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!

In June 2020, Jamaica’s Bertram Scott has released a seminal work chronicling the chess history of the island nation. The book titled, The History of Chess in Jamaica: 1834-1978 has important content in tracing the activities of history, not only on the island but important events in the chess world.

The book is a treasure-trove of invaluable photos, authentic clippings from the Jamaica Gleaner and Scott has done a magnificent job at compiling documentation on the foundation of Jamaican chess. There are little-known tidbits of classic information such as the exploits of Arthur Ford MacKenzie, a Jamaican of English stock who developed into a pioneering problemist. In 1886, MacKenzie would publish a ground-breaking book, “Chess: Its Poetry and Prose.” Click here for one of his famous compositions (mate in two).

Some of the other highlights were clippings marking important events and included Wilheim Steinitz’s death, the exploits of Jose Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine. If you are a history buff, then this book has everything you could want. The Jamaica Chess Association was formed in 1954 and the first national championship held a year later. There was a lot of attention given to the efforts of Dr. Harold Chan who was a tireless pioneer in helping the chess gain footing on the island. A picture on page 54 of Chan drawing Mikhail Botvinnik in a 1967 simul in England is a classic.

Dr. Harold Chan with Ian Wilkinson at the 2004 Harold Chan Open
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

There was important information highlight the informal activities in the Caribbean amongst the English-speaking countries. Cuba also played a prominent role and to this day, remains the region’s dominant chess nation.

Other important points were the rise of Bobby Fischer, the Olympiad in Havana, Cuba in 1966, the founding of Jamaica Chess Federation in 1969, and the subsequent Fischer-Spassky match. The 1972 match inspired worldwide and it so happened that Jamaica Chess Federation became a member of FIDE in the same year. Attorney Enos Grant would become the first President.

The classic photos in the book were not always of very high quality, but as it is with such images, the mind can fill in the gaps. Jamaicans will appreciate some of the names in the formative years of Jamaica’s consolidation and entry onto the world scene. For those of you who may be interested, there is a photo of Maurice Ashley as a youngster in Kingston.

Maurice Ashley in Kingston, Jamaica at age 12

Frederick Cameron, John Powell, William Roper and Gilbert Smith were other names that were prominently mentioned. There is also a picture of Jamaican players with Forbes Burnham, the Prime Minister of Guyana during the 3rd Caribbean Chess Championship in Georgetown, Guyana. Dr. Hope Anderson, the first influential woman on the Jamaica scene is also lauded.

Scott also covered school-age chess which is very prominent in Jamaica with many rivalries. This revealed the breeding ground for Jamaican talent such as Neil Fairclough, Thomas Figueroa, Sheldon Wong, and Orrin Tonsingh in the 1970s. Wong is best known for winning a brilliancy prize at the 1976 World Junior against Nir Ginsberg.

Jamaica national chess team to the Central American & Caribbean Chess Championship in El Salvador 1974. From Left are – NM Robert Wheeler, 1975 joint-Jamaica champion, NM Thomas Figueroa, Arturo Armando Molina, President of El Salvador, NM Neil Fairclough (Caribbean chess champion in 1993-94), John Powell, Bd. 4 Silver Medalist at the 1984 Olympiad in Greece, and Attorney-at-Law, Dr. Enos Grant, the 1st President of the JCF. Picture submitted by Rennie Phillips.

My overall account of Scott’s work is that the content is invaluable. As he plans for his second volume The Disciples of Bobby Fischer (1979-1998), he may improve on the photo quality and also rid the copy of obvious typos and some inconsistencies. A copy editor would provide an invaluable service. There are also a number of tools that are available to help in this refinement. The layout suffered from too much crowding on some pages, but the colored diagrams in this edition were clear and crisp. The games were embedded throughout and chess quotes were on almost every page.

Any author would be able to appreciate the long hours that it takes to collect, collate, and organize such an effort. There is a matter of detail when one is embarking on a book placed in chronological order. Scott has enough insight into history, not only from being a student of Jamaican history but also from his own involvement in the critical years of Jamaica’s emergence as a chess citizen.

Bertram Scott

In the early 2000s, Bertram Scott, created the Jamaica Ambassadors Chess Academy (JACA) which focused on chess in Jamaica and the Caribbean region. It was certainly a staging ground for what would become his book on Jamaican and Caribbean history. It is not only a gift to his country and the region but to the African Diaspora.

