Nigeria Nigeria Nigeria

IM Oladapo Adu at the Liberian border, the day before a torturous journey across two countries by bus, by foot, by motorbike, and canoe. As they crossed the border of Ghana, they were met with armed patrol with guns drawn! Photo by Oladapo Adu.

Nigeria’s Oladapo Adu competed in the Zone 4.2 Individual Chess Championship in Freetown, Sierra Leone ending prematurely on March 20th. Authorities wanted to make sure the players could return safely to their respective homes before West African borders begin closing due to the coronavirus outbreak.

After placing second in the tournament, the Nigerian International Master attempted to make his way back into Lagos, Nigeria, but Air Côte d’Ivoire canceled his March 22nd flight. So Adu, Mario Kpan (Côte d’Ivoire), and John Solarays (Ghana) took the grueling trip by road on March 21st. Adu would attempt a trip starting in Sierra Leone and then cutting through Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and ending Nigeria. An Indiana Jones in Africa adventure was ahead.

Liberian Meal

Food makes everything better!

After a tiresome bus trip from Freetown, they arrive in Monrovia, Liberia. While Kpan remained in Liberia, Adu and Solarays spent the night, had a nice meal, got a good night’s rest, and resumed via motorbike. They walked through the bush to arrive at the bike station. According to Adu,

There were about 2 bike rides. One from Liberia to the border of Côte d’Ivoire and the other from the border to Danani.

Adu describes this leg of the journey as “torture.” The motorbike ride turned out to be a 4-hour journey through the thick Liberian forests to the eastern border. The country is known for its high-quality redwood trees as well as rubber trees, one of the main exports. As fate would have it, the bike got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.


“The roads are narrow in some places, some places are just like dirt roads some very high and winding roads it’s just like an adventure trail.”


Bus Station

Breakdown in the middle of nowhere!

How do you manage such a situation? The driver managed to fix the tire, and they were on their way. They finished the day’s journey on the other side of the Côte d’Ivoire border with a 3-hour bike ride to the small town of Danané.

Bus Station

SDS Bus Station from Danane to Abidjan… 12 hours ahead!

Bus Station

It’s been a loooong trip!

After spending a night in Danané, Ivory Coast, they rode a coach bus 12 hours the country’s width through Abidjan. Then they headed toward the Ghanaian border. They crossed the border into Ghana by canoe (!), but were stopped by Border Patrol, who had drawn their guns!

Ghana had closed its borders due to the coronavirus outbreak. They allowed Solarays to proceed since he was a Ghanaian national, but police officials sent Adu was sent back to the Ivory Coast-Ghana border. There he spent the night, minus his luggage. His bag was on another vehicle when the authorities interrogated him and Solarays.

In happier times, Adu winning Lomé Chess Challenge. Commissioner Abalou Bodjona (left) and Togolese Vice President Abby Edah Ndjelle flank the Nigerian Eagle. Photo by Simeon Egbade.

In happier times, Adu winning Lomé Chess Challenge in March 2019. Togolese Chess Federation Commissioner Abalou Bodjona (left) and Togolese Chess Federation Vice President Abby Edah Ndjelle flank Adu. Photo by Simeon Egbade

The next day he rode four hours back into Abidjan on March 24th, where he was in contact with the chess community. A Togolese chess player Abalou Bodjona paid for accommodations and expenses for Adu the first ten days in Abidjan. Adu’s luggage was still missing, and he only had the clothes on his back. Adu was grateful for Bodjona’s help.


“I heard ECOWAS borders open July 15th 2020.
That’s good news for me!”


Members of the Ivorian chess community had been able to help secure accommodation in Abidjan. Dr. Essoh Essis and Simplice DeGondo coordinated to assist Adu, but not under the auspices of the Ivorian Chess Federation.

For a week, he was sharing a room with two others. Not a good situation given the threat of viral infection. In the meantime, Adu has tried to contact the Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan and Nigerian Sports Ministry without much success. He has also conducted a couple of interviews about his harrowing plight.

Video by The Avalon Daily

Adu told The Chess Drum that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would reopen on July 15th. “That’s good news for me,” said Adu. At this point, he will be able to return back to Lagos. There was a story run in the BBC news about Adu’s plight and his disappointments. Adu also told The Chess Drum that he expected more from his own Nigerian Chess Federation, where he serves on the board.

Currently, Adu’s situation is unstable as he is now sharing a place with two others, whom he describes as being “kind” and “helpful.” He will soon have to vacate this location and is uncertain on his next stop. There is presently flooding taking place, which makes mobility difficult. Adu requires financial assistance for his next 17 days in Abidjan plus expenses to get back to Nigeria. Below is a GoFundMe page if you would like to donate.

All photos and videos courtesy of Oladapo Adu
(except where indicated otherwise)

Jamaica Jamaica Jamaica

The History of Chess in Jamaica (1835-1978)

Bert Scott may be known to some from running the Jamaica Chess Ambassadors website for several years in the 2000s. He took up the game during the “Fischer Boom,” and like many, got the book, Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. He has been an active chess player since the 70s and has recently released a long-awaited work on the history of Jamaican chess.

In the book he details the island’s first exposure to chess in the 1800s history of Jamaican chess and those instrumental in the building of the federation. Scott covers the evolution of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), along with Jamaica’s membership in 1972 and the island’s participation in Olympiad events. He recounts many chess personalities and their games including Sheldon Wong’s brilliancy against Nir Grinberg at the 1977 World Junior in Groningen, Holland.

Jamaica’s team at the opening ceremony of the 23rd World Students’ Chess Olympiad in Caracas, Venezuela, 7-22 August, 1976. From left: Bob Wheeler, John Powell (deceased), Peter Mundell, David Hunt (deceased), Enos Grant (Captain/delegate, deceased), Orrin Tonsingh (deceased), and Sheldon Wong. Photo from Jamaica Ambassadors Chess Academy.

When The Chess Drum asked him what motivated him to write this book, he stated,

When I wen back to Jamaica to care for mom, I was surprised to see that she had kept all my chess stuff I left when I came to NY in 1977.

And among them were chess pictures given to me by John Powell.
And with a lot of time on my hand I got the idea to write a chess book about Jamaica.

Bert Scott (right) playing Duane Rowe
at the 2012 Jamaican National Championships
Photo courtesy of Bert Scott

The wisdom of Scott’s mother saved a large cache of vintage pictures from John Powell’s archives. Powell had begun taking photos when Dr. Anthony Saidy came to Jamaica in 1964 as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer.

The book ends in 1978, the year of the Chess Olympiad held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This will prove to be important documentation for Jamaica, the Caribbean and the African Diaspora. Scott has already begun Volume II of the series.

The History of Chess in Jamaica (1835-1978)

Now available on:

BookBaby $37.99
Bookshop $34.99
Amazon $37.99
Barnes and Nobles $37.99

Lewis Ncube, Continental President for Africa, has made the following announcement on behalf of the African Chess Confederation:

During the last few days, the Board of the African Chess Confederation has learnt of the death of Michel Nguélé Viang with profound shock and deep regret.

Michel, who was President of the Cameroonian Chess Federation and Acting President of Zone 4.3 of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), died last Wednesday, June 17, 2020, at the age of 71 from cancer.

Michel was a valuable member of the Board of the African Chess Confederation and he will be greatly missed by the Cameroonian and African chess communities.

The Board of the African Chess Confederation is in contact with the Cameroonian Chess Federation and the family of the late Michel Nguélé Viang to put together an appropriate tribute to our late colleague.

Further announcements will be made in the coming few days.

