Ashley in Jamaica – Caribbean Chess Tour of a GM

12/28/2011 – GM Maurice Ashley, who in 1999 became the first African-American grandmaster of chess, was born in Jamaica, where he spent the first twelve years of his life. Returning to his first home – and meeting an uncle for the first time – was the hightlight of a Caribbean tour, and involved promoting the "Magnificent Chess Foundation". Even the new Prime Minister Andrew Holness supports it.

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Caribbean Chess Tour: Jamaica

By GM Maurice Ashley

Jamaica, the home of track superstar Usain Bolt and the late great Bob Marley, was the fourth stop on my Caribbean chess tour. It is also the land of my birth, my home for the first twelve years of my life before I immigrated with my family to the United States. While I had been “Back a yard” a few times before, I had never felt really comfortable about visiting place where my brother, sister and I had lived without our parents (and particularly our Mom) for over ten years. Those lonely and painful early years have always been difficult to shake, and I was hoping that this trip might help remove some of the bad memories. Little did I know just how amazing the trip would be!

It started at the airport as I deplaned and heard my name announced over the loudspeaker. I was quickly whisked through the security line reserved for diplomats and visiting dignitaries into a special VIP room reserved for welcoming special guests. There I met my longtime friend, the irrepressible Ian Wilkinson, head of the Jamaica Chess Federation and the one who had gone through the ultimate pains to ensure that I was granted a hero’s reception. The airport welcome staff was in high form, offering us drinks, taking pictures of the historic occasion and generally making me feel like a long lost son that had finally come home.

Of course, this had all been because of Ian, whose skill as a promoter may only be rivaled by Don King of boxing fame. Behind the pleasant smiles, tawdry jokes and dynamic wit lies one of the most strategically focused and copiously creative minds I have ever seen in my entire career in chess. Although he is one of the top defense lawyers on the island and the President of the Jamaican Bar Association, his recent addiction to chess has kept him singularly devoted to the cause of bringing the game to every single child on the island.


Ian Wilkinson (middle) holds court with VIPs at the Magnificent Chess launch

With the launch of the Magnificent Chess Foundation in 2007, his organization has gone from exposing a modest 200 children to chess to now well over 10,000 in just four years! This he has done largely with his own resources, much to my chagrin as well as those close to him.


Ian has even gone as far as to sell his Mercedes-Benz and replace it with a “chess
jeep” – with his foundation’s logo on it!

Of course, for men like Ian who see future possibilities at a glance long before the people around him, the long-term vision is the most important thing. “I want to change the culture of our country,” he told me as he drove me to the five-star Pegasus hotel. “When we have 100,000 children playing chess, the government will be unable to ignore it. Chess will get the support it deserves, and then we will be able to chart a new course for the young people of Jamaica.”


Jamaica's future chess stars

That evening, at the Pegasus, I was interviewed by Jamaica50, a documentary being created to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th year of independence in 2012. The film maker, Justine Henzell, is the daughter of the legendary Perry Henzell, who produced the classic movie, The Harder They Come, one of the most famous films in Jamaican history. The whole country had been gearing up for the historic year of celebration; I could sense the palpable buzz gathering steam just by the nature of the questions I was asked.


Olympic gold medalist Melanie Walker and Minister of Sport Olivia Grange study my
chess app Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess (MATCH), which is available for the iPhone

The next morning, Ian took me to meet Olivia Grange, the Minister of Sports, Youth and Culture in Jamaica. Sadly, news had just broken that one of the most prominent forces in Jamaican Track and Field, Howard Aris, had passed away the night of my arrival, and Minister Grange was being interviewed by all the country’s media outlets. When she finally arrived, she apologized for keeping us waiting, and promptly issued her support for chess as an activity that should be spread all over the island. By the end of the conversation, I was shocked to see how much closer Ian’s vision was to being realized as she proposed holding a big chess event in Jamaica (more news coming). Then, with Jamaica TV clamoring for an interview, she pointedly insisted that they interview me first because “it’s not every day our historic Grandmaster visits.”

After another big interview for Radio Jamaica (RJR) with former journalist of the year Dionne Jackson Miller, I got a quick rest before the main event later that evening: the launch of the expansion of the Magnificent Chess Foundation headquarters. In attendance were Minister of Transport, Michael Henry, and Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, both enthusiastic supporters of the benefits of chess for young people. The latter, a former Rhodes scholar, jokingly warned the audience to be careful because he remembered how addicted he was to the game as a youth to the point where he could think of nothing else! While he had given it up for a time because he “just couldn’t stand to lose”, he wholeheartedly endorsed chess as the wave of Jamaica’s future.


Kasparov looms large everywhere in the world – even in a Jamaican simul


Prizes: a draw to Kareem Wright and a loss to National Master Andrew Mellace

After the ribbon cutting ceremony, I played a 21 board simul, which, despite Ian’s assurances to the contrary, contained a few of Jamaica’s finer players. I was happy to crawl out of there with only a loss and two draws, the lone blemish going to National Master Andrew Mellace. Lucky for me the absolute best players didn’t participate or they might have lost all respect for their visiting GM!

