Malcolm X held his meetings for the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) and also where Fidel Castro stayed during his controversial United Nations visit in 1960. Other guests included: Muhammad Ali, Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, Jimi Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Joe Louis among others. A number of international dignitaries stayed at the hotel including Patrice Lumumba of the Congo.

The historic Hotel Theresa (top left). Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.
The historic Hotel Theresa (top left)

So the tournament would represent the “2nd Harlem Renaissance” in the famed location as the bustling district of the 30s. Apollo Theatre was down the street from the Hotel Theresa and the Schomburg Center for Research and Back Culture (not far away). Given this historic environment, the chess event took on added importance. It is apropos that this tournament had a Pan-African theme since Marcus Garvey’s UNIA spectacles were held on Harlem streets several decades earlier.

Wilbert Paige Memorial
(14-23rd of July 2001, Harlem NY, Hotel Theresa)
Players
#
Name
Title
Federation
Flag
Rating
1 Amon Simutowe IM Zambia
2470
2 Michael Schleifer IM Canada
2374
3 Watu Kobese IM South Africa
2373
4 William Morrison FM USA
2381
5 Stephen Muhammad FM USA
2307
6 Ronald Simpson FM USA
2296
7 Kenneth Solomon FM South Africa
2290
8 Norman Rogers NM USA
2272
9 Grace Nsubuga NM Uganda
2264
10 Ernest Colding NM USA
2258
Average FIDE Rating = 2328.5 (Category IV)
Official Site

Here is a tract describing the Wilbert Paige scene from photo essay, “The Drum Majors of Chess: Part Three.”

Strangely enough, Emory Tate was not invited, so all eyes would be on 19-year old sensation Amon Simutowe who had scored some strong results in international events. Upon his rise came a string of successes including an equal 2nd at the 2000 World Junior Championships where he scored 8½-4½. Just prior to his American tour, Simutowe took 2nd in Germany’s Bad Wörishofen including a nice win over FM Jan Sprenger.

The eclectic lineup of the Wilbert Paige Memorial was made up of many interesting players, all legendary figures in their own right. IM Watu Kobese was perhaps the only one known to all of the players having developed a high profile over the years. He had beaten Judit Polgar a few years prior in the 1998 Cap d’Agde tournament in France.


Bright days for Stephen Muhammad.
Photo by Jerry Bibuld

Canadian International Master Michael Schleifer was probably the most enigmatic since few had competed against him. However, his games showed that he would be quite a tough opponent. Of Jamaican ancestry (with a German-sounding name), he would arrive from Montreal by bus on the day of the event. Schleifer was a mild-mannered individual, but his chess had an energetic quality. He certainly brought a unique characteristic to the tournament.

Rogers had already earned an IM norm a week prior at the World Open. Players came from Philadelphia to support his effort. William Morrison was looking for his last IM norm and two others from the “Black Bear School of Chess” were present in Ronnie Simpson and Ernest Colding. South Africa’s Kenny Solomon would bring his fighting style to the U.S. for the first time. For Grace Nsubuga, he had trouble getting a visa, but after vocal appeals by Bibuld, he finally made it.

In the end it was Stephen Muhammad who would win the tournament and earn his first IM norm with 6½-2½. The tournament was memorable and was exemplary in the expression of brotherhood. There was a memorable speech given at the player’s dinner as Jerry Bibuld gave very heartfelt words as this would be a crowning achievement in his storied career of service to chess. Enthusiasm was at an all-time high and a tournament booklet was published to immortalize the event.

Clash of the blitz titans. . . FM Muhammad vs. GM Ashley. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.
Clash of the blitz titans. . . FM Stephen Muhammad vs. GM Maurice Ashley

Editor: The two would play a 28-game match two years later
at the 2003 U.S. Championship!

Organizer and Arbiter Jerry Bibuld before the start of the Wilbert Paige Memorial. Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Organizer and Arbiter Jerry Bibuld before the start of the Wilbert Paige Memorial. Three of the competitors shown are the late IM Michael Schleifer (Canada), IM Watu Kobese (South Africa) and the late FM Ronald Simpson (USA). Photo by Daaim Shabazz

FM Ron Simpson takes on the legendary NM Frank Street as Willie 'Pop' Johnson looks on. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.
FM Ron Simpson takes on the legendary NM Frank Street
as Willie ‘Pop’ Johnson looks on.

