Check Mate: 3 Young African-American Prodigies Who Are Making History Playing Chess

Written by Jae Jones


Not too many adults can grasp the concept of , and certainly no one would imagine young African-American boys under the age of 14 to get it. However, that is just what is happening.  Fewer than 2 percent of the 77,000 members of the United States Chess Federation are masters—and just 13 of them are under the age of 14. Three young players from New York City are prodigies at the game. , ., and became masters before their 13th birthdays.


(pictured) Joshua Colas

It is extremely rare to reach “Masters” status and definitely rare to none existent for a young African-American boy 12-years-old to reach it. Maurice Ashley, 45, and has reached grandmasters status had this to say about the young player, “To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.”

The Chess Drum, a website that chronicles the achievements of Black and is operated by Daaim Shabazz, an associate professor of business at Florida A&M University— lists 85 Black masters. However, many of the players no longer compete on a regular basis. Ashley also brought up the fact that Chess is just not played that often in the African-American community.


(pictured ) James Black Jr.

According to the New York Times, “The chess federation uses a rating system to measure ability based on the results of matches in officially sanctioned events; a player must reach a rating of 2,200 to qualify for master. In September last year, Justus, who is now 13 and lives in the Bronx, was the first of the three boys to get to 2,200, becoming the youngest black player to obtain the master rank. Joshua, 13, of White Plains, was a few months younger than Justus when he became a master last December. James, 12, of Brooklyn, became a master in July.” Although the boys play against each other and are considered rivals, they have a close friendship.

justice williams

(pictured) Justus Williams 

The three boys approach the game differently. Justus and Joshua say that James studies the most, and Joshua admits he would rather play than practice. He was quoted by the New York Times saying, “I like the competition.” “And I like that chess is an art.” The boys study the game with professional coaches who are grandmasters. The lessons are extremely costly—$100 an hour is not an unusual fee. Most of the families either find sponsors or pay for the cost out of pocket. The boys have big dreams to be grandmasters by the time they graduate from high school. One thing is for sure the world will be waiting and watching to see just what happens next with them. Read more.





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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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