~Lewis Ncube, President, African Chess Confederation


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“Responsibility, consequences for every action,
think, think, and think some more.”

Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago

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

Della-Marie Walcott had everything going for her. At 14, she was confident, smart, pretty with an effervescent personality. She was also a rising talent in chess! Her parents Dominic Walcott and Debra Walcott, were immensely proud, as was her large extended family. Then tragedy struck.

For years, Della had been suffering from migraine headaches. After the family doctor advised a CT-scan, they discovered a blockage and accumulated fluids (hydrocephalus) within the brain cavities. An MRI was scheduled to get a closer look at what was causing the problem. On December 17, 2015, she visited the doctor and found that she had a small brain tumor requiring immediate surgery.

The procedure was done at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mount Hope. After the surgery five days later, a biopsy of the mass determined that it was benign (non-cancerous). That was the good news after such a tragic turn of events.

However, there were complications post-surgery, so a second surgery was recommended to relieve pressure and drain fluids. Physicians completed the operation, but Della lapsed into a coma. After an extended stay of 27 days at the hospital, she was released to home care as the medical bills mounted.

Four years later, she remains in a coma with around-the-clock care from nurses and family members. According to a news report in NewsDay, Della’s cousin Amiel Mohammed stated,

“Della is still in the coma; she is home. Generally speaking, she is good; she is doing good.”

Mohammed added,

“She does not have any responses. Her eyes are open and everything, her bodily functions work as normal, but she is — for the lack of a better term — just asleep.”

The Chess Drum recently contacted Sonya Johnson of the Trinidadian Chess Association, whose daughter Gabriella Johnson is close friends with Della. As one would imagine, the entire nation is sending all kinds of love and positive energy. What is amazing is that Della-Maria is not on a life-support machine. She is fed through a feeding tube and according to the report, breathes on her own!

Della-Marie Walcott getting 1st place at 2013 CARIFTA Junior Championships
Photo courtesy of Amiel Mohammed

Della was present at the 2010 Caribbean Chess Carnival when The Chess Drum was on-site to cover the event. Then she was nine years old but continued to play and shine for her island nation. She won gold at the 2013 CARIFTA junior championship, and joined the women’s national team competing in the Chess Olympiads in 2012 (Istanbul, Turkey) and 2014 (Tromso, Norway).

The Walcott family seeks your prayers and if you find the kindness in your heart to help defray the cost of ongoing medical expenses, please donate to “Friends of Della Marie Walcott” open at Republic Bank Limited (account number 180801224831).

2012 Chess Olympiad (Istanbul, Turkey) L-R: Nikeilia Chuniesingh, Aditi Soondarsingh, Gabriella Johnson, Della-Marie Walcott. Photo by Rohan Waite

Della-Marie (center) at 2010 Caribbean Carnival Championships.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Video by C Sports Live

Dear Chess Family,

A few mornings ago, I read FIDE’s statement condemning racism. While it does provide the ideas of unity and equality, there are issues I would like to bring to the organization’s attention. There was an air of idealism in the letter that may be a bit presumptuous and even naive. My response is made with the utmost respect and support of FIDE’s aims and objectives as the international representative of chess. I remain committed to being a source of positive change in chess.

I have been personally affected by racist acts, one of which had a life-altering effect on my family. Most Black people who live as "minorities" in countries around the world have been targets of racism in varying degrees. This statement is not to recount my racist afflictions outside of chess. I intend to assess social justice and address some of the statements made in FIDE’s condemnation of racism.

Sincerely,

Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum
16 June 2020

The Universality of Chess

For the past 20 years, I have served the chess community as a journalist, and in 2001, created the website, The Chess Drum. Idealized initally as a magazine project, it became an online initiative designed to highlight the accomplishments of Black players around the world. The main idea was to provide a platform for an overlooked segment of the chess community and proudly demonstrate the universality of chess.

Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Kenya and Nigeria at 2018 Chess Olympiad!
Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

My chess journalism efforts have taken me to cover six Olympiad tournaments, one World Championship, and several Grand Chess Tour events. I have been involved with chess for 40 years, the last 20 primarily as a chess journalist. Over these years, I have been able to amass tens of thousands of pages of information and taken hundreds of thousands of chess photos. These literary and visual testimonies have shown the universality of chess.

As an enthusiastic junior player, there were chess mentors in my circles, but I saw relatively few Blacks at chess tournaments and gracing the annals of chess publications. Some years later, a White master-level player named Vince Berry asked me curiously, "Where are the Black GMs and IMs?" referring to the highest levels of chess. I didn’t know. This conversation motivated me to conduct research and build a communication platform.

Early on after launching the site, one British player told me my site was "prejudiced… in a good way," but I wouldn’t be able to find much information. He teased me for an article I wrote on the India chess scene as proof that I’d have to look elsewhere. IM Javier Gil even accused The Chess Drum of being a racist website due to its emphasis on the African Diaspora. (see discussion) Nevertheless, I feel fortunate to be able to contribute to this long-standing debate on social (in)justice.

Fédération Internationale des Échecs  (FIDE)

The FIDE Statement on Racism

Saturday, 13 Jun 2020 18:27

During the past few days, we have received a few inquires about what is FIDE’s policy regarding racial discrimination, and how we deal with such cases.

FIDE condemns racism in the strongest terms, and we stand for non-discrimination as one of the founding pillars of the Olympic Movement, to which FIDE belongs. This is reflected in the Olympic Charter, Fundamental Principle 6: "The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

Chess players tend to travel a lot, and the more you travel the more you are exposed to racism and xenophobia. Sadly, that has been the case for our colleague Pontus Carlsson and many others: we have heard their testimonies, and we would like to offer them our support. But most incidents occur outside the chess competitions: at chess tournaments, we are proud to say that the incidents are minimal, and we will stay alert to prevent this from happening. In fact, no one has filed a complaint about racial discrimination at any of our official events at least since the current administration took office in 2018. The Chess Olympiad, where players of 180+ countries live together for two weeks, is a true celebration of the unity of humankind in all our diversity.

We believe there is something truly beautiful about chess: it makes us focus on what we have in common as human beings, rather than in what makes us different.

The reason why is that when you play a game of chess with someone, it is like if you could see his/her thoughts. You get into your opponent’s brain, and you establish some kind of communication, even if both players don’t have a language in common. At the chess board, differences in age, sex, religion, color, or economical status become irrelevant: they simply vanish. You immediately develop some respect for a person you are exchanging ideas with at such a deep level.

We could even say that chess is the ultimate equalizer. It is for this reason that chess is gaining so much popularity as an educational tool. The educational benefits of chess are not limited to intellectual development: the game is also a formidable tool for social development in children.

The best contribution FIDE can do to fight racism is to keep working to bring this game to schools, and to honor our motto: "gens una sumus".

#######

For more information, please contact the FIDE Media Relations Team
Tel: +34 623021120, email press@fide.com
Link: https://www.fide.com/news/575

null

My Response

First, I appreciate the spirit of the statement, and given the FIDE motto (GEN UNA SUMUS), the tone was expected. FIDE "rejects discrimination" and describes its stance in Article 4.4 of the organization’s handbook. However, the notion that racial discrimination in the chess world is minimal may be a bit presumptuous. What is the history of racial discrimination at FIDE events? Have there been reported cases? If so, how were they mitigated or resolved?

