20 years for The Chess Drum

Twenty years. Yes… 20 years for a website. It seems unreal that so many years have passed. It seems unlikely (in these times) that a chess website can last this long. However, many years ago I rationalized this project by thinking, “If The Chess Drum did not exist, it would need to be created.” Is this true? Most definitely.

Coming up as a scholastic player in Chicago, I was bitten by the chess bug and benefited from an active club at my public high school that boasted over 100 members. After losing my first game to a Scholar’s Mate a year earlier, I was determined to improve and chess soon supplanted baseball as the activity where I invested the bulk of my leisure time. Unbeknownst to me, it would become an activity that would lead to a higher cause.


Keeping the Beat for 20 Years!!


In interviews and articles, I have explained how a simple question spurred the idea of what would become “The Chess Drum.” It would take nearly 15 years to fully realize the vision, but it was something that would soon become a rallying point for an overlooked segment.

At the 2001 Grand Opening of the Hall of Fame Chess Museum in Miami, Florida. It was hot that day!

The original site was about 12 pages, five of which covered a diversity of players such as Odion Aikhoje (Nigeria), Warren Elliott (Jamaica), Amon Simutowe (Zambia), Maurice Ashley (USA) and Shearwood McClelland (USA). Aikhoje’s 1998 gold medal was honored, Elliott had won his first of seven national championships, and Ashley had hosted the Harlem Chess Festival. Simutowe won a silver medal at the 2000 Olympiad. McClelland had beaten Chinese star Bu Xianghzhi. The first “Historic Moments” piece profiled a classic matchup between Charles Lawton and Morris Giles along with an intriguing photo from 1989 U.S. Open. It was a thrilling beginning!

The idea of The Chess Drum happened over a period of 15 years while I was still living in Chicago. By now everyone may know I was motivated by a question… “Where are the Black IMs and GMs?” With the question searing in my mind, I embarked on a journey that would result in me hitting the “ENTER” button on February 12th, 2001 to make the site live.

Original Edition of The Chess Drum

There was inspiration drawn from many different persons, but it had occurred to me my degrees in Computer Science, Marketing and International Affairs prepared me for this task. The hours have been long and sometimes, I wondered why I should continue, but each time someone sends an e-mail or places a phone call, and it reinforces why this project is so important to the chess community.

It has been a pleasure to watch The Chess Drum grow into a reservoir that shows the universality of chess and its inclusivity. I have been able to compile wonderful memories in the past 20 years which I will share throughout February. Thanks for helping me keep the beat!

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Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

The “eternal” birthday cake presented to me in 2003 by Kay Umeakunne. This was the nicest gift I had ever received in appreciation for The Chess Drum! It was delicious! :-D

The “eternal” birthday cake presented to me in 2003 by Kay Umeakunne. I always bring this cake out every birthday. The cake is long gone, but the memory is still sweet!

Continue on for year-by-year memories!!

Black Squares

IM-elect Justus Williams has been known to The Chess Drum audience since he was a pre-teen aspiring to great feats. Now a young collegiate, he is seeking to make a difference in his community, and has launched an initiative called “Black Squares.” The idea is to promote the Chess-in-Schools (CIC) mantra by exposing children to chess for personal development, particularly those in the Black community.

Chess is often seen in large American cities but is slowly becoming a mainstay in the Black community. While there have been many success stories written on these pages, there needs to be a sustainable effort to use chess as a platform for academic excellence. There have been many examples of this in the African-American community.

Black Squares motto “Bringing Chess Into Black Culture and Black Culture Into Chess” is a welcome sight to encourage more inclusivity in the royal game. Justus Williams has been serving as a soldier in the fight for social justice and The Chess Drum fully supports his mission. Black Squares is an able pioneer in this movement for change!

Girls playing chess as part of 'Black Squares' initiative

Young Queens figuring it out!

Justus Williams and Black Squares team promotes chess in community

Justus Williams (red mask) and his Black Squares team!
Photo courtesy of Black Squares (Facebook)

Interest form here!

New In Chess (2020/8)

New in Chess is still going strong as we go into a new year. Of course, the coverage has changed in format with the emphasis being on the online platform and of course some novel stories such as the impact of the coronavirus and also TV series “Queen’s Gambit.” The last issue of 2020 featured a cover story of aspiring contender Alireza Firoujza, the Iranian star who (in 2019) left the country to reside in France.

Firoujza has been one of the most popular chess personalities in the past couple of years with a high-profile presence online. However, he is not going the route of Hikaru Nakamura who became famously known for investing long hours in marathon blitz sessions. Of course, Nakamura proved to doubters that he was more than a blitz player. Firouzja, on the other hand, is a total chess fanatic giving equal attention to all formats. Now in the world’s top 20, some say he is poised to join Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to represent France.


