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Meet the First African American to Become a Chess Grandmaster

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 11: International Grand Master Maurice Ashley shakes hands with Amir Oliviere, a sixth grader at Stuart Hobson Middle School in the District prior to his match against thirty school-aged kids at the U.S. Chess Center on October 11, 2011 in Washington, D.C. Grandmaster Maurice Ashley played a 30-board simultaneous chess match with school-aged children to promote and benefit the U.S. Chess Center’s work with the District of Columbia Public Schools. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Maurice Ashley is the first African American ever to be awarded the world title of Chess Grandmaster, the highest title a player can attain. Born and raised in St. Andrew, Jamaica, he was introduced to chess by his brother who would often play the game with his friends.
At age 12, Maurice and his family moved to the United States. There he became more serious about chess while in high school, and he began playing in local parks and clubs throughout New York City. He started playing professionally, and in 1992, he shared the United States Game/10 chess championship with Maxim Dlugy.

In 1999, after beating Adrian Negulescu to complete the requirements for the title, Maurice became the first Black chess Grandmaster in the United States. In September of that same year, he founded the Harlem Chess Center to teach other African Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds how to become chess champions.

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In 2003, Maurice was named 2003 Grandmaster of the Year by the U.S. Chess Federation. That same year, he also wrote an essay entitled The End of the Draw Offer?, and two years later he published a book entitled Chess for Success about his life story.

As a historymaker, he was featured in an interview for the CNN documentary series Black in America with Soledad O’Brien. Maurice also mentored a young chess player during a scene in the 2012 documentary film Brooklyn Castle.

In 2016, Maurice was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame along with fellow Chess Grandmaster Gata Kamsky.

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