Many people have been debating on the “future of reading” and in what ways we will consume literary content. There was a thought that everything would be moving to a digital platform. However, books and quality magazines have shown their staying power. If one joins the chess book group on Facebook, it boasts almost 30,000 members!

Any player from the Caribbean and the African Diaspora would enjoy the trip down memory lane and derive great enjoyment from this book. As the designer of my book Triple Exclam, and as a subject in this book of Jamaican history, Neil Fairclough would say there is no such thing as a “perfect book.” He would be right, but if there is an authority on the history of Caribbean chess, this would be it.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/History-Chess-Jamaica-1834-1978/

Print length: 272 pages
Language: English
Publisher: BookBaby
Publication date: September 8, 2020
Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
ISBN-10: 109831428X

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

New In Chess (2020-8)

Dear chess community,

After urging from New in Chess Chief Editor Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, I have penned an exclusive for the world’s premier chess magazine (2020-8). Dirk and I met at either an Olympiad or one of the Grand Chess Tour events in St. Louis. As we covered one of the events, he posed the idea of me writing an article for the publication, and I agreed to the honor.

Years melted away, and one event after another, Dirk would gently serve me a reminder. After another reminder at the 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi, I knew it was time. Then after the 2019 Grand Chess Tour in Abidjan, I started putting my thoughts together. I felt that I would have quite a bit of good news to write about the Africa Diaspora with this development!

In the year 2020, we exchanged e-mail and as I began writing the article, tragedy struck when both of my siblings (Ahvia and Abraham Jr.) developed serious health challenges. I was able to finish the final edit before becoming consumed by their health situations. Both would eventually pass away six weeks apart. This article is dedicated to them as they taught me the gift of reading and writing.

New In Chess (2020-8)

Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but New in Chess has made progressive strides going to the larger size in 2011 and broadening the horizons of coverage. In a time when digital media has diminished the demand for print media, New in Chess has shown that quality formats are still in vogue. The magazine is of coffee-table quality and has been a staple of top-level chess since 1984.

So… in the eight-page article, I give a bit of history on the beginnings of The Chess Drum and review some of the interesting moments in covering chess in the African Diaspora. There are some exciting games including annotated games of Emory Tate, Watu Kobese, Amon Simutowe and Kassa Korley. This may be the first article in the magazine’s history to feature an article on the African Diaspora.

New In Chess (2020-8)

Over the past 20 years, I have had a chance to see chess from a unique perspective. In the beginning, there were skeptics about why such a site was necessary. Decades later, The Chess Drum continues to be a platform to champion the universality of chess. The site has tens of thousands of pages of chess content and is available for the general public to enjoy.

As much as we want to extol the FIDE motto of “GENS UNA SUMUS,” there had been so little coverage of Black chess players, such a platform became a necessity. Fortunately, there have been other sites to express chess activities in the African Diaspora. Some are frankly offended that The Chess Drum exists. One day I will write the story of The Chess Drum, but for now, you’ll have to settle for this article in NIC.

KEEP THE BEAT GOING!!!

Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

Note: This article is not available online, nor as a single print. I do not have permission to copy and post here. You will have to purchase your magazine at NIC store! You can see my past reviews of NIC here!

The 2021 Tata Steel Chess Tournament is on…
top-level OTB chess resumes

The year 2020 was a very challenging one for everyone including those of us in the chess world. On the bright side, chess received a boon as a result of a surge in online activity and the popularization of live streaming on various platforms. Live streamers have led the charge in this “movement” and has been helping with the chess outreach along with the sensation of the series, “Queen’s Gambit.”

Considering all of the issues surrounding COVID-19, tournament organizers have placed a hold on many over-the-board (OTB) tournaments. In fact, the World Candidates tournament was stopped at the midway point and is expected to resume in the spring of 2021.

However, Wijk ann Zee health officials had made an announcement to allow the 14-player event. Most COVID regulations will be in effect, but face masks will be optional. The tournament begins January 15th and will last until January 31st.