Secondly, we have to determine which acts constitute a violation. How do we identify structural racism, a racist act, or merely a cultural faux pas? How do we discern racism from elitism? How do we assess the damage? What are the penalties for such violations? These procedures are needed if we are to claim that the chess community has minimal cases. Sometimes it is not always obvious. I present the following historical case:

The Case of South Africa

If we would go back into FIDE history, we remember President Dr. Max Euwe traveling to South Africa in 1974 on a three-week fact-finding mission to evaluate allegations of racism within the chess community. At the time, there were two opposing bodies (SACF and CAPSA) who, according to Nick Barnett, were not on speaking terms.

South African chess was split down the middle. The SA Chess Federation went along with the apartheid government while the SA Council on Sport (SACOS) whose motto was "No normal sport in an abnormal society" excluded itself from all existing sporting bodies. Its members were not even supposed to watch sport on TV. CAPSA (Chess Association for the People of South Africa) was affiliated to SACOS.

Olimpbase.org further tells us how the story unfolds:

At the FIDE congress meeting in Helsinki, 1973, the decision had been made to investigate whether or not the treatment of coloured chess players in Rhodesia and South Africa was in violation of the principles of FIDE. Dr. Euwe went to both countries and prepared a report which was circulated at Nice (France). Nowhere in his report does he offer any evidence of discrimination against coloured players in either country, neither does he even suggest that he feels either country should be excluded from FIDE.

Dr. Max Euwe's giving a simul on his 1974 trip to South Africa. Photo courtesy of Keith Rust

Dr. Max Euwe’s giving a simul on his 1974 trip to South Africa.
Photo courtesy of Keith Rust

On the agenda of the Congress meetings at Nice was a proposal introduced by Moroccan Chess Federation to exclude both countries. Their proposal was signed by the representatives of Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, USSR, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Argentina and Cuba. From reading Dr. Euwe’s report one might have expected him to be completely opposed to this proposal and he is a powerful enough figure for his views to carry much weight with Congress. But there was another issue at stake. The office of president was open to re-election and opposing Dr. Euwe was vice-president R. Mendez from Puerto Rico.

At the start of the Olympiad it was thought that Euwe was likely to lose the election as Mendez had the support of many of the smaller countries. But the Soviet Federation saw a way to use the situation to their advantage – they offered Euwe a deal whereby he would get the votes of the Eastern Bloc countries if he supported the exclusion of Rhodesia and South Africa. Euwe agreed. As soon as the exclusion was announced South Africa withdrew from the Olympiad.

Source: https://www.olimpbase.org/1974/1974in.html

What a difference an election year makes!

What is the point of all of this? The point is even with the president’s three-week mission, the complaints of discrimination and exclusion were missed (or ignored). There did not seem to be a way of accurately assessing the situation. If not for prospects of reelection, Dr. Euwe may not have reconsidered his position. South Africa’s apartheid system had many layers, and perhaps Dr. Euwe asked the wrong questions.

Dr. Euwe’s report (Informant 19, pp. 278-280) details his tour of Africa. He admits that sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa and Rhodesia) was all previously overlooked in terms of chess development. Just three years after FIDE suspended South Africa, the United Nations placed the country under international sanctions. This intriguing history needs to be researched and written in greater detail.


"The racism and the male supremacy of the society in which I live are the most important matters of principle in my life. I try to live by pro-human principles. This means that I must fight racism and male supremacy continually because I am a United Statesian and a male in an imperial society."

~International Arbiter, Jerry Bibuld


We honor the memory of activists like the late International Arbiter Jerry Bibuld, who lobbied fiercely for CAPSA and fought in favor of sanctioning the South African apartheid regime. He stood courageously for the rights of players in the African Diaspora and would undoubtedly be a participant in the current discussions on racial justice.

Currently, FIDE may perceive the organization’s racial incidents as minimal, but perhaps there needs to be a better reporting structure. It is almost like saying you have minimal coronavirus cases, but with unclear procedures for testing. What is the process? What constitutes a racist act? Is there a special commission for these matters? Who is to be contacted? It may very well be that the process isn’t clear.

FIDE’s African Quandary

If we look at the pecking order of chess, you will find developing countries at the bottom of the federation rankings. There are many reasons for this: lack of chess culture, lack of financial support, and lack of competition. The Internet age has helped close the gap somewhat. We know this by the increasing number of first-round upsets of Grandmasters at the Olympiad. However, challenges persist.

At the 2004 Olympiad in Mallorca (my first Olympiad), I remember stepping into the hall for the General Assembly and seeing Libya’s Nizar El-Haj, who at the time, was serving as the African Continental President. He looked flustered and was walking around as if he was trying to find someone. As soon as I introduced myself, he immediately told me, "They have forgotten African seats!" I sensed the frustration in his voice.

At the 2004 FIDE General Assembly in Mallorca, African federations were completely forgotten and the delegates were in the back with the observers and journalists!

Nizar ElHaj (middle) was visibly upset over the exclusion of African seats on the floor. Turkey’s Ali Nihat Yazici is behind him. Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

One can say that is an honest error, but similar mistakes been repeated at Olympiads that I’ve attended. The truth be told, smaller federations struggle to have their voices heard and only seem to become a priority during election campaigns.Fortunately, President

Arkady Dvorkovich has pledged to be more inclusive of smaller federations and has supported hosting major events in diverse places. While not directly responsible, he showed support of the historic the Grand Chess Tour event in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

Speaking of the election cycles, there has been a controversial issue revisited every election cycle. Complaints are that smaller federations should not be given equal weight in terms of the voting. Voting was a point of contention in a number of elections. In 2010, I wrote an op-ed piece titled, "Africa: Too Much Voting Power in FIDE?" I contended,

In the upcoming election for FIDE President, there has been a lot of talk about the voting structure of one-nation, one vote. This idea is in line with the democratic ideals of general bodies, but seems to have met the ire of chess pundits and commentators. For the past two campaigns there has been the question of whether smaller federations should have an equal number of votes as larger federations.. . .The implication is that Zambia and Gabon should not have as much voting power as the USA. There are countless other African examples on blogs and discussion groups. It appears to be an "insert African country" format. (see essay)

Because of this perception, there is an idea that smaller federations should not receive a single vote in the General Assembly because they could heavily influence the outcome as a voting bloc. It is the one-country, one-vote that keeps these countries engaged in the democratic process. If the most powerful nations ruled FIDE, what incentives would they have to involve others?

At the 2014 Olympiad in Tromso, I saw egregious examples of how African federations were treated unfairly, and labeled "lazy" by a FIDE official because they were dealing with a continental crisis and had not resolved a vote. It was an election year, and candidates were jockeying for African votes. The preconceived notion of many were that smaller federations (particularly in Africa) were "corruptible." Is this inherent to Africa? Of course not. The elitist and racially-tinged rhetoric must stop.

Disappointment in the South African delegation after losing the bid for the 2018 Chess Olympiad. Both Georgia and South Africa had given their presentations after which FIDE Treasurer Nigel Freeman presented his report on his site visits. He offered his opinion to the General Assembly that "Georgia was the superior choice," before the vote was taken. Garry Kasparov, who was supporting the African bid, could be heard saying, "This is ridiculous!" It threw into question the sanctity of the vote after Georgia won the bid, 93-58. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Zero Tolerance… for Racism/Elitism

Due to Germany’s challenging requirements, some African players were denied visas for the 2008 Chess Olympiad, and two teams fielded only two players. Granted, the organizing committee does not issue the visas, but a high rate of visa denials make it a challenge to maintain the spirit of the event. Bill Hook of the British Virgin Islands complained after he scored four forfeit wins in the tournament (Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi).