“I believe that many people still enjoy classical chess, because there you can really see quality moves and deep ideas.”

~ Alireza Firoujza


In the interview, Firouzja commented on the difference between online play and over-the-board (OTB) play. Speaking on his participation in Norway Chess,

I was really happy to be back at the wooden board. It feels different when you touch the pieces and move them around. I think every chess love understands what I mean. Seeing your opponent and seeing people around the playing area just felt great.

The tactile experience is not the only benefit. Longer time-controls in OTB chess allows more exploration. “I believe that many people still enjoy classical chess because there you can really see quality moves and deep ideas,” said the phenom. Full of ideas and opinions, he also gave his views on streaming, a boon in chess.

While Firouzja could be seen in major blitz matches online, he states that his focus is to get back to OTB chess. At press time, he has shined at the Tata Steel Masters, placing joint-second ahead of the field including Magnus Carlsen (world #1). He stands to gain close to 15 Elo points to approach the top 10.

Alirezi Firouzja showing a beautiful win against Mila Zarkovic.
Video by Tata Steel Chess

Wesley So’s ascendancy to the to of U.S. chess has been steady since joining the federation in 2014 after a stint at Webster University. In the 2020 U.S. Championship, he scorched the field with 9/11 and a $40,000 prize. Interestingly enough, such a performance was only 1/2-point better than Jeffery Xiong who continues to show gradual improvement.

In the women’s competition, Irina Krush overcame a cadre of young stars (and a bout with COVID) to win her 8th championship. Apart from veteran participants Sabina Foisor, Anna Zatonskih, and Tatev Abrahamyan, all of the players were under 25. Perhaps the changing of the guard will have to wait another year!

Bobby Fischer and Hist World (IM John Donaldson)

This issue introduced a new Fischer book… a very good one. IM John Donaldson was one of the rising stars of American chess in the late 70s and early 80s. However, he has become more know for his writing and coaching than he has for his tournament record. Recently, he released what may be his best work yet with Bobby Fischer and the World. The handsome 644-page book is chockful of vintage photographs and a keen look into the life of the intriguing American chess icon. Always considered in the GOAT (greatest of all-time) conversations, this book may make another case.

A quick glance, this book will set a high standard for Fischer biographies. Each author has something to add, but this book is well-researched and the photography is golden. There is no pretension of knowing Fischer personally, nor any of the bias about Fischer’s political views post-1992. It is about Fischer, his life, and his career. It appears to be outstanding. We will give a much more thorough review in the coming months.

In the “Queen’s Gambit” sensation, New in Chess has weighed in and this issue took another look at the TV series. Of course, there was a focus on some of the games including Beth’s first game against Mr. Shaibel which ended 1.e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nc6 3. Qf3 Nd4 4.Qxf7 mate! There were even accounts of her blitz battles with Benny Watts in the memorable bar scene. In my analysis of the series, I pointed out that there was another “Queen’s” story in Queen of Katwe.

New In Chess (2020-8)

Lastly, New in Chess profiled The Chess Drum in its 20th year, a true honor! Dirk Jan ten Guezendam had approached me years ago for a piece in the world-class publication, but it took that much time for me to deliver on my promise. In the article, I recount the evolution of the website which started with a question… “Where are the Black GMs and IMs?” Perhaps this was the first time, the public knew the story of how The Chess Drum was born.

While there will be more detail when I finally write a biographical account of the site, it is good to have such a visible platform for chess players to understand the site’s vision and purpose. Thanks Dirk!

CONTENTS

  • Chess in Hell
  • NIC’s Café
  • Your Move
  • A Queen’s Gambit for Everyone
  • Wesley So spoils birthday party Magnus Carlsen
  • Interview: Alireza Firoujza
  • 2020 U.S. Championships
  • Bobby Fischer and His World
  • The Chess Drum
  • Knight dances with Boris Spassky
  • Petrosian aplenty
  • Chess Pattern Recognition: Catenaccio Bishop
  • Let’s talk about Aronian
  • They are Champions: Thuso Mosutha (Botswana)
  • Just Checking: Mark Crowther (The Week in Chess)

Link: https://www.newinchess.com/en_US/new-in-chess-magazine/

Ghana Ghana Ghana

Francis Anquanah recently won the Ghanaian crown for the 7th time, but there is a future contender in Dave Chief Quansah Acheampong. The 8-year old recently won the African Online Chess Championship for the under-9 category. Taught by his father David Achempong at age four, he naturally gravitated toward chess in a nation where many boys are fantasizing about football.