The field will be strong with four of the top five players in the world including world champion Magnus Carlsen and world number two, Fabiano Caruana, last year’s winner. There is also a lot of young talent with Alireza Firoujza returning in a diverse field. Many in the top half of the field are veterans of the tournament, while the lower half is comprised of rising talents. Below Anish Giri gives an assessment of each player. There will be no Challengers section this year. The organizers released a statement in which contained the excerpt:

Unfortunately, the current conditions to organise an approved sports event, do not allow for either the Tata Steel Challengers nor the amateur players to take part in the event. Equally attendance by public will be regulated by the reigning COVID-19 regulations at the time of the tournament and will need to be confirmed at a later stage. (link)

2021 Tata Steel Tournament
January 15th-31st, 2021 (Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands)
Masters
#
Name
Title
Federation
Flag
Rating
1 Carlsen, Magnus GM Norway
2862
2 Caruana, Fabiano GM USA
2823
3 Nepomniachtchi, Ian GM Russia
2784
4 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime GM France
2784
5 Giri, Anish GM Netherlands
2764
6 Firouzja, Alireza GM FIDE
2749
7 Duda, Jan-Krzysztof GM Poland
2749
8 Harikrishna, Pentala GM India
2732
9 Dubov, Danil GM Russia
2702
10 Esipenko, Andrey GM Russia
2686
11 Guijarro, David Anton GM Spain
2675
12 Van Foreest, Jorden GM Netherlands
2671
13 Abdusattorov, Nodirbek GM Kazakhstan
2627
14 Tari, Aryan GM Norway
2618
Official Site

Official Site: https://www.tatasteelchess.com/
Schedule: Masters
Videos: (YouTube)

Barbados’ top chess player Orlando Husbands finished off the year in grand style by winning the Michael Forde Memorial Championship with a perfect record over the weekend to secure a fourth major title for 2020.

The 23-year-old International Master brushed aside each of his seven opponents and was crowned champion before the final round of games on Sunday at the Chess Centre on Exmouth Gap, Brandons, St. Michael.

IM Orlando Husbands

Having secured 11 points in the FIDE ratings, the performance will push him to a career-high rating of 2348 when the world governing body for chess updates its rankings list at the end of the month.

The triumph rounds off an amazing year for Husbands who achieved a national treble of senior titles for the second time by winning the National Open, Rapid and Blitz Championships – a feat he also accomplished in 2018.

Husbands started the Michael Forde Memorial Championship with a victory over Hannah Wilson when the tournament pushed off on December 10. He followed up with wins against Aaron Haynes, Cleveston Ifill, Emar Edwards, Louis Wilson, Kiarra Eversley, and Adam Roachford.

Ifill, the no. 2 seed who returned to competitive chess in October after an absence of more than a decade, finished second with six points – his only defeat was to Husbands in the third round.

Cleveston Ifill (left), who took second place, playing against Louis Wilson, who won the prize for the Best Player rated under 1600.

There was a thrilling battle for third place which went to Emar Edwards, who ended with four-and-a-half points. Edwards, the no. 3 seed, was among eight players separated by a half-point going into the final round.

Three players – Louis Wilson, Kiarra Eversley, and Tarquin Clark – all finished on four points and also won prizes in the process.

Wilson took fourth place on the tie break and was the Best Player rated under 1600. Eversley was fifth and also won the prize for the Best Female while Clark, who was sixth, was the Best Player rated under 1400.

The Championship, the final event on the Barbados Chess Federation’s 2020 calendar, attracted 13 entrants.

~Barbados Chess Federation

Louisville, Kentucky will host their 2nd Annual Kwanzaa Chess Bowl during the weeklong festival. Lailah Hampton-El, Executive Director of Liberated Minds Homeschool Academy, posted a flyer announcing the event on Friday, January 1st, 2021 (New Years Day). The event was also announced in an article on WLKY.com which announced other Kwanzaa activities.

2nd Kwanzaa Chess Bowl (Louisville, Kentucky)

Lailah Hampton at last year's event

Lailah Hampton-El at last year’s inaugural event

Lailah Hampton at 1st Kwanzaa Chess Bowl

Photos by Bud Dorsey

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as an outgrowth of self-awareness during the revolutionary 1960s. It became an outward expression of reverence to seven principles consistent with ancient African civilizations.

The weeklong festival (December 26th – January 1st) and features historical reflections, honoring of ancestors, music/dance tributes, storytelling, wholesome food feasts, and most importantly, self-affirming activities for children of the African Diaspora. While the festival begins the day after Christmas, there is no relation to any particular religion.