If visa requirements are a challenge, this may put the participation of smaller federations in jeopardy. Imagine a team that has gone through trials, qualifications, and raised funds throughout the year. The visa application is suddenly denied because the embassy decides the applicant does not have sufficient employment, bank account reserves, or are students. If a federation’s country has strict requirements and cannot guarantee a reasonable chance to secure a visa, it is best not to bid to host the Olympiad.

The 2008 Olympiad in Dresden had introduced a "zero tolerance" policy. This rule states if a player was not at his board when the round started, he/she loses automatically. The organization can set the time allowance at their discretion. In the tournament, all but a few of the infractions were suffered by smaller federations. Bear in mind, many of these teams were staying 20-60 minutes away while well-endowed teams stayed right across from the venue.

Amon Simutowe of Zambia (left) questioning the forfeit of Suriname’s Roger Matoewi (far right) who was literally seconds late. Simutowe wanted to play the game and moved his victorious king from e5 to e8. The arbiter stood firm on the policy (far left). Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

The Gabon – U.S. Virgin Islands dispute at 2008 Olympiad in Dresden.
Photo courtesy of Barthelemy Bongo Adanga Ndjila.

Gabon’s Jean-Pierre Moulain (tan suit) discussing forfeit with arbiter while U.S. Virgin Islands’ Michael Smith (middle) gives his viewpoint. Moulain (8.5/10) met Smith (0.5/10) at the board, shook his hand and he went to take a quick bathroom break. At some point, the Chief Arbiter Ignatius Leong announced the match would begin in one minute. Moulain returned to the board, but was forfeited. Smith insisted that the rule be enforced. Gabon decided to forfeit all the boards. Photo courtesy of Barthelemy Bongo Adanga Ndjila.

A similar violation also occurred in Palestine-Jamaica when GM Evgeny Ermenkov forfeited after leaving the board. In one instance, a forfeit was levied against Malawi whose tram had broken down. Despite the incident being confirmed, arbiters upheld the forfeit. Bear in mind, the "zero-tolerance" did not have previous testing at such an important event.In a 2008 essay, "GENS UNA SUMUS: Are We One Family?" I stated,

President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov made statements at the FIDE General Assembly impressing upon the delegates that professionalism of chess was a priority. This was a direct result of FIDE’s appeal for recognition in the Olympic Games, but at what cost? The question here is whether the Olympiad is the best tournament to introduce such a new rule. Olympiad tournaments have many logistical challenges. In Dresden, teams were spread in hotels throughout the city as far as an hour tram ride away. The more expensive hotels were next door to the playing site and those teams had no problems making the rounds.

If players are relying on public trams in unfamiliar cities without any regard for logistical challenges, then the forfeit rule becomes unfair. In future Olympiad tournaments, there has to be consideration of the layout of the venue and other factors before imposing such a strict rule. If there is an Olympiad village where players come from an equal distance, then such a time rule can be reasonably applied. This issue will be revisited in the next President’s Executive meeting. However, the lesson is a harsh one for many nations who were adversely affected. (see essay)

What are we celebrating at Olympiads?

When one looks at the global landscape of chess, it is majestic in its far-reach. From large industrial nations to small islands to pastoral lands, this game has continued to enthrall those who partake in its multifaceted subtleties. No better event exemplifies the glory of chess than the biennial Olympiad. This glorious event is a celebration of chess and demonstrates a level of inclusion not often seen in other sports.

The 2008 Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany, was notable for a number of reasons. FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov sought to market chess to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and tested new ideas on the biggest chess stage. Unfortunately, FIDE imposed the "zero tolerance" rule, which turned out to be a disaster. It was also the tournament where they changed how Olympiad medals were awarded. This eliminated most non-professionals from medal contention in a non-professional tournament and caused one to raise questions. Are we celebrating the universal spirit of chess at the Olympiad?


In what tournament can you score 9.5/10
and not get a prize, medal or even a mention?


In the past six Olympiads (since the changes), Grandmasters have won all but two of the board medals in the Open section. The gold medalist in Batumi scored 5.5/8 (+3) and 2873 TPR. While this performance is magnificent, there is something peculiar about the criteria for individual medals. In essence, a 2800-rated player can compete for a medal playing near or below his expected level.

In Batumi, one top player scored 5.5/9 (+2) and was 11 points from earning a bronze medal with 2803 TPR which was lower than his rating! In the 2014 Chess Olympiad, Sweden’s Pia Cramling scored 10/11, and this result was only good for a bronze medal. If we are basing team medals off of points, why are we not basing individual medals off of points (or percentage)?

Ten years ago, I wrote about this issue in the aforementioned article, "GENS UNA SUMUS: Are We One Family?"

The chess community understands and appreciates the excellence of professional players. They have a long history of accolades and their success, to a great degree, this is expected. However, if an unknown player from Vanuatu, the Maldives, Comoros or Liberia happens to score 9/10 or 11/11, there should be a way of recognizing this feat on the largest stage in chess. We may have uncovered the next rising star.

When IM Robert Gwaze of Zimbabwe scored 9/9 (2690 performance) at the Bled Olympiad in 2002, it stood as one of the brightest moments of the tournament. In Dresden, he would not have received a mention. The success of smaller federations can help the global appeal for chess. This will also help all chess nations advance their own initiatives. In my view, this is what GENS UNA SUMUS is about. (see essay)

Mashala Kabamwanishi of Democratic Republic of Congo scored 9.5/10. Wonderful result! Photo by Congo Chess Federation.

Some players from obscure countries are still proud of the medals they won decades ago. Everyone knows how proud Geoffrey Borg is of his medal for Malta. How about Robert Gwaze’s magical 9/9 in Bled? Players in African circles still talk about the Zimbabwean’s feat! Mashala Kabamwanishi, an unrated player from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), got 9.5/10 the 2018 Batumi Olympiad. Under the old medal system, a player like Kabamwanishi would receive a hero’s welcome if he brings home a gold medal. There may even be a chance of popularizing a new chess culture. While we understand the variance of play at an Olympiad, we must recognize strong performances, and if it is possible, some type of commendation. In Batumi, Kabamwanishi got no recognition. In what tournament (anywhere) can you score 9.5/10 and not get a prize, medal or even a mention? There is one… the Olympiad.

For decades, players from unheralded nations have bagged medals and essentially put chess on the radar in those respective countries. It creates national heroes, helps nations foster hope for chess and helps with fundraising. Some players even earn national accolades, become ambassadors, motivational speakers and take on immediate legendary status. These players (most likely) will never compete for a world championship or win an elite tournament, but what better way to celebrate a lifetime achievement? Again… what are we celebrating at Olympiads?

My suggestion was to create inclusive criteria so that all players (not just the elite) have a reasonable chance of scoring a historic result. If FIDE is concerned about players from small federations piling up huge scores, they should make some adjustments in the criteria and/or establish additional awards. Who knows what lies ahead for a medal winner from Suriname, Fiji, or the Congo? This strategy can be a boon to chess, and help us gain global appeal, sponsorship, and goodwill.


"As an avid chess player, I was dismayed to see a black man representing Sweden in a major chess tournament as of late."

~Posting on Stormfront.org, discussing Black chess players


Diverse Cases, Diverse Places, Diverse Platforms

Jamaica’s Shane Matthews at
2006 Chess Olympiad (Turin, Italy)
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

One may believe that this response to FIDE is not purely about racism. That is true. It is more about social justice and equity. Racism is just one of many "isms" that we face in this world. Social justice is an overarching theme that touches so many aspects of society. As far as chess is concerned, we still struggle when trying to resolve conflict. Although social injustice exists everywhere, it is often hidden in plain sight… even in chess.