The Battle in Harlem!! Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.
The Battle in Harlem!!

Battle of the 'Black Bears'. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.
Fierce blitz battle of the ‘Black Bears’ Ronald Simpson and Ernest Colding. Watching from left to right: IM Michael Schleifer, FM Kenny Solomon, IM Watu Kobese, FM Stephen Muhammad, and Ugandan National Master Grace Nsubuga.


2001 Wilbert Paige Memorial

(Players and Commentators)


Seated (L-R): IM Amon Simutowe, NM Grace Nsubuga, GM Maurice Ashley (commentator), FM Ronald Simpson, IM Michael Schleifer, FM Stephen Muhammad. Standing (L-R): NM Jerald Times (commentator), NM Ernest Colding, IM Watu Kobese, FM William Morrison, FM Kenny Solomon, NM Norman Rogers, NM Elvin Wilson (commentator). In this photo, both Simutowe (2008) and Solomon (2015) became Grandmasters. Muhammad became an International Master. As of 2022, two players in the photo are now deceased: Schleifer (2009) and Simpson (2013). Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Tournament laborers: Jerry Bibuld (Arbiter), Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum), Beejay Hicks (tournament hall manager), Jeffery Mitchell (Deputy Arbiter). Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.
Tournament laborers: Jerry Bibuld (Arbiter), Daaim Shabazz (webmaster), Beejay Hicks (tournament hall manager), Jeffery Mitchell (Deputy Arbiter)

Wilbert Paige Memorial
(14-23rd of July 2001, Harlem NY, Hotel Theresa)
Players
# Name Title Rating
SM
MS
WK
WM
NR
KS
AS
RS
GN
EC
Pts.
1 Muhammad, S FM 2307
½
1
½
1
0
1
1
½
1
6.5
2 Schleifer, M IM 2369
½
½
½
0
1
1
½
1
1
6.0
3 Kobese, W IM 2373
0
½
½
1
½
½
1
1
1
6.0
4 Morrison, W FM 2381
½
½
½
½
½
½
1
½
1
5.5
5 Rogers, N FM 2272
0
1
0
½
0
1
1
1
1
5.0
6 Solomon, K FM 2290
1
0
½
½
1
1
0
½
½
5.0
7 Simutowe, A IM 2470
0
0
½
½
0
0
1
1
1
4.0
8 Simpson, R FM 2296
0
½
0
0
0
1
0
1
1
3.5
9 Nsubuga, G NM 2264
½
0
0
½
0
½
0
0
1
2.5
10 Colding, E NM 2258
0
0
0
0
0
½
0
0
0
0.5
PGN Games (Games, Coverage)

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

3 Comments

  1. The Wilbert Paige event made such an exciting impact in the Black chess world and there were immediate talks of another event. In fact, Jerry talked about a “George Golden” event, but it never came to pass. In 2004, I wrote up plans to have either (1) a massive Swiss tournament with 32 players (six GMs), or (2) two concurrent tournaments for GM/IM norms. The plan was to have it at Philadelphia’s Temple University after the World Open. Here are some excerpts from my notes discussing the 32-player event:

    7 January 2004 11:22am

    Jerry stated that he’ll hear from Nakamura by the end of the week. He suggested adding El-Gindy to the list. I disagreed with Wojtkiewicz. He proposed a compromise of a prize fund that I disagree with.

    1st-6th: $2000-1500-1000-750-750-750
    2499-2300: $400-200
    2299-2200: $300-150
    Best Game Prize: $200
    Total Prize Fund: $8000

    I think it puts pressure on the non-GMs and they are paying all or most of their own expenses. The GMs will get an appearance fee plus room and board. I also think there should be three prizes for each category.

    Maybe we can go…

    1st-6th: $2000-1500-1000-750-750-500
    2499-2300: $500-250
    2299-2200: $500-250
    Total Prize Fund: $8000

    or

    1st-6th: $2000-1500-1000-1000-500-500
    2499-2300: $400-200
    2299-2200: $400-200
    Best Game Prize: 300 (Even if a candidate out of contention for the norm and the best 2nd half score, he/she can still win this prize. Of course GMs can win this too!)
    Total Prize Fund: $8000

    This is $350 over the original budget for prizes as opposed to Jerry’s $230 over.

