GM Ashley discusses chess-athletics link

Chess players have heard all the jokes. Of course, saying that chess is athletic gives skeptics even more ammunition for sharp, humorous barbs.

Of course, people who do not play chess will fail to see the connection because they are merely observing the physical activity and not the energy expended (which is really what sport is all about).

GM Maurice Ashley is on a whirlwind tour to promote chess across America and was recently hosted by several schools in South Carolina to extol the virtues of chess.

GM Maurice Ashley in Columbia, South Carolina as part of his cross-country tour in promoting chess. Photo by C. Aluka,

GM Maurice Ashley in Columbia, South Carolina as part of his cross-country chess tour. Scott Gwara, left, Christopher Williams, 11, and David Padget watch Ashley play Isabel Gwara at Hand Middle School. Photo by C. Aluka,

In Ron Morris' April 29th article on The website, Ashley was reported visiting South Carolina schools and perhaps surprised a few people when making the connection of chess and athletics. He discussed the training regiment the top players employ to increase stamina and endurance. Ashley, a self-admitted "gym rat,"  made perhaps the best analogy to illustrate the physical demands of the board sport.

"You lose weight playing chess in competition," Ashley says. "When you're playing, it's so intense. Six hours for one game. Just imagine taking two (final exams) on the same day, back to back, and doing that for nine days in a row. That's what a chess player does at a tournament in international competition. If I am not fit, come round seven or eight ... my tongue is dragging on the floor."

Due to the inaccurate "nerd" image of chess, it is perceived as an antithesis to athletics. However, several world-class athletes play at an above-average level including Lennox Lewis, the retired heavyweight boxer. In another interesting development that may be unprecedented, the Major League Baseball Champion Florida Marlins have established a chess club on their team. Miami, the home of the Marlins, has been a hotbed of chess and it buttressed by strong Latin American players.

Perhaps the euphoria of chess has spread to the baseball, arguably the most cerebral of the four major sports in America. Ashley is very knowledgeable sports fan and never hesitates to show his enthusiasm for his New York sports teams. In the Harlem festival that he hosted, he invited several of the New York Knick basketball players to participate. Of course, trash-talking was exchanged. This energy certainly carries over into his passion for chess and of course, it also energizes those who listen to him. During his tour, Ashley will no doubt reach thousands with his message and perhaps will spur a new generation of chess athletes.

See Ron Morris, "Grandmaster stays fit with Chess," The, 29 April 2004.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 29 April 2004