The Jamaica-Finland touch-move controversy at the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin stands as one of the most disheartening cases I have ever seen. The Finnish Grandmaster Tomi Nyback picked up his king hovered it over a square, put it down and attempted to move another piece. When Matthews enforced "touch move," Nyback claimed to be adjusting the king. This incident happened to an absolute gentleman of the game in (now-IM) Shane Matthews, who was so distraught that he abandoned the game. It was an example of the esteemed Finnish Grandmaster getting the benefit of the doubt. Justice was not served. (see case)

There are many other ways that chess players can become disgruntled and lose the fire for chess. Many people are on social media and it is a place where you can insult people, and not worry about getting punched in the face. You even have chess players trolling fringe websites, making vile comments. In 2005, I ran a story on white supremacists discussing Black chess players. One Serbian chess player stated,

"As an avid chess player, I was dismayed to see a black man representing Sweden in a major chess tournament as of late."

Of course, this player was referring to GM Pontus Carlsson, who was raised in Sweden. They referred to the "mud flow" in Scandinavian countries. Someone calling you a name is infantile. Someone assuming you’re unintelligent is ignorant. Someone putting roadblocks in front of you is a shame. Someone killing you because of your race is a moral tragedy.

America has exploded in protests after the brutal murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. The offending officer Derek Chauvin (above), was charged with second-degree murder. This has touched off a wave of protests and has begun a discussion on racism and social justice. Many companies and organization have used this opportunity to rethink their procedures and craft condemnation statements. FIDE offered a statement on the 13th of June, 2020 and you have just read my response.

Final Thoughts

Can we call out every incident when someone says something offensive? Of course not. If we chase down every offending lead, we will expend energy and time instead of dealing with the broader issues. Based on the issues raised in this essay, here are some of my suggestions for FIDE’s consideration:

  1. Establish a reporting system for racial/discrimination/sexism
  2. Establish criteria for racism and its possible sanctions
  3. Empower FIDE Anti-Cheating Commission to implement stronger deterrents for false cheating accusations (i.e., FM Josh Colas, WGM Mihaela Sandu) to include, but not limited to, financial reparation to the aggrieved player
  4. Make countries bidding for Olympiad include a history of granting visas to participating nations and whether there could be any problems
  5. Ensure fairness in logistics at Olympiad venues (i.e., Dresden Olympiad had players nearly one hour away on public transportation)
  6. Ensure integrity in the arbitration of tournament disputes
  7. Provide more exposure in Olympiad broadcast coverage for lower-echelon teams.
  8. Establish inclusive criteria for Olympiad individual medals
  9. Devise a rotational system for hosting the Olympiad
  10. Establish a "Grandmaster Developmental Institute" to provide financial fellowships and training for those from CACDEC nations (via application criteria)

Toward the end of the FIDE statement reads,

"We believe there is something truly beautiful about chess: it makes us focus on what we have in common as human beings, rather than in what makes us different."

In my view, we should embrace commonalities as well as differences. We should see race. We should know nationality. Why would we not acknowledge our differences? When you go to an Olympiad, the differences are what make it so exciting and memorable. We can appreciate our distinct origins as well as the common passion for chess. The diversity can help us to grow, and the commonality can unify us against social and moral injustice. Now is a good time.

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Video by Batumi Olympiad Committee

Hachette Book Publishing India, Pvt. Ltd. (2019)
ISBN: 978-93-5195-150-6
Buy at Amazon! Kindle: $12.99 Hardback: $11.00

During this COVID-19 outbreak, many of us have taken our chess activities to online communities or increased the time already spent on chess servers. There has been the Carlsen Invitational, the Online Nations Cup, the Steinitz Memorial, and Maurice Ashley’sClutch Chess” tournaments. Many have had a chance to tick off books from their reading list during this time of quarantine.

One of the books trending now is Viswanathan Anand’s new book, Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life. I learned about this book while watching a video interview of Anand with Sagar Shah of ChessBase India. He was giving the champion endgame puzzles to solve. Anand is perhaps one of the most underappreciated champions in history. Since bursting onto the scene after winning the World Junior in 1987 and as India’s first Grandmaster, he has been a great global ambassador to chess. Before getting into the book, it is important to discuss why Mr. Anand has been so valuable to chess.

Chess Trailblazer

Before Anand’s rise, no one in India had trod this path before. Manuel Aaron had been the country’s only International Master. The lack of chess tradition is a familiar story in developing countries. Even as Anand rose and became an elite player, there was a question that he could win the “big one.” He was doubly motivated by critical comments from other Grandmasters. After his first world title in 2000 (in a knockout format), there were still doubts. There were still doubts when he won the unified title in 2007 (in a tournament format). What would it take?

He then won head-to-head matches against Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov, and Boris Gelfand. Before his match with Gelfand, there were some sharp comments by Garry Kasparov about his will. His win silenced doubters, but not completely. After losing his title to Magnus Carlsen, there were still doubts that he would be a contender again and should retire. He proceeded to win the Candidates tournament, quieting his critics yet again. Although he lost the return match, he had proven that he still has some fuel in the tank. Now at 50, he is still playing at a high level and is the reigning World Rapid Champion.

His appearance at the top of the chess world immediately created a wave of interest in India, and to date, the country boasts approximately 65 Grandmasters. Anand takes an active interest in the national development of youth talent, unlike many top players who only show up for an occasional simul and autographs. The latter may inspire but does little to sustain a chess culture. For his efforts, the “Tiger from Madras” has given hope to a nation of 1.3 billion and remains a national hero.

Chess Unifier

The great thing about Anand’s reign was he avoided becoming embroiled in petty debates, and refused to hold the title ransom for selfish reasons. Before the 2007 unification, the chess world was mired in a title split going back to Kasparov’s split from FIDE in 1993. Anand stayed clear of the political mudslinging. Ultimately, he unified the title in Mexico and maintained stability for nearly a decade.

Viswanathan Anand winning the title in 2007, starting his reign.
Photo by ChessBase.com

After beating Kramnik in 2008, he played Topalov in the challenger’s home country! It is doubtful that any other sitting champion would’ve agreed to this. Mind Master does into some detail about his ordeal before the match with Topalov. Despite Bulgaria being less than understanding about his horrid travel situation, he took the high road and proceeded to play (and win) under challenging conditions. With the help of his wife Aruna, he remained flexible in his negotiations.

Chess Ambassador

Anand’s work in India is well-known, but he has been an inspiration to smaller chess nations. He has made several trips to Africa and remains one of the few World Champions to come to Africa as a chess ambassador. Dr. Max Euwe visited South Africa on a fact-finding mission on the effects of apartheid on chess, but Anand came to Africa and generally received a warm welcome. The idea that one can come from a country without a contemporary chess culture is a testament that excellence is possible despite lacking resources.

Anand giving a simultaneous exhbition to school children.

Anand giving simultaneous exhibition to schoolchildren
in Durban, South Africa (link).
Photo courtesy of Keith Rust

The President of Botswana Chess Federation Tshepo Sitale shakes hands with the champion.

Tshepo Sitale, then-President of the Botswana Chess Federation,
receives Viswanathan Anand (link).
Photos by Booster Galesekegwe

Reception committee at Nairobi International Airport from left – WFM Sanjana Deshpande, Chess Kenya Chairman Benard Wanjala, GM Viswanathan Anand, Satish Deshpande, Sumit Deshpande & Sandhya Deshpande. Photo credit Allan Victor of Arongoey Photography. (Kenya Chess Masala)

Anand is typically one of the most likable players on the professional circuit and is generally a fan favorite for his daring style of play. One can tell that he has the attributes of empathy shown by his work with disabled chess players in India. From time-to-time he serves as a spokesperson for commercial products.