    7 January 2004

    Jerry states that he has talked to GM Maurice Ashley and has an idea on the prize fund.

    Best Score by non-GM in 2nd half of tournament: $750 with no other Master prizes.

    For example,

    1st-6th: $2000-1500-1000-1000-1000-750
    Best non-GM in second half: 750
    Total Prize Fund: $8000

    I sent Jerry an e-mail with the following corrections,

    1st-6th: $2000-1500-1000-750-750-750
    2499-2300: $500-250
    2299-2200: $500-250
    Total Prize Fund: $8000

    but it has an error. The total is then $8250.

    10:00pm Jerry called to tell me John Fedorowicz has agreed to play. He said he likes my first suggestion (above), but recommends that there be only two prizes for non-GMs and one for Best non-GM in 2nd half.

    I think that I will increase it another $250 and go for an even $8500. Jerry got his prize fund for the GMs and I will get the prizes I want for the candidates. It will stand. Why give three prizes instead of four?

    1st-7th: $2000-1500-1000-750-750-750-500
    2499-2200: $400-200-100

    Extra prizes will be announced later (if available)
    Total Prize Fund: $7950

    Budget

    Prize Fund: $ 8000
    Fees: $ 8000 (GMs)
    Housing: $ 4000 (GMs and staff for 10 days)
    Rental: $ 3000 (Temple University for 10 days)
    Food: $ 2000 (Snacks for players; dinner)
    Other: $ 2000 (shuttle service, program, bulletins, printing, etc.)

    $27000

    January 8, 2004

    Returned Jerry’s call. Jerry stated a budget for 12 clocks at $900. Certainly, that’s a budget item that I hadn’t planned. He suggested we get a place free instead of renting. I disagree. The players would then have to stay in more expensive places. We should make the financial burden on the players as light as possible and avoid the hassles of public transportation, traffic, unfamiliarity, and expending energy. It should be pleasant. Temple University is historic and they have the facilities including Internet connections that players need to do research, recreation facilities, dining room, medical facilities, access to stores… hotels only have these at considerable expense. In addition, the whole idea of housing 32 players around the city is not appealing and not leave too much to chance (e.g., missed routes, unfamiliarity). Having the venue and the lodging in the same vicinity would cut down on expenses and will reduce the chances of players forfeiting games.

    January 10, 2004

    Jerry just sent news that Stefanova is a GM! I didn’t realize this. He wants nine GMs now! Which means the budget goes up another $3000. Elvin sent me some leads for contacts and asks about the times. He suggest 12:00-9:00pm block. I concur. Sent an e-mail to Nizar ELHAJ seeking support.

    January 12, 2004

    Agreed on eight GMs and $8000 prize fund.

    1st-7th: $2000-1500-1000-750-750-750-500
    Best 2nd-half score among non-GMs: $400-200-100

    However, this idea never came about.


    Some years later I entertained the GM/IM norm tournaments.

    Here was the GM-norm field:

    “1st All-World Chess Invitational” (2010)
    GM Invitational (10 players)

    1. GM Amon Simutowe (ZAM, 2470)
    2. GM Pontus Carlsson (SWE, 2480)
    3. GM Maurice Ashley (USA, 2465)
    4. IM Dionso Aldama (CUB, 2447)
    5. IM Robert Gwaze (ZIM, 2428)
    6. IM Farai Mandizha (ZIM, 2400)
    7. IM Watu Kobese (RSA, 2385)
    8. IM Kevin Denny (BAR, 2332)
    9. IM Emory Tate (USA, 2322)
    10. FM William Morrison (USA, 2320)
    Average: 2404.9

    The problem was inherently administrative as I could not get the help required to pull such a task off. Finding sponsors would’ve been a challenge for the norm events, but doable. If we are to see more players of African descent vie for titles, the only way is to organize these invitational events to provide opportunities. Jerry worked to see this happen and organizing the Wilbert Paige Memorial was truly a wonderful gift!

    1. I tossed around ideas for years, but was never able to gain any momentum/support for it. There was a matter of location, but the most critical issue was finding people to do the legwork. The responses to errand requests were not timely.

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