Dave Chief Quansah Acheampong, Africa's under-9 champion

Dave Chief Quansah Acheampong, Africa’s under-9 champion
Photo by David Acheampong

The family watched “Queen of Katwe” and the young Acheampong was inspired by the story of Uganda’s Phiona Mutesi. Dave also admires World Champion Magnus Carlsen and is seen on the following video flashing out moves in the Sicilian Defense. It appears there is a bright future in Ghana as West Africa will compete with regional power Nigeria in producing the first Grandmaster.

Dave started the competition with a win and then lost three straight. He then won five straight to edge out higher-seeds Mohammed Hossam Adham from Egypt and Rannveer Tak from South Africa with 6/9.

It came as a surprise to many in the Ghana Chess Association although Dave is believed to be a promising and talented young player. (link)

For winning the continental under-9, Dave gets sponsorship by African Chess Confederation to represent Africa in the World Schools Individual Chess Championships to be held in Halkidiki, Greece between May 2nd-11th. Young Dave seems to have the right moves! The father is seeking sponsorships.

Video by 3 Sports (Ghana)

Eddie Thompson & Francis Anquandah of Ghana during 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Francis Anquandah won his seventh national title and strengthens his legacy as a trailblazing player of Ghana. Anquandah played on Ghana’s first Olympiad team in Dubai in 1986 after winning his first national title. He earned the country’s first International Master title in 2014 at the 4.4 subzonal and has been a mainstay in building the country’s chess culture.

After fizzling in last year’s national championship, Anquandah avenged his loss of the title to FM John Kofi Hasford. The competition which started in November 2019 was played in two phases, which ended with finals on 2nd of January 2021 at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Abena Tobi Felix also retained her women’s crown for the second time, finishing top with nine points. According to the press release…

…Felix Abena Tobi, who recently graduated from University of Ghana retaining her title for the third time consecutively. Second place went to Maud Benson of Achimota Senior High School who, was touted to win the tournament as she led to log after the 7th round. Her hopes were however dashed after a painful defeat to Christiana Ashley, a member of the Ghana Olympiad team. The latter took third place at the end of proceedings.

Link: http://www.businessghana.com/site/news/sports/229987/Francis-Anquandah-reclaims-coveted-chess-title

In the past couple of months, there has been a buzz about a Netflix series called, “The Queen’s Gambit.” After its release last October, it soared to the top of the Netflix charts and received worldwide acclaim from chessplayers and non-chessplayers alike. It has given chess a different look from the distorted “geek” imagery normally associated with the royal game.

Chess movies come in many different flavors. You have the romance-drama “The Luhzin Defense,” the biographical sketches seen in “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and “Pawn Sacrifice.” There were depictions of chess as an escape as in “Life of a King” and “Fresh.” There were also inspirational stories, such as “Mighty Pawns,” “Brooklyn Castle” and “Queen of Katwe.” More on the other Queen movie later.

What makes “Queen’s Gambit so different? There have been so many chess movies, even some involving a similar theme. Yet, there was a particular intrigue of Beth Harmon. Let’s examine.

Meteroic Rise of Beth Harmon

The profile of chess has gotten a tremendous boost due to the showing of “Queen Gambit.” The TV series has been viewed in more than 60 countries and has been discussed on media outlets worldwide for its storyline and chess realism. The series had Garry Kasparov and Bruce Pandolfini as consultants adding credibility to the production.

“Queen’s Gambit” is a fictional story of Beth Harmon who would become a child chess prodigy of world acclaim. The series begins with a 19-year old Beth Harmon being late for a major tournament in Paris after wearing off the effects of binge-drinking from the previous night. Addiction would become a recurring theme throughout the series.


“It’s a TV series on chess that has been dominating Netflix in almost every country of the world.”

~Garry Kasparov


The film rewinds to the aftermath of a deadly car crash. Alice Harmon (Beth’s mother) tragically died in the head-on collision, saying her last words… “Close your eyes.” The impression given was that the incident was a suicide. Beth stood shellshocked by the road as authorities discover that the father was not present in her life.

Now orphaned at eight years old, Harmon is sent to Methuen Home for Girls where she shows tremendous intellectual talent. After blazing through her work with full marks, the teacher sends her on an errand where she meets custodial worker Mr. Shaibel. He is engrossed in the study of chess. Beth quietly inches closer and becomes intrigued. After initial reluctance to teach her, he finally agrees. As she settled into her bed to sleep, she discovered that she could visualize chess with the aid of tranquilizers.

The movie then follows Beth’s chess exploits while she makes breakthroughs at the state and national level. After beating the defending U.S. champion, Benny Watts she sets sights on the elite Soviet player Vasily Borgov beating him in a finale in Moscow. He had previously crushed her in a Mexico City tournament. This revenge victory was an incredible whirlwind.

In an interview by Marco Werman (The World), Kasparov stated,

I can hardly overestimate the importance and positive impact of the series for the promotion of the game of chess worldwide. It’s a TV series on chess that has been dominating Netflix in almost every country of the world.