Chess Legend

There was a recent poll on chess.com of the top ten chess players in history. One may disagree with the order. All were world champions, and while it was a credible list, Anand’s name did not appear. While the article omitted Anand as one of the top ten players of all-time, his feats may put him in the top ten world champions in history if we consider his length of reign, ambassadorship, and contributions as a champion. His holding the title without rancor may be the most significant contribution.

Emanuel Lasker’s reign of 27 years will never be topped, but to win the world championship in every conceivable format, to spurn controversy and scandal, and to play high-level chess into his 50s, is a feat that few can claim. Anand gives credit to his wife Aruna, who is beloved in India as well as admired in the chess world.

Many times, chess spouses do not realize how their role adds to the success of their chess mate. In Aruna’s case, her smile, gentle demeanor, and attention to detail helped to keep the Anand team balanced in times of crisis. They make a remarkable team.

The real Queen and King Indian... It would be safe to say that Aruna Anand has been instrumental in his ascent atop the chess world.
Queen and King Indian…
Aruna & Viswanathan Anand
on a 2013 visit in Tanzania

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Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life
Viswanathan Anand with Susan Ninan

Mind Master is an interesting account of Viswanathan Anand’s career: part autobiographical, part instructional, and part historical. The book is organized into 12 chapters, each recounting a crucial part of his development. It tracks his beginnings, his rise, his methods, and his championships matches. Most importantly, we got a glimpse of his inner thoughts.

The prologue started with Anand reflecting on his match with Vladimir Kramnik, who had won an epic match against the then-dominant Garry Kasparov. Anand had already won two world titles at this point, but the match with Kramnik would carry specific importance. Anand confirmed this:

At 37, it was my second World Championship win (Mexico), I had previously won in Tehran in 2000, but this felt new and validatory. The chess world had been dismissive of my Tehran accomplishment (the theme was essentially, ‘Yes, you’re World Champion, but…’) and an annoying feeling had tailed me since.

Viswanathan Anand reading from Mind Master at the book launch 13th of December 2019 in Chennai at Taj Coramandel. Photo by Sportstar (India).

Anand considered himself an outsider in the chess world. He had come from a country without a contemporary chess tradition (apart from chess having stemmed from chaturanga). He reflected,

I was an aberration in an ecosystem where the top players were either Russian-backed, like Kramnik, or bigger and bankrolled by the powers that were, like Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov. It was only prudent then that I looked out for myself.

There are parallels between Anand and Bobby Fischer. The American champion also felt like an outsider and even accused the Soviets of colluding to derail his progress. Anand makes no such accusation but becomes a bit salty when there were doubts about his chess ambitions. Although his co-writer Susan Ninan softens some of the blow of his angst, his emotions came through. He seemed intent on proving his worth as a champion and appeared to be “on edge” at other times.

Being the first Indian Grandmaster came with a responsibility. Anand traveled to Europe to compete and considered establishing a base there. India-Europe is quite a tortuous journey, and to maintain his activity and access to strong competition, he made the jump to Spain where he took on “chess parents” (Mauricio Perea and wife Nieves), and a new language. The book recounts important milestones, including his early encounters with the elite, some of his early training methods, and his first exposure to ChessBase!

Viswanathan Anand working on one of the early release’s of ChessBase at the home of founder Frederic Friedel. As Tommy looks on curiously, Anand devoured the games and became one of the first “digital migrants” in the chess world. Photo by Frederic Friedel.

One of the interesting things about Anand is that one may feel that he is the perfect gentleman. While that may be true, there are instances where his eponymous, “Tiger of Madras” comes to bear in a literal sense.

“When I am playing someone I earnestly don’t want to lose to or personally dislike, my brain is sprightly, I uncover new resources and also tend to defend much harder.”

It would not immediately appear that Anand had such sentiments. However, if one can remember his retort to Garry Kasparov after defeating Boris Gelfand, one will know that his nickname is not only for show. Ironically, he mentioned that it was Kasparov who sparked his interest in becoming champion after their match in 1995.

Anand playing Garry Kasparov in 1995 for the contested
World Chess Championship at the World Trade Center in New York.

Both players play and mock game 1.g4!? b5!? 1/2-1/2. Photo © Frederic Friedel, ChessBase.

Kramnik and Anand choose the chess set for their 2008 match
with a mock game 1.g4!? b5!?
Photo by Frederic Friedel.

There were some intriguing stories in his journey, including periods of doubt. The book is a very interesting self-assessment of the Indian legend, and he talked about various stages in his life where he had to prove himself constantly. One of those times was his match with Vladimir Kramnik, who had beaten Garry Kasparov in 2000.

In his match against Kramnik, he mentioned that it was a critical point in his career. Even his wife Aruna said (at the book release) that the buildup to the match in Bonn 2008 was not normal. Perhaps the notion of legitimizing his title would be gone if he lost. The negotiations of the match with Kramnik were rocky, and the tension was high. As it were, destiny would turn in his favor. He won his first title match and third overall.

When he was World Champion, there was a period when he did not win tournaments as Kasparov and other champions had done in dominant fashion. The cycle required him to defend his title every two years, so there was an issue of staying in championship mode as opposed to tournament mode. Balancing this reality seemed to be a difficult challenge.

Anand finished off Topalov with 36…g5+!

The book gave a very candid view of his challenges. I particularly enjoyed his chapter “The Adversity Advantage” on the Bulgarian ordeal. I remember covering it for The Chess Drum and how upset I was that the Bulgarian authorities didn’t allow more time for him to adjust from a 40-hour road trip. All the flights were grounded due to the black ash spewed from an Iceland volcano. It was amazing that his team overcame such an obstacle and came out victorious despite all the odds being in the challenger’s favor. Anand even lost the first game badly! This match showed his fighting spirit.

Finally, Anand described the unfortunate loss of his championship in Chennai, India to Magnus Carlsen. He described his struggles leading up to the match, falling into a rut where he could not win a game against elite competition. Four months prior to his first match with Carlsen, he came in a disastrous 8th-9th in the Tal Memorial (10 players).

My slump wasn’t the only wrecking ball. As a compensatory offer for a missed chance at hosting my match against Gelfand, FIDE offered Chennai the first right to bid for the next World Championship. It’s not that I hated the thought of playing on home ground, but I was already fighting my demons by then. If I was away, on my own, I could focus on doing what I had to do and not feel scrutinized. For this, of all matches, to land in my hometown when I was anything but confident of my game felt like a sucker punch.

Magnus Carlsen, a former sparring partner for Anand, represented the passing of the guard. Carlsen has since defended his title three times. Photo by Anastasia Karlovich.

Anand even described the famous press conference after game six, where he snapped at a reporter. That indicated that things had unraveled in that match. After losing his title on home soil in a rout, many thought he should retire. He appeared to be motivated by these comments. The Tiger of Madras would rebound, win the 2014 World Candidates and attempt to redeem himself in a rematch.

He lost once again to Carlsen but gave a more creditable result. Ironcially, Carlsen was once a sparring partner for Anand. Like Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes, the legends may have provided lessons to the sparring partner on how to become a champion.