Kwanzaa Kenora Kwanzaa Kenora Kwanzaa Kenora

Kwanzaa, Swahili for “first fruits,” was created to reinforce the “Nguzo Saba,” or the seven principles identified as central to African identity: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

Alexis Matthews, “‘Family, unity, culture’: Kwanzaa celebrations begin, Louisville traditions go virtual,” WLKY.com, 26 December 2020.

Dr. Lyndon Bouah with newly-released book, “Reflection on Chess in the Rainbow Nation.” Photo courtesy of Lyndon Bouah.

Dr. Lyndon Bouah is well-known in African chess circles, but specifically for being a longtime advocate for chess in South Africa. Dr. Bouah completed his doctorate at the University of the Western Cape in 2016 with the thesis titled, “An Analysis of the Implementation of the National Sport and Recreation Plan in the Western Cape.”

He serves as the Chief Director for Sport and Recreation in the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport in the Western Cape. Most recently, he published a new book titled, “Reflection on Chess in the Rainbow Nation,” an inside look at chess activities in South Africa. The book comes in a handsome hardback version and goes for R250 (US$17.15).

Dr. Bouah announced launched the book on FM Calvin Klaasen’s twitch channel and spent more than an hour recounting his experience and sharing his nuggets of wisdom with the live audience. These types of books are a treasure for the prosperity of growing chess communities and Dr. Bouah is planning on additional volumes.

For orders contact: dev@chesswesternprovince.co.za

Dr. Lyndon Bouah
Tel: 27 71 363 130
E-mail: Lyndon.bouah@gmail.com

Lyndon Bouah at 2004 Chess Olympia in Calvia, Spain

FIDE Delegates at 2004 Olympiad in Calvia, Spain: (L-R) Enoch Barumba (Uganda), Rugema Ngarambe (Rwanda), Lyndon Bouah (South Africa). Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

IM Watu Kobese

Photo by Yolande Du Preez

IM Watu Kobese has been the most recognizable chess player South Africa has ever produced. A veteran of 11 Olympiad tournaments and long-time the country’s top player, Kobese has focused on training the next generation of talent. Apart from his coaching, he is the author of a Xhosa-language chess book titled, “Masidlale Uthimba.” He recently got a business opportunity when Mazda approached him for an inspirational ad shoot.

Achievements that go beyond awards but include his translation of modern English chess into Xhosa for the sake of the youth. He doesn’t want language to be a barrier to the beauty of the game. Kobese’s complete passion and intricate knowledge of chess and its history struck a chord with us as it is this kind of dedication and obsession that you experience every time you get behind the wheel of a Mazda CX-3.

In the following commercial for Mazda, he tells his story beautifully. Take a look.

Video by Mazda Southern Africa

Colombian-Swedish Grandmaster Pontus Carlsson continues to fight the good fight as far as social issues are concerned. Bringing light to these issues years ago, he became front and center of a discussion about racism in Sweden. The Chess Drum ran an interview about his challenges four years ago.

In that segment, he discussed his problems in his adoptive country, including racial insults, illegal detainment, mistaken identity, and false accusations (i.e., stealing his own car). More recently, he was the target of fierce media attacks in Europe after his candid interview with Newsweek.


“If this is the worst of racism Pontus has experienced in thirty years of his chess career, then it is something for which the chess world should be praised and not disparaged.”

~Pavel Matocha on Pontus Carlsson being tossed bananas and enduring monkey chants at tournaments


GM Pontus Carlsson during round 9 at Corus

GM Pontus Carlsson
Photo by Fred Lucas

In 2020, the issue of race exploded onto the world scene with the death of George Floyd. This death continues centuries of injustice against Blacks, in general. Floyd, 46, was manhandled and ultimately murdered by the Minneapolis police while bystanders screamed for his life. After his death went viral, millions worldwide took to the streets, and popular hashtags memorialized Floyd’s death. Racism in America had hit the national stage once again.

While there had been countless high-profile U.S. cases of civilian deaths at the hands of police, there was something very different about seeing a Black man gradually choked to death in plain view. Officer Derek Chauvin exerted deadly force in a very casual pose while Floyd called out for his deceased mother. In his testimony to Congress, Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd referred to it as a “modern-day lynching in broad daylight.”

This hearkens back to a period where Blacks in America were targets of brutal lynchings (including burnings, beatings, castrations, and mutilations). These were not always on-site executions, but many times staged as public spectacles with refreshments, programs, and souvenirs. People gathered, enjoyed snacks, joked, and cheered amidst blood-curdling wails.