The movie had wonderful cinematography, and of course, the chess scenes were authentic. There was a bit of realism in that many players have the same hopes and dreams and may envision the same life as Beth. In fact, some believe the movie is based on the life of Bobby Fischer, but that would be a stretch for so many reasons. Nevertheless, the accuracy of the chess scenes made it a refreshing change from the clumsily-crafted chess movies with so many technical mistakes.

The Triumph of Phiona Mutesi… The Queen of Katwe

Everyone familiar with chess understands that the queen is the most powerful piece. This was in honor of Queen Isabella, who helped lead the Reconquista against the Moors. It is also symbolic that two films with a female as the central character have “queen” in the title. The “Queen of Katwe” was a Disney movie adapted from a book of the same name.


“Phiona Mutesi is the ultimate underdog. To be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. And finally, to be female is to be an underdog in Katwe.”

~Tim Crothers


Author Tim Crothers embarked on a journey to one of Africa’s poorest parts to follow a story of a 9-year old Ugandan girl who had beat all odds to make a breakthrough in chess. Granted, her exploits were modest by international standards, but most will know that everyone was once a beginner and had to show some initiative to improve.

Phiona left Katwe traveling to the country’s international airport. She marveled at Kampala’s airport before experiencing air flight for the first time. She went to Sudan and unexpectantly triumphs and returned home to a hero’s celebration. It was certainly a whirlwind for the young girl from the Katwe. Not to be outdone, she made the Ugandan women’s national team and earned a trip to travel to Russia’s Siberian region to participate in the Olympiad. There she experienced snow for the first time.

Chess Life (November 2012)

This tournament would steep her in the harsh reality of competition amongst world-class players. The adjustment was difficult as the food was not agreeable, and Phiona was devastated at her performance. With tears soaking her pillow, she took the lesson as one of her life experiences. Phiona went on to represent her country in five Olympiads. After her taste of fame, and U.S. tour, she got her mother out of the shack, bought her home, and then went off to the U.S. to enter Northwest University.

Both stories have similarities, but also, there are many contrasts. Anya Taylor-Joy, who played Beth Harmon, has hobnobbed with Grandmasters and has been on all types of interviews explaining the magic of the movie.

Phiona was also a subject of intrigue as she toured the U.S. telling her life story. She played a game with Garry Kasparov and visited the Marshall Chess Club. While her story is indeed powerful, it did not gain the public interest and frankly fizzled at the box office.

The Queen of Katwe

Harriet teaching Phiona hard lessons of life. The chemistry between Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga was exceptional. Image from Walt Disney.

Marquee performances by Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo and able directing by Mira Nair gained them many nominations and a few awards. One may ask, why was there such a difference in the way “Queen’s Gambit” was received compared to “Queen of Katwe?” It’s an interesting question.


Analysis of the Two Queens

Even though Beth Harmon’s story was fictitious, it is a story that would resonate with many chess players, male and female. For those who play competitive chess, we are always striving for that moment of inspiration to achieve our goals. “Queen’s Gambit” was also a story of intrigue because of the human element… a sort of “rags-to-riches” story.

Phiona’s story was indeed compelling and touched the soul. It details the sorrows of a girl and her family gripped in poverty while working hard to survive day-to-day. Chess, in this case, was merely a vehicle and not the objective. The “Queen of Katwe” was set in one of the most impoverished places of Uganda and perhaps not a situation many (in the western world) can easily relate to.

There are a number of factors, but the issue here is not to say that one film is better than the other, but to show that both “queen” films are equally important when looking at the different social challenges these two girls had to overcome. Many are afraid to broach the subject because, symbolically, it may seem to be a discussion on race. Perhaps, but in this essay, a larger point is being made. Let us examine.

Marketing: Media formats have changed in the past decade. It seems just yesterday that Blu-Ray DVDs were the latest media platform, but in today’s streaming world, people have become accustomed to “binging” on multipart TV series. Some of the shorter TV series are a bit more palatable because watching the entire series could be done on the weekend… maybe even one day. You get seven or eight hours of the story as opposed to two-and-a-half hours.

Queen of Katwe Queen's Gambit

The movie theater has been hurt by the current pandemic as most have stayed confined to the home, which is much more conducive to watching an entire series with the family. Even back in 2016, this platform had already been suffering mightily. “Queen of Katwe” had a limited release on September 16, 2016, and was only seen in selected theaters. The other mistake was that Katwe was marketed as a chess movie when the game was mostly metaphorical.


