Insights from a Champion: Grandmaster Maurice Ashley
Trailblazer Maurice Ashley broke barriers as the first Black chess player to be awarded the highest honor of the Grandmaster title. His lifelong love for the sport began in his native country Jamaica, developing throughout his teenage years in Brooklyn playing in parks and clubs throughout New York City. Maurice’s fierce dedication and talent awarded him the title of 2003 Grandmaster of the Year by the U.S. Chess Federation. From winning numerous high-profile matches and titles, to developing the Harlem Chess Center and writing several books, Maurice’s success knows no bounds. Maurice shared his insight on his pathway to becoming a champion in the game of chess and the valuable lessons it has imparted upon him.
Question: Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a grandmaster and the challenges you encountered along the way.
Answer: My journey to the grandmaster title began in Brooklyn, New York where I went to high school (Brooklyn Tech High School). I was getting my ass kicked by friends and I didn’t like it, so I started studying chess, started reading books playing every day, and finally started beating them. I went to the parks in Brooklyn and saw the hustlers there that would play me for money. They didn’t care that I was in high school, they would take my lunch money. So, it was a very interesting journey and wasn’t a typical journey that most grandmasters have when they start at 5 or 6 years old and get chess training from grandmasters at a young age. It was definitely very different and took a while to get to the grandmaster title.
Queston: What inspired you to pursue a career in chess, and how has it shaped your life?
Answer: I was just obsessed by the game. Once it gets you it has you in its clutches. I really just pursued it fully and wanted to be good. I couldn’t help myself, I wanted to beat anyone I knew.
Question: As a prominent figure in the chess world, what message or impact do you hope to convey to aspiring chess players, especially those from underrepresented communities?
I have been in the game for a long time. I’ve taught a lot of young people in underrepresented communities and coached national champions. Most kids don’t end up becoming serious chess players, they use chess as a way to think more critically, problem solve, focus, and use the lessons from the game to integrate into their lives. I tell them follow your passion; I hope they can do what they love. I have been able to do it all my life. Chess is my living it’s my everything so to me it’s not like work. So, if you can have a career that doesn’t feel like a job, that is a blessing.
Question: How do you believe chess can contribute to the professional development and success of Black professionals?
It’s something to me that is somewhat sad that more of us don’t play the game. It’s an incredible game it opens doors, you tell people you play chess they immediately look at you differently. The reality is it’s been helping a lot of our kids for a number of years. So, I believe that all of us should at least try to learn the game teach it to our children the strategy the planning the ability to look ahead to think before you leap learn from your losses learn about sacrifice and risk these are all things that I talk about when I meet with companies like Google and Amazon, UBS and IBM. These are the critical thinking skills we need to master. Chess is one of those games you have to play to start to shift your thinking a lot. It is a discipline acting as a game.