Afterward, spectators took ghoulish pictures with battered and charred corpses. Body parts were sold, and locks of the victim’s hair were sometimes included in framed pictures. Lynchings occurred nonstop for 100 years after slavery ended. (WARNING… graphic images!) The point is that the 2020 protests were not merely a rallying cry for the torture and death of George Floyd, but a culmination of cries against human injustice over centuries.

Chess & Racial Justice

The chess community weighed in as various organizations posted statements condemning racism. FIDE released a statement touting the chess community as an example of racial tolerance. Here is an excerpt from FIDE:

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. (link)

The FIDE statement painted the chess world as a utopia where there are minimal reports of racism. Having attended several Olympiad tournaments, this author can attest to the beauty of these events. However, the statement was a gross oversimplification and warranted a response. Ironically, there are no specific references to racism in the FIDE Code of Ethics, but there is this statement:

It is impossible to define exactly and in all circumstances the standard of conduct expected from all parties involved in FIDE tournaments and events, or to list all sets which would amount to a breach of the Code of Ethics and lead to disciplinary sanctions. In most cases, common sense will tell the participants the standards of behavior that are required.

While common sense should prevail, there has been a tendency to downplay acts of racism because there is a desire to believe that these things no longer happen. The chess world is a microcosm of global society, and racism is more commonplace than we can imagine. The real question may be whether such incidents are taken seriously. Unfortunately, some have decided to trivialize the matter.

Black Pieces Matter!

Carlsson sent The Chess Drum a Czech article by Pavel Matocha, titled, “Black Pieces Matter.” To be sure, Matocha is a very influential voice in Czech society, and his words carry extra weight. However, his “yellow journalism” was on full display after the English translation revealed countless distortions and inaccuracies. The backlash from the chess community was fierce.

Click to read translation!

Matocha, now the Chairman of Czech TV, makes light of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan and stated sarcastically that because of this initiative, white’s first-move privilege must be revoked. During the protests, this topic went viral after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation posed the question about the racial symbolism of the white pieces having the first move in chess.

Again, the protests are not about one particular icon falling prey to a racist act, but the four centuries of slavery and oppression that most outside (and many within) the U.S. could only faintly imagine. The American media has done a masterful job convincing the world that disaffected Blacks are the main cause of the societal disorder and that no such support should be granted to their cause.

Pavel Matocha (left) with the Czech President Vaclav Klaus (right) and Grandmaster Vlastimil Hort (centre) during the match between Vladimir Kramnik and David Navara.

Pavel Matocha (left) with the Czech President Vaclav Klaus (right) and legendary Grandmaster Vlastimil Hort (center). Photo by Prague Chess Society

Racism (whether systemic or not) has many different layers, but they are all insidious at the core. There is a tendency to trivialize instances of racism as simply childish jokes or as isolated incidences. In 2020, the outcry for these abuses of human rights has cast the victims as “looters,” “anarchists,” “communists,” and other names to delegitimize the fight for justice.

If you have your knee on someone’s neck (literally and figuratively), could you then accuse the victim of being disorderly for fighting to get you off? Ironically Matocha reacts to the outcry by saying, “Unfortunately, logical reasoning on this subject has little chance of success in the face of this current epidemic of hysteria.” What is illogical is that people like Matocha have refused to acknowledge the epidemic of injustice.

Carlsson received a motivational e-mail from his club manager that referenced this title.

In his article Matocha, compared racism with instances of chess players being politically punished. This is very different from punishing someone based on their ethnicity (alone) since their appearance should not be grounds for punitive actions. In the article, Matocha wrote on three instances in a Newsweek article where Carlsson was interviewed. They included being tossed a banana and having to endure monkey chants at a tournament. Matocha passed them off as childish jokes, but if anyone has followed European football, these types of acts have taken on a severe consequence. The third was a reference by a Swedish club manager to Agatha Christie’s book, Ten Little Niggers which was later renamed.

He ends his article with racial innuendo, inaccurately stating the number of Black Grandmasters to imply that Blacks are not high achievers and would require lower standards to achieve. There is no other reason to include that statistic. It also echos the trope of many racist right-wing groups found on sites like Stormfront and Vanguard whose adherents have been visitors of The Chess Drum spewing their venom.