“In chess, the small one can become the big one.”
~Gloria in “Queen of Katwe”


Opportunity: Many would prefer being poor in the world’s wealthiest country than being poor in a relatively poor country. There was a big contrast in the cinematography and setting given the economic factors. As girls, Beth was rather somber while at the orphanage, while Phiona flashed a 1000-watt smile amidst abject poverty. How the two coped with their situations is also intriguing.

One may argue that Beth had a better chance of finding her way out of her unfortunate circumstance. Even her best friend Jolene moved out of the orphanage and graduated from Kentucky State University. Beth’s teacher Mr. Shaibel recognized her talent and immediately introduced her to influential people within the chess community. She was giving simuls shortly thereafter.

Beth was later adopted by a couple who provided her with stability until her ambivalent adoptive father left the family. Her alcohol-binging mother decided to help Beth exploit her chess talents and did so in grand style, playing in upscale hotels in Las Vegas and Mexico City.

Jolene and Beth pondering their future at the orphanage.

Jolene and Beth ponder their futures at the orphanage.
Image from Netflix series, “Queen’s Gambit”

 Robert Katende, left, at the chessboard in Katwe, Uganda, with Phiona Mutesi, the girl who he believed he could teach to become a prophet and eventually a national chess champion. (David Johnson photo / Silentimages.org)

Robert Katende (left) in Katwe, Uganda, with Phiona Mutesi.
Photo by David Johnson, Silentimages.org.

Phiona had no such path to success, and in fact, her mother wanted her to leave the game. Fortunately, she succeeded by a number of fortuitous events.

  • First, Robert Katende spotting the shy girl and exposing her to this strange world of chess.
  • Second, her would-be friend Gloria helping her to broaden her mind by telling her that in chess, “the small one can be the big one.” Metaphorically, it was the idea that a person in the lower rungs of society can rise to be something special.
  • Thirdly, Phiona realized that through chess she can see other possibilities in life. Soon, chess expanded her options as she began to travel outside of Katwe for tournaments.

Incidentally, actress Nikita Waligwa, who played the role of Gloria died last year at age 15.

Chess Realism: Chessically, “Queen’s Gambit” is arguably the best chess movie from a technical standpoint. The boards were not only set up properly, but the games were classics taken from previous high-level tournaments (notably A. Petrosian – V. Akopian, 1988). Obviously, Beth’s character was depicted as a supremely strong talent, adding to her intrigue. It was exciting to see such a meteoric rise, and many made comparisons to Judit Polgar, the strongest woman ever.

One of the criticisms was that Beth’s chess journey to fame seemed to be too easy. She wins the Kentucky State Championship beating defending champion Harry Beltik, co-winning the U.S. Open with Benny Watts and later beating him to win the U.S. Championship.

In contrast, many in the chess community scoffed at Phiona’s relatively modest accomplishments and decried the amount of attention she was getting after the movie’s release. It certainly was not good publicity, and the word got around that the movie was being overhyped.

In the latest New In Chess (2020/8), I described Phiona this way:

There seemed to be more attention on her chess rating than the horrid conditions under which she was able to survive and thrive. Phiona’s story is not about her chess skill. It is about her triumph over hopelessness and despair in one of the poverty-stricken parts of the world, the slums of Uganda’s capital Kampala. Chess was simply the avenue out of a poverty of thinking.

New in Chess (2020-8)

Many news stories referred to Phiona as a “prodigy.” The subtitle of Phiona’s story mentioned her quest to become a Grandmaster and was quickly seized on by chess elitists. There was indeed a lot of pressure for Phiona and in an interview, she reflected on the situation.

“My name, like, went so high, and my chess — it was still so low,” she says. “I wasn’t even the best chess champion, like, in Uganda. It was so hard.

I was working hard, but the more I worked hard, I couldn’t find my name. My name is there, but my chess is still here. I’m working so hard on it, and I felt like I was starting to forget about myself, my family.”

Phiona was under watchful eyes every time she sat down to play. Here at The Chess Drum, we had to address these criticisms and taunts. The reality is that Phiona achieved a modest 1600 FIDE rating when some equipped with libraries of books and software have not achieved the same. Nevertheless, chess was not the main lesson of her story and there are many who appreciate her life story.

Relatability: Years ago, I asked my sister if she had seen “Queen of Katwe.” She had not. She then asked, “Isn’t it about chess?” That is the question many had because that was the perception. Perhaps few non-chess-players would want to see a movie “about chess.” On the other hand, Beth’s story was very much about chess, and it was captured in great detail. It was exactly the point of her story.


Image from Netflix series, “Queen’s Gambit”

In both stories, both girls had no visible father figures due to very different circumstances. Phiona’s father died of HIV/AIDS, while Beth’s father was estranged from her mother. Fortunately, she had Mr. Shaibel who started her on her path of self-discovery. Phiona’s mentor was Robert Katende who provided mentorship and guidance.