A final pearl of wisdom about overcoming a crisis,

At times, when chess has got frustrating and I’ve suffered a sustained run of bad results or have been caught in unfair situation or felt like a pariah, like the negotiation that took place in Prague in 2003 to unify a split chess world, I’ve been tempted by the thought of leaving the scene altogether – the sport, the tournaments, and just about anything to do with playing chess. There comes a point when you realize that passion, not perfection, will carry you through. You need to have something moves you, that you’re passionate about and wouldn’t mind engaging with all your life. And the root of the matter remain that I like playing chess. It’s the warm, familiar feeling I circle back to every time.

Final Thoughts

My autographed copy of New in Chess
from 2004 Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Spain

Anand does not get enough credit for putting chess on solid ground in turbulent years. Also, he has been an excellent ambassador, particularly to the growth of chess in the developing world. Most of the World Champions after the “Fischer Boom” did not have the type of impact in developing nations that Anand has. He has almost single-handedly lead the chess revolution in India, and his visits to Africa have been memorable.

The book is an easy read, and you will most certainly uncover details about Anand’s life that you had not known. As far as his place as one of the best players in history, his record compares with other contemporary players of his generation. Hopefully, chess enthusiasts will learn to appreciate his contribution as a player, a statesman, and one who possesses qualities chess players should emulate.

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Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life
Viswanathan Anand with Susan Ninan

Hachette Book Publishing India, Pvt. Ltd. (2019)
ISBN: 978-93-5195-150-6

Buy at Amazon!

Dynamic Chess hosted a conversation with two-time NBA champion and social activist Craig Hodges during a live stream on Twitch. National Master William Aramil hosted the session while Daaim Shabazz of The Chess Drum was also part of the broadcast. Daniel X Jones of the National Blitz League (NBL) was originally scheduled on the panel, but there were some technical difficulties. He supported the show in the chat.

Craig Hodges with Michael Jordan during championships years.

Craig Hodges with Michael Jordan during championships years

The conversation with two-time NBA champion dealt with his beginnings in Chicago Heights, trip to the White House, his beautiful African garment, the letter he addressed to President George Bush, and a discussion about activism. He gave his view on the 10-part series “The Last Dance and what he took away from it. There were stories about playing with Michael Jordan and a couple of stories about coaching Kobe Bryant. He described the role he played in Kobe’s 81-point night!

In September 1992, Craig Hodges (seated second from left) with rapper Prince Akeem (with microphone) and May May on Youth Empowerment Day at Operation PUSH headquarters. Photo by Sun-Times

In September 1992, Craig Hodges (seated second from left) with rapper Prince Akeem (with microphone) and May May on Youth Empowerment Day at Operation PUSH headquarters. Photo by Sun-Times

The viewers posed questions to him about the current protests and who some of the current day leaders he thought could advance the activism that he advocated during his playing days. He even gave some pearls of wisdom about chess! It was a great talk and Hodges urged to keep the momentum going!

Dynamic Chess with Craig Hodges
(starting at 30:46)



Video by William Aramil

The United States of America that you once knew, has been changed forever. That America has fallen.

Many of you have stayed close to home due to the global pandemic that we are facing. You have no doubt seen the outpouring of anger in the aftermath of the George Floyd’s May 25th murder at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department here in the U.S. Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit 20-dollar bill.

America lies in ruin with more than 107,000 dead from the dangerous coronavirus, 40 million having filed for unemployment, and more than 30 cities in turmoil. Before the end of this article, you may also have a better idea of why Black chess players do not have a strong presence in American tournaments.

The American economy is in shambles, and there is no sense of direction. If you are viewing these events from outside of the U.S., you may be shocked to see the turmoil. Maybe you saw it coming. Many countries around the world are dealing with the “minority” question. It is an inescapable dilemma that countries (especially America) have had to deal with for centuries.

I write this expression as one of the few chess websites that may feel an urgency to address this issue. I am a Black male, born and raised in the U.S., and have witnessed and experienced the societal discord the world is now seeing. Here in the U.S., we are dealing with a plethora of political, economic, social, and legal issues. Thousands are dying. People are angry. Cities are burning.

The Spark in a Powder Keg

The tragedies that have unfolded in the past week have produced a violent reaction to the recent death of George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Officer Derek Chauvin was arrested on 3rd-degree murder charges after kneeling on Floyd’s neck and back for eight minutes with both knees. Two other officers knelt on Floyd’s legs while yet another watched.

While a preliminary autopsy by the Hennepin County was vague, the official account listed “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression” as the cause of death (link). An independent autopsy found abrasions to the left side of the face and ruled that “mechanical asphyxiation” had occurred.

Officer Derek Chauvin casually applying deadly force
on the neck and back of George Floyd.

Floyd (nose bleeding), plead for his life, said in desperation, “I can’t breathe!” “Don’t kill me.” “I can’t breathe!” Squirming to relieve the pressure on his neck, Office Chauvin repositioned his frame to exert more downward pressure. According to the police report, police applied pressure for 5 minutes and 53 seconds, after which Floyd lost consciousness. Chauvin had his knee in Floyd’s neck for almost three additional minutes (8:46 total). Floyd was later declared dead.

While is not clear how and where Floyd got the currency note, he effectively died over $20. Protests have broken out all across America, expressing outrage at the egregious violations of authority by the police. There is a long history of this treatment to Black men who are frequent targets of discrimination, disproportionate force, and unequal justice. These are stark realities. These words may be painful to read, but I am asking that you not ignore this issue.

For those outside of the Black community, it may be hard to understand the depths of frustration spilling onto American streets. I have had conversations with high-level chess players who downplayed the social dysfunction and ill treatment of Blacks. A tradition of discrimination has occurred nonstop for more than 400 years. NONSTOP. Through sheer strength and determination, a percentage of us in the Black community excel in various fields despite the conditions we face. Unfortunately, social inequities (based on one’s African ethnicity) are still present worldwide.

America and its Social Contract

When I traveled to Egypt decades ago, I met a young Haitian man named Jean Renior Eugene. He was a brilliant, energetic student at West Virginia Wesleyan College. I had just finished my stint in the computer industry and was set to attend graduate school. We immediately developed a friendship, and enjoyed lengthy conversations well into the night overlooking the Nile River.

Jean shared many pearls of wisdom, but I was most impressed by how well-read he was. After the group tour was over, we communicated (via letter and phone) for a few years, reminiscing and sharing our dreams. At some point, we lost contact, and I never saw him again. I later discovered that he died years later as a young physician in Atlanta, where I did my graduate studies.

Jean mentioned Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s classic, The Social Contract, a book written in 1762 on establishing sustainable political reforms. When he cited this book in our discussions, I was unfamiliar. While this remarkable book was written 258 years ago (before the U.S. Declaration of Independence), it has been debated, criticized, and interpreted in many ways. While America’s situation is different from 18th century Europe, the country is in need of a new social contract.

Like most countries, the U.S. Constitution is set up with a body of laws that pledge to protect the citizens, grow the economy, and distribute its resources. When the constitution became effective in 1789, a segment of white men wielded absolute power. For the entire 20th century, America grappled with what to do with the freed slaves and their descendents. The result was a system fraught with all types of social, political, economic, and legal inequities. Hence, the U.S. could not claim to be a “true democracy” until civil rights were afforded to all by law in the 1960s. There have been 27 amendments since 1789, but the injustices have persisted despite constant protestation. It’s time for a totally different approach.

Ieshia Evans faces armored police July 9th, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during the protest of the police shooting deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Photo Jonathan Bachman.

A woman burning sage to detoxify and dispel
the environment of negative energy.