Speaking of which, Matocha contemplated chess matches between police and homeless people, skinheads versus anarchists, and opposition versus coalition in the Czech parliament. He seems to understand polar opposites but is absolutely clueless in the context of racial dynamics.


“It’s a great shame that Carlsen has departed from his principles. If a world champion has decided to voice an opinion on politics, it would have been far more topical to focus attention on problems that actually exist.”

~GM Genna Sosonko on Magnus Carlsen’s “Move for Equality” initiative


The Dutch Blunderbuss

Not to be outdone GM Gennadi “Genna” Sosonko weighed in on the debate and offered his own insight during the protests. Above he implies such an initiative advocating for racial justice is less important than other geopolitical issues. Unfortunately, it is this same dismissive attitude that prevails in many societies. In his article published at chess-news.ru on August 27th, the Russian-born, Dutch émigré states,

The South African master Watu Kobese, whom I have watched play at many Olympiads, spent three and a half years in Germany. He says he also encountered racism there. Kobese recalls the discussions he held on the subject with his teachers, which usually ended with the question: “If you dislike Europe so much, what are you still doing here?” I don’t know how you would interpret this advice; I don’t find it illogical either, but the South African chess player perceived it as racist.

GM Gennadi Sosonko in the 70s

This is a common diversion. When a Black person (in a minority situation) complains about injustice, the response is, “If you don’t like it here, go back to Africa.” Instead of correcting racist behavior, the suggestion that the victim should be the one to take some action is extremely thoughtless. Yet, Sosonko finds this a logical response to those speaking out against racism.

His essay touches on a variety of topics in a scattershot fashion as if aiming with an 18th-century blunderbuss. There are no defined reference points, so what results is a jumble of meandering thoughts hoping to strike a chord with the reader. In his missive, Sosonko discusses dozens of race-related topics in no logical flow (even including Michael Jackson’s plastic surgery). It appeared that the legendary GM had a lot on his mind. (original, translation)

While an outstanding chess player and icon, he fails miserably in adding to the discourse on racism. Now aged 77, he admits that his solution may be to keep a low profile, avoid trouble, and merely wait for racism to fix itself. Racism is not a laughable matter, especially when you are the victim. In the ruin of society, it is not only the actions of the bad people who commit horrible acts but the silence of the good people who sit back and allow it.

Black GMs & Racism

Interestingly, Sosonko tries to use GM Maurice Ashley to discredit Carlsson.

It is not by chance that the world’s first black grandmaster and the famous chess commentator Maurice Ashley refused to discuss the matter when asked for comment. Maurice knows better than anyone that the colour of his skin never caused him a problem when he played chess and, working as a commentator in this day and age, it has more likely been an advantage to him than a hindrance.

GMs Pontus Carlsson and Maurice Ashley
at 2016 Millionaire Chess Open (Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA)
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Firstly, Sosonko implies that ethnicity (not talent) may be a factor in Ashley’s rise as a commentator. Secondly, he states that Ashley’s refusal to weigh in on the topic implies that he has not had to experience racism in chess. If anyone knows Ashley’s story well enough, they will know the challenges he had to endure in becoming a Grandmaster. In fact, people still question whether Ashley got the title legitimately. Sosonko is again, off the mark. Finally, in the morass of his essay lies the issue of whether white moving first makes chess a racist game. The Chess Drum has posted two essays here twelve years apart with the verdict (2008, 2020).

Matocha’s final statement that FIDE will be forced to moderate requirements for Black players to earn the GM title is another racial trope often heard. There is always an utterance of the number of Black GMs out of the world’s total number as if it is an indication of lack of intellectual capacity. An article written here a decade ago, “The Challenges of Black Chess Masters,” attracted many white supremacists who felt obligated to express why Blacks were intellectually inferior and thus could not produce more Grandmasters.

Many of these comments are made without understanding the consequences of spending inordinate time to master a game that has little economic return. Unfortunately, people of African descent rest at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder (in many societies) and must assess how to use their time to generate income for basic sustenance. Playing chess professionally is a luxury few Blacks can afford unless sponsorship is secured. It becomes a weekend hobby not consistent with pursuing loftier goals.

In Chess… Black is Good!