Both girls also managed to develop themselves in circles of chess friends. Beth seemed to have greater challenges in understanding her identity. Her experimentation with drugs, sex, and alcohol added an edge to her life that we have seen depicted in many dramatic movies… and even in real life.


“Chess isn’t always competitive. Chess can also be beautiful. It was the board I noticed first. It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it’s predictable, so if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.”

~ Beth Harmon


Aesthetics: “Queen Gambit” was a masterpiece as far as the movie sets, cinematography, and vintage clothing. Beth became every bit of a fashionista and, of course, the center of attention as she strode into cavernous halls like a flower in a desert. Actress Anya Taylor-Joy has been a constant fixture in fashion and chess magazines after her ground-breaking performance and it is obvious that her stage presence was a major attraction.

There was not much of a fashion statement attempted in “Queen of Katwe,” although Lupita Nyong’o showed African standard of beauty in various photoshoots to promote the movie. Phiona had a different appeal with her gleaming white smile amidst dire circumstances. In her portrayal, there was more of an emphasis on the strength of human spirit rather than material sustenance. In that sense, the movie had tremendous aesthetic appeal.

Lupita Nyong'o on the cover of October 2016 Vogue magazine Lupita Nyong'o featured in October 2016 Vogue magazine

Lupita Nyong’o on the cover of October 2016 Vogue magazine
during the run of “Queen of Katwe”

Beth Harmon in Moscow during the final scene.
Image from Netflix series, “Queen’s Gambit”

Race and Class: The elephant in the room these days is the topic of race. It is a subject that many avoid, but it is everpresent in western societies. In these two films, there are two realities. Two girls (one Black, one White) find themselves gripped in unfortunate circumstances. There is something about these two girls’ lives that are very similar while the circumstances are very different.

Beth is the daughter of a mathematician with a Ph.D. from Cornell who, despite Ivy League pedigree, chose to raise her in a run-down trailer. That had to be the most puzzling thought of the series. Phiona is the daughter of a market lady who lives in abject poverty in a windowless, ramshackle dwelling. While some may believe Beth had it better, there was an interesting paradox.

Phiona walked around her poor village with pride and responded to others in a happy tone. Her daily routine had a certain air of predictability. Beth was more somber, relied on tranquilizers, and struggled to heal from her tragedy. Her life was filled with constant uncertainty, even as an adult. The beauty is that both found chess (at the same age) as a vehicle for self-discovery and to gain access to a better life.

Phiona Mutesi at Northwest University. Photo by Eilís O’Neill for WBUR

Phiona Mutesi at Northwest University
Photo by Eilís O’Neill for WBUR

Is a Caucasian girl living in an American orphanage and rising to chess stardom (even elite level) very different from an African girl growing up in abject poverty and making it out of Katwe, Uganda, to attend university in the U.S.? Yes and no. If one looks a bit deeper, both are fascinating stories with tremendous life lessons and chess as a common denominator.

Final Thoughts: One of my graduate school professors asked the class about fiction books we’ve read. I offered that I didn’t have time. However, he responded with some very keen insight into how fictional works can help us see things that our biased minds (confined by the real world) would otherwise miss. “Queen’s Gambit” is indeed a fictional story, but there have been many profiles relating this story to real players such as the aforementioned Polgar, Bobby Fischer, Vera Menchik and more recently Nadya Ortiz, a student at Purdue University.

Garry Kasparov talked about the importance of the “Queen’s Gambit” and was one of the show’s technical advisors. His voice and consultation provided credibility to the magic of Beth Harmon. Of course, stories like Phiona’s do exist, are often overlooked, and sadly go untold. It has been part of the mission of The Chess Drum to tell these stories.

The Latest of the Greatest!

Interestingly, when one attends an Olympiad, these same stories play out when you watch the interviews at the press conferences. So many stories, and they are fascinating. You will find someone from a small island, a large city, a mountainous region, or a dusty rural area having the same passion for chess! All have very different paths.

It is my hope that more of these stories will be told so that chess doesn’t have to rely on a fictional account to gain worldwide appeal. Beth Harmon’s story captured the imagination, and all types of records were set for the sales of chess sets. In addition, “Queen’s Gambit” was Netflix’s #1 series for weeks. The “Harmon Effect” has been real. As we wait for another season, will we encounter a real Beth Harmon?

While 2020 has been a year of history-making events, the pandemic has wreaked havoc and has forced the world’s 7.8 billion citizens to take stock of what is important in life. Despite the threat of ominous death, chess has gotten a tremendous boost. “Queen’s Gambit” was the chess star of 2020, but we cannot forget that there are more than a few queens around the world who have trod interesting paths in chess.

Bishop Chronicles Podcast 2021
Exclusive with RZA from Wu-Tang Clan
RZA Poses with a 13k Purling London Chessboard
on Cover of Chess Life Magazine!