In the first 20 years of the new century, many of these same violations of the constitution persist. Many Black men have to be concerned about being pulled over by the police authorities and making all the right moves to avoid being shot even if we do everything we are asked. In the instance of Black men being shot murdered by police (i.e., Amadou Diallo), officers are seldom punished, and we move on after a few months of protest.

Few outside of the Black community can imagine the amount of stress hormones that build daily. This leads to a weakened immune system and all types of chronic issues. We have seen countless instances of injustices, and each observation makes one more wary. Each and every day, we may meet someone who will try to force their will on us in the most bizarre ways. Recently a woman named Amy Cooper called the police on Christian Cooper, a Black man who only asked that she leash her dog in a bird park.

Ms. Cooper was more offended by a Black man correcting her than she felt threatened. She called the police to make the situation appear as dangerous, screaming that “an African-American man was threatening her.” With her fake tears and amateurish theatrics, she exploited the poor relationship between the Black community and the police. She anticipated punishment for Mr. Cooper. It is a dangerous game.

Ms. Cooper perpetuated a stereotype of the Black male being the aggressor, even when he was being victimized! We remember the demonizing of Trayvon Martin after his death. Granted, the situation is very complicated, but the (in)justice system will need to be torn down and rebuilt. The world is watching. They were watching in 1968. They were watching in 1992. They are watching now.

The Anatomy of Despair

Floyd’s brutal murder was the latest in a string of egregious violations of human rights affecting Black people in America. The centuries of slavery, another century of lynching and discrimination, and two decades of police abuse (captured on cell phones) present a compelling case.

It will cause those outside of the U.S. to wonder why this is still happening. In America, there has been a change in the demographics. Long gone is the America of 60-70 years ago. Frankly, it scares those who may feel a threat to their entitlement to power and authority. However, that America has fallen.

George Floyd

Over the years, there have been many protests and activist movements. We have seen this story play out before. It goes like this. After the incident, we see a wave of angry people in the streets protesting the death. Protest and human rights leaders shout, “No Justice! No Peace!” Arrests are made of the offending police officers. Then the magic happens.

The crowds go home, we clean up the glass and rebuild the structures. We then ponder the authorities’ solutions, which may include commissions set up to study police training and protocol. We listen to the trials. The verdict comes in, and justice often doesn’t fit the crime. No substantive changes are ever made in policing, we mourn again, and we are left to wait for the next tragedy to happen. This has been a 400-year pattern of American history. How does one concentrate on anything when facing such a climate?

Peace of Mind

If you look objectively at today’s situation in America, you may understand why it is difficult to have peace of mind as a Black person. The hostile environment puts us at a disadvantage in education, business, health, and social wellness. It is with a sense of irony that I am often asked why there are not more Black chess players competing. As I stated in my 2010 essay, “The Challenge of the Black Chess Master,”

…Blacks tend to face greater financial hardship (on average) for a multitude of socioeconomic and historical reasons. Thus, the opportunity costs for focusing on chess remain exceedingly high. Since the payoff is usually not commensurate with investment of time and money, the focus on chess becomes an afterthought. Many promising players have left the game for better economic opportunities and have relegated chess as a weekend hobby, or have quit altogether.

Right-wing Stormfront/Vanguard racists trolled my essay spewing nonsense about Black inferiority as the cause for a relatively small number of Grandmaster-level Black players. They offered questionable data and offered that everyone has the same socioeconomic obstacles. They then demeaned the story of Uganda’s Phiona Mutesi who grew up in abject poverty. Fortunately, their demoralizing tactics were refuted.

While we were in Aswan (Upper Egypt), my friend,
the late Dr. Jean Renoir Eugene shared some sage knowledge!

Apart from economic disparities, there are social pressures and safety concerns that occupy our minds. Peace of mind is something we all covet. Peace of mind is what George Floyd sought when he left Texas for Minnesota. Peace of mind is desired for happiness… desired for mental stability… desired for one to thrive. Peace of mind is also necessary to be able to focus on a game of chess. Frankly, peace of mind is something we have never had in America.

No Justice! No Peace!
Know Justice. Know Peace.

For Immediate Release

Clutch Chess!
New Online Tournament May 26-29

Top Four American Grandmasters Will Compete For A $100,000 Prize Fund

SAINT LOUIS, May 13, 2020 – The top four American chess superstars are set to battle online from Tuesday, May 26 – Friday, May 29, 2020 in a brand new and exciting knockout format called “Clutch Chess,” created by Grandmaster Maurice Ashley, commentator, author, and chess innovator. With $100K in prize money up for grabs, the competitors will prove their mettle under mounting pressure as the tension builds towards the end of each match.

This format promises to keep fans glued to their screens by making it impossible for any match to lose steam – even if one player takes a big lead. This unique online tournament will be a prelude to an even larger event, adding four of the world’s best international Grandmasters June 6-14, 2020 with additional tournament details coming soon.

“Clutch Chess will be exciting, fast-paced and guaranteed to leave blood on the board,” said Ashley. “This format will keep the players, commentators and especially the fans engaged until the very last move.”

The four confirmed Grandmasters are Fabiano Caruana (World number 2), Wesley So (World number 8), Leinier Dominguez (World number 6 in Rapid) and Hikaru Nakamura (World number 1 in Blitz). This quartet recently led Team USA to a silver medal in the prestigious Online Nations Cup, and is one of the favorites to win gold at the next chess Olympiad.

Clutch Chess will begin with two semifinal matches of twelve games played over two days, with the winners advancing to the finals. Games 1-4 and 7-10 of the matches will be scored using the traditional method of 1 point for a win and half a point for a draw. Games 5, 6, 11 and 12 – the final two games each day – are worth extra points and bonus prize money for a decisive result. The new scoring system means that a match isn’t over until the very end; with six points available in the last two games, anything can happen.

Games 01-04: Win=1 Draw=½ Loss=0
Games 05-06: Win=2 Draw=1 Loss=0
Games 07-10: Win=1 Draw=½ Loss=0
Games 11-12: Win=3 Draw=1½ Loss=0

Total Match Points Possible 18

“We are excited to showcase this new chess tournament format, and the prize money has also been divided in a way guaranteed to keep the matches even more nerve-wracking,” said Tony Rich, Executive Director of the Saint Louis Chess Club.

While 1st to 4th places will feature a normal prize breakdown, bonus money will be awarded to players who deliver a victory in the clutch games, totaling $10,000 per match. Any drawn clutch games roll the clutch prizes to the end of the match. If game 12 of the semifinals is drawn, accumulated clutch money will roll over into games 11 and 12 of the finals. Ultimately the clutch money on the last day could be as much as the actual first place prize.

Semifinals (WINNER advances to finals; loser gets $10,000)

  • Clutch Games 05&06 ($2,000/game)
  • Clutch Games 11&12 ($3,000/game)
  • Finals (WINNER $30,000; 2nd $20,000)

  • Clutch Games 05&06 ($2,000/game)
  • Clutch Games 11&12 ($3,000/game)
  • The rounds will be streamed live daily on uschesschamps.com from May 26-29 with expert commentary featuring GM’s Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

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    About The Saint Louis Chess Club

    The Saint Louis Chess Club is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization committed to making chess an important part of our community. In addition to providing a forum for the community to play tournaments and casual games, the club also offers chess improvement classes, beginner lessons and special lectures.

    Recognizing the cognitive and behavioral benefits of chess, the Saint Louis Chess Club is committed to supporting those chess programs that already exist in area schools while encouraging the development of new in-school and after-school programs. For more information, visit www.saintlouischessclub.org.

    “Chess is a sign there is still some intelligent life left on this planet.”

    Video by St. Louis Chess Club

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