The number of Black GMs seems to be an intriguing stat everyone is interested in. While the number is often misquoted, it is used to prove a dual point… that a Black man is capable or incapable of playing high-level chess! Pursuing the GM title requires an immense amount of time and resources. Spending the requisite hours on chess when so many other socioeconomic factors are pressing is not desirable for most in the African Diaspora.

Ashley, who retired from professional chess shortly after winning Foxwoods tournaments in consecutive years, decried the paltry prize funds and soon understood that he could not survive solely on tournament winnings. Ultimately, he cobbled together a Hall-of-Fame career and is one of the most recognizable chess personalities in the world today. Chess becomes more of a path for excellence, which is one of its redeeming qualities.

Carlsson giving a blindfold exhibition in Kenya. How many future GMs in this photo? That is to be determined, but we’ll settle for chess-playing lawyers, accountants, professors, or a Ministry of Sport! Photo by Terrian Chess Academy

Pontus Carlsson is also helping to develop the minds of future leaders through his work in Africa and also through his “Business Meets Chess.” This is why chess matters in Black lives. Black players have used chess as a springboard to enter competitive universities and enjoy successful careers in a variety of fields. Until there is more sponsorship in chess, Black chess players will continue to replace aspirations for chess Grandmasterdom to be professors, physicians, lawyers, engineers, or aspire to be a respectable citizen of a just society.

A wonderful development has resulted during the past few years and spearheaded by the Chicago Chess Blitzers (CCB). It started with traveling matches (Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, New York) and when the distance was an issue, online cage matches were arranged.

After the National Blitz League was launched in 2017 (Site, YouTube) parts of the world and thus, some foreign players became part of cage matches. IM Orlando Husbands (Barbados) and FM Kevin Cupid (Trinidad) joined the long list of competitors.

During the pandemic this year, chess players were looking for outlets to entertain themselves and widen their chess network. With the African Diaspora, boards were burning as 4-time Jamaican champion Damion Davy was hosting thrilling matches featuring Caribbean’s finest. The NBL was continuing to blaze the trails and finally, Nathan Kelly and Davy negotiated and agreed to organize a historic match.

There was a lot of trash-talking before the match with Jamaica’s color commentator Raggie Wynter making bold predictions of a decisive Caribbean victory. Of course, both sides had their partisan views, but what would result was a historic event with lasting bonds created.

In the final analysis, the Chicago team was simply better-suited for the match and players much more experienced. The Caribbean trotted out their young stars (Husbands, FM Joshua Christie and FM Shreyas Smith) and many former and present national champions. FM Ryan Harper is a 9-time national champion of Trinidad. FM Justin Blackman is the reigning Barbados blitz champion.

Chicago had no such pedigree as far as national champions or even an abundance of FIDE titles (Caribbean 14 – Chicago 4). “National Master” and “Senior Master” are the only awarded U.S. titles. “Candidate Master” in the USCF (2000-2199) is not the same as “Candidate Master” of FIDE (2200+ or awarding during an international event). Given the disparity of titles, would the Caribbean reign supreme? What resulted was a shock to some.

Chicago started quickly and with convincing wins by Sedrick Prude (14-1 over Davion Mars) and Stephen Jennings (12½-2½ over Alethia Edwards). Wynter quipped that these were the Caribbean junior players, and that the Caribbean would catch up when the “heavy hitters” were playing. As the Caribbean titled players kept losing, it was clear that the format was more conducive to the seasoned blitz players of Chicago. At one point, Chicago had doubled the score 130-65 and eventually coasted to a 166-104 win. Raggie Wynter had to bear the brunt of memes posted throughout the match, but displayed a great sense of humour throughout.

Nathan Kelly serving an “L” to Raggie Wynter.
These memes became one of the highlights of the match.

There were some crass comments made in social media about Caribbean players. In all fairness, players from the region play in an entirely different reality. The Caribbean lacks the environment to test themselves on top-flight competition locally. The emphasis continues to be on youth chess which is able to draw investors. Many of the players on the respective islands have played each other a hundred times and rely on regional youth tournaments, subzonals, and the biennial Olympiad as the way to measure themselves.

To date, there has traditionally been little access to Grandmasters in the English-speaking Caribbean. There is only a handful of International Masters (Barbados-4, Jamaica-2, Trinidad-2), and a lack of strong tournaments. Strong tournaments in Bermuda and Curacao have been discontinued. Of course, Cuba is the region’s powerhouse, but access to tournaments are difficult.