January 2, 2021 San Francisco, CA (HHCF) – Bishop Chronicles Podcast hosted by Hip-Hop author and journalist Adisa the Bishop is proud to announce Saturday, Jan 2, 2021 on YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes. It will debut on www.PharcydeTV.com at 12 noon PST.

The exclusive video is being released in tandem with RZA on the January 2021 cover story Chess Life Magazine (@uschess on Instagram). It celebrates the impact of the Wu-Tang Clan on chess in America and around the world. RZA shares his love for chess, the impact of Black American chess icon Emory Tate, and his reason for creating a creative retreat for young professionals with Tazo Tea called “Camp Tazo” (done pre-corona). RZA even shares one of his favorite vegan recipes that he cooks for his family!

“The RZA delivers like never before on his passion for chess and the impact it has had on his life and those around him,” says Adisa the Bishop. “It is an honor beyond words to be chosen to do a story on RZA for Chess Life Magazine. As soon as I got the opportunity, I called the CEO of Purling London in the UK and they flew it out to LA just so Mike Relm (@mikerelm) could do the shoot with RZA. To call this cover story historic, for the world of chess and Hip-hop, is an understatement.”

The chessboard RZA sits in front of is a $13,000.00 chessboard provided by Purling London (@purlinglondon on IG) based in the UK. Art Chess sets by Purling London are individually hand-painted by specially commissioned British and international artists and no two sets are the same. This otherworldly Art Chess set by Bristol-based street artist, Cheba, has a galactic theme inspired by the Hubble Telescope photographs. In order to simulate the concept of planets, stars and swirling nebulae, the semi-translucent chess board features glitter and spray paint set within 8 hand-poured layers of resin. This one-of-a-kind chess board is highly polished and complemented by sparkling hand-spray painted chess pieces.

People can read the full RZA cover story online at www.uschess.org

To watch the entire RZA interview on Bishop Chronicles episode, subscribe on:

# # #

About HHCF: The Hip-Hop Chess Federation is the world’s first nonprofit (501c3) to fuse music, chess and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and nonviolence. They host lectures, panels, and celebrity chess events to help at-risk, gang-impacted and gang intentional youth make better decisions in life. The HHCF has been featured on Good Morning America, Forbes, Chess Life, VIBE and Rolling Stone.

Visit www.BishopChronicles.com today and LISTEN to some of the coolest interviews in entertainment, business strategy and technology on the net.

For more information visit www.bishopchronicles.com or follow @bishopchronicles on Instagram!

There is a wave of chess awareness stemming from the TV series “Queen’s Gambit,” but there are a growing number of movies with chess as the recurring theme. Several years ago “Life of a King” hit the movie theaters and was a movie based on the life of Eugene Brown, who spent 18 years in federal prisons on the east coast.

With all the excitement of the fantastical “Queen’s Gambit” Netflix series, there is a wonderful story that we must continue to revisit because it shows the true power of chess as a reformative tool. It is not a movie based on someone attempting stardom or trying to become a Grandmaster, but someone who is merely trying to find a way to chart a course in life and using chess as a powerful tool.

Brown gave a Ted Talk a few years back and talked about his story. Although he didn’t mention the movie “Life of a King,” it remains a must-see and stars renowned actor Cuba Gooding Jr. who plays Brown in the movie. He still runs the Big Chair Chess Club in the DC area.

To appreciate this story even more, listen to Brown’s inspiring talk!

Video by TedxHickory

Malawi Malawi Malawi

Susan Namangale
President of Malawi Chess Federation

We’ve heard of “Queen of Katwe,” but what about “Queen of Lilongwe?” Malawi is making moves and is poised for a banner year with Susan Namangale at the helm. Two years ago she gave an interview to Africa Chess Media in which she gave her background and evolution to be the head of the Chess Association of Malawi (CHESSAM). She holds a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science from the University of Malawi and a Master’s of Business Administration from Indira Gandhi University. She succeeded Kezzie Msukwa who has taken on a role and Malawi’s Parliament. Namangale the current chairperson of the Continental Women’s Chess Commission for Africa.

While it is not surprising that a woman has taken such a role of President, there are plenty of women on the continent who are waiting for an opportunity to shine. Below is a story of their general meeting in November. Also included was an interview conducted in 2018 before the Chess Olympiad where the Malawians were there in force. Keep an eye on Malawi!

Malawians in Batumi, Georgia watching teammate Desiderata Nkhoma
get a sketch done by Temur Dadiani. Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Malawians attending Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia watching teammate Desiderata Nkhoma get a sketch done by Temur Dadiani. Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Duncan Mlanjira, “CHESSAM strides to strengthen chess structures by demarcating districts into zones,” nyasatimes.com, 24 November 2020.