The subzonal tournaments are anticipated and titles earned for a single result (FM title for 50% and IM title for clear first). Thus, there needs to be more ways to attract competition to the region. Several Caribbean players have traveled to the U.S. to compete in the World Open, but consistent travel to the U.S. (and Europe) is cost-prohibitive. It is time for another visit to the Caribbean. One fun fact is FM Josh Colas (then aged 11) traveling to his first international tournament to Trinidad and Tobago where he scored a respectable result.

FM Joshua Johnson (Trinidad & Tobago)

FM Joshua Johnson (Trinidad & Tobago)

The Caribbean had bright spots with FM Joshua Johnson winning convincingly against NM Nikhil Kalghtgi and Davy winning against IM Angelo Young. Despite Young being favored due to his phenomenal blitz skills, it was apparent that he was not as used to online blitz as OTB blitz.

After failing to employ “premoves” and other blitz nuances he was down 4-0 to Davy. Young roared back and actually took the lead 7½-5½ when a controversy broke out in the 14th game of the match. As Davy and Young were frantically blitzing their last seconds, the game was K+Q vs. K+Q. Young let up believing it would be declared a draw while Davy kept checking repeatedly and won on time.

Young was upset at what he felt was a lack of sportsmanship, but Davy countered that time was an element of the game, especially having no increment. Others commented that it was a team match and Davy was obligated to continue playing. A draw for Chicago still could’ve clinched the match, but Young also lost the last game on time and refused to play the tiebreaker bullet series. Arbiters ruled that he would forfeit the tiebreaker and thus lost the match 7½-7½ (0-2). The finale was a highly-anticipated match with IM George Li upending IM Orlando Husbands 10-5.

This match was important for many reasons. First, there were new relationships created and many rivalries were established in good spirit. There was talk about taking the fight directly to the Caribbean once the pandemic has eased. Secondly, the chats during the matches were sizzling with comments by many legends including Jamaican champions IM Shane “The Magician” Matthews and FM Warren Elliott.

The commentary duties were shared by various personalities including Davy, Wynter, NBL co-founder Daniel Muhammad and Jimmy “Jedi” Canty. Technical Director of NBL Lou Green was also “in the building” during many of the matches. Thirdly, the match gave an opportunity for players to expand their competitive circle. After the matches, there were additional challenges made and Detroit and New York also wanted to get into the international action. Are African countries ready to throw their hats in the ring?

As the NBL gets ready for the 4th season, perhaps there will be some new players drafted. Stay tuned for another Chicago-Caribbean match!

2020 Chicago vs. Caribbean Match
November 22nd-December 9th, 2020
MATCH PAIRINGS (official titles noted)
1 IM George Li
CHI
10-5
IM Orlando Husbands
BAR
2 FM Jacob Furfine
CHI
8-7
FM Joshua Christie
JAM
3 FM Mario Ampie
CHI
13½-1½
FM Justin Blackman
BAR
4 NM Misha Vilenchuk
CHI
12-3
FM Ryan Harper
TRI
5 IM Angelo Young
CHI
7½-7½ (0-2)
FM Damion Davy
JAM
6 NM Max Zinski
CHI
8-7
FM Raheem Glaves
JAM
7 NM Nikhil Kalghatgi
CHI
3-12
FM Joshua Johnson
TRI
8 NM Daniel Muhammad
CHI
9-6
FM Shreyas Smith
USA
9 NM Michael Auger
CHI
10½-4½
Adrian Winter
TRI
10 WCM Aria Hoesley
CHI
2½-12½
CM Kevin Merritt
JAM
11 NM Aakaaash Meduri
CHI
8-7
CM Akeem Brown
VIE
12 David Franklin
CHI
11½-3½
CM Nathan Hinds
JAM
13 JJ Lang
CHI
10-5
FM Anthony Drayton
GUY
14 Tim Donahue
CHI
13-2
WCM Raehanna Brown
JAM
15 Sedrick Prude
CHI
14-1
Davion Mars
JAM
16 Stephen Jennings
CHI
12½-2½
Alethia Edwards
JAM
17 Malik Brewley
CHI
4½-10½
Christopher Lyn
JAM
18 NM Akhil Kalghatgi
CHI
8½-6½
FM Malaku Lorne
JAM
Final Score: 166-104

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