Africa Chess Media: https://africachessmedia.com/2018/12/12/who-is-the-president-of-malawi-chess-federation-interview/

The year was 2020. While the number is associated with clear vision no one could’ve seen this coming. The year was filled with hope just as “2000,” “2010” had before. Each decade we hope for a new era filled with hopes and dreams, but the first year of the decade was one that will go down in infamy. The emergence of the coronavirus resulted in untold numbers of death and despair and literally brought the global economy to a standstill.

Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)

To date, nearly 84 million have been afflicted with the deadly virus with the U.S. accounting for the largest percentage of the 1.8 million having succumbed (353,000+). However, there were some historic developments. The virus did delay the completion of the 2020 World Candidates tournament, but the elite players kept busy as there were a number of elite tournaments staged with Magnus Carlsen in the middle of the action hosting his own online chess tour. Maurice Ashley organized a new format with “Clutch Chess” in which the points had heavier weights as the tournament wore on.

Online activity exploded and the quarantine restrictions kept people in their homes and many adjusted to a hibernated lifestyle. For the chess community, it turned out to be a silver lining, and online chess activity increased dramatically. Streamers developed Twitch channels with Hikaru Nakamura leading the charge and making inroads for chess popularization.

In March, we ran an article here, “Will the coronavirus change OTB chess?” We already know that online chess had become a popular place for chess activity since the 1990s, but now organizations scrambled to convert their signature tournaments onto chess servers. On a positive note for chess we saw how chess communities like Ghana, Senegal and other regions were dealing with COVID-19.

Perhaps the second monumental event was the protest involving the death of George Floyd. The outrage in the aftermath of his death led to a worldwide outpouring of support in the fight against social injustice. The topic of racism became an international discussion and The Chess Drum made a few contributions including “George Floyd and the Right to Thrive.”

While we want to have an honest discussion on these issues, we have to be careful not to paint an overly dire or overly naive picture. FIDE’s Statement on Racism got a response here. On the issue of whether chess is a racist game? We covered that in “Is Chess Inherently Racist?

On a lighter note we saw commercials on Maurice Ashley (Hennesey) and Watu Kobese (Mazda). Both highlight legendary figures, and Kobese’s story was especially touching.

Video by Mazda Southern Africa

We also found out what happened to Theophilus Thompson after I received a tip from a librarian in Fredericksburg, Maryland. Outstanding! A monument has been dedicated to this pioneering problemist with his classic book. Check out this wonderful development!

Speaking of books, there were few books we highlighted this year:

Tani Adewumi My Name is Tani
GM Viswanthan AnandMind Master
Dr. Lyndon BouahReflection on Chess in the Rainbow Nation
Atty. Bertram ScottThe History of Chess in Jamaica: 1834-1978

While online chess resulted in a “chess boom,” the run of the “Queen’s Gambit” took advantage of binge habits of quarantined families. The fictional Beth Harmon became a megastar and inspired girls worldwide to play chess. The TV fictional series was a sensation and put chess at the forefront in 2020. All types of initiatives have been launched as a result.

However, it is ironic that the the non-fictional Phiona Mutesi had no such impact in “Queen of Katwe.” The story was equally compelling but perhaps didn’t have the same relatability… two “Queens,” two different realities. Incidentally, Pearl Waligwa who taught a young Phiona the moves in the movie, succumbed to a brain tumour this year.

Death was a overarching element that most of us had to confront. On a personal note, I lost both siblings (Abraham Jr. and Ahvia) to non-COVID illnesses. In addition, I also lost acquaintances and featured several profiles for chess players in 2020. They were:

Beejay Hicks (USA)
WIM Arianne Caoili (Philippines)
Michel Nguele Viang (Cameroon)
Della-Marie Walcott (Trinidad)
IA Bob Wheeler (Jamaica)
IM Pedro Aderito (Angola)
Charu Robinson (USA)

Trinidad’s Della-Marie Walcott at
2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey
Photo by Rohan Waite

Raging Rooks of Harlem, NY

Charu Robinson of Harlem, New York
January 3, 1977 – October 13, 2020

The year 2020 was a challenge for many of us, but I am happy to say that The Chess Drum was chronicled in the latest New in Chess. The Chess Drum will be celebrating its 20th year! Thanks for the support all of these years.

New In Chess (2020-8)

Here are some of the moments to revisit…

December

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

Index of Stories (2001-2020)

The Chess Drum, LLC is a publisher of chess news content and literature. The organization’s website has continued to demonstrate the universality of chess by covering a variety of topics through news stories, essays, interviews, and photos since 2001. Visit The Chess Drum at thechessdrum.net and follow the beat on Facebook and Twitter!

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