The next day was reserved for fun and sun, and I went with a group of chess players and staff to the world famous Dunn’s River Falls in lovely Ocho Rios. It was my very first day in the Caribbean sea since the beginning of my trip, and the cool clear waters washed away all the stress from the crazy traveling of the past ten days.


With a couple of lovely chess ladies at Dunn's River Falls

We even broke out a chess set and analyzed one of my wins from the night before. I’m not sure how often chess is played on the beach, but it is something I could definitely get used to! Later we scaled the falls, the more macho among us picking the most dangerous rocks up which to climb. It was an exciting day all around, capped off by a chance encounter back at the hotel with Jamaican reggae star, Beenie Man:


Beenie Man (Anthony Moses Davis) is musical royalty in Jamaica, with hit songs
like King of the Dancehall and Who Am I (Sim Simma)


Something you cannot miss: one of the statues honoring Bob Marley

The biggest moment of the trip came the morning of my departure. Due to the fractured nature of my upbringing, I had never before met my father’s brother, Steve Ashley. We had spoken once on the phone, and he had insisted that the next time I visited Jamaica, we should definitely get together.

You can imagine how happy I was to see my long-lost relative; I thought those joyous reunions were just for sappy TV shows. I felt as if I had known him my whole life; neither one of us could stop smiling the whole time. We were only able to chat for about twenty minutes, but it was clear that this would be the first of many meetings.


Enjoying a dish of ackee and saltfish

I left Uncle Steve, Ian and Jamaica that morning feeling that, despite all the trials and tribulations of a difficult childhood, I had finally deeply connected to my boyhood home.

Jamaica's Chess Prime Minister


Prime Minister Andrew Holness (when he was Minister of Education) with Ian Wilkinson, President of the Jamaica Chess Federation, in 2009 after Holness agreed to support chess as a key educational tool!

When Jamaica’s former Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, decided in September, 2011 to resign as the leader of the ruling political party, the Jamaica Labour Party (“JLP”), Jamaicans braced for a possibly bitter and vitriolic power struggle among his likely successors.

To the surprise of many no such battle ensued. Instead, there was a swift and smooth transition as the power brokers and the senior members of the JLP put individual ambitions aside and rallied behind a “young man” who was the Minister of Education and, based on national poll results, the most popular government minister.

This person was none other than Andrew Michael Holness who, at twenty-five years old, was first elected a Member of Parliament in Jamaica in 1997. On the 23rd October, 2011, he made history when he was sworn in as Jamaica’s ninth Prime Minister and the youngest at thirty-nine years!

What many did not know was that Prime Minister Holness is/was an ardent chess player who had played competitively for a number of years, particularly when he was a student at St. Catherine High School.

After being away from the game for many years Holness, when he was Minister of education, accepted an invitation by the Magnificent Chess Foundation (“MCF”) and turned up, in December, 2008, during MCF’s “Magnificent Chess Week”. He participated actively in MCF’s public chess promotional activity in Half-Way-Tree, in the heart of Kingston, Jamaica’s capital. Indeed, he even found the time to play in a simultaneous exhibition conducted by Jamaican International Master Jomo Pitterson.

PM Holness has pledged his support for the island’s Chess-In-School’s initiative, being fully aware of the numerous benefits that chess has to offer to children and adults.

On Thursday December 29, 2011 Jamaicans go to the polls in a general election to elect a new government. Will Holness be able to call upon his chess background, strategy and tactics to put his political opponents in zugzwang, deliver checkmate and get his own mandate ? Only time, so crucial in chess and life, will tell!

Ian Wilkinson


Recent DVD by Maurice Ashley

Many times, when a top player blunders, it is routinely described by the esoteric term “chess blindness“. In this series What Grandmasters Don‘t See, chess trainer and worldclass commentator Maurice Ashley strips away the myth and for the first time explains why the root of these mistakes is more often based in the psychology of human learning.

In this DVD, Volume 2 of the three part series, Ashley shows that no other standard tactical theme is more over-rated, overlooked and misunderstood than the Discovered Attack. In each example, Ashley illustrates how often players are confused by discovered attacks because the examples in the majority of chess books are poorly chosen to show how this important tactical idea really works in most practical games.

In the first half of the DVD, Ashley uses interesting and entertaining positions to explain the points in his trademark effervescent style. The second half of the DVD is filled with examples to test what you have learned about discovered attacks, with a series of exercises of increasing difficulty. The material is drawn both from classic and from recent games. Video running time: 3 hours 36 minutes.

Sample video

Some previous ChessBase articles on Maurice Ashley

Ashley in Guadeloupe – Caribbean Chess Tour of a GM
28.11.2011 – GM Maurice Ashley, who in 1999 was the first African-American to attain the coveted title of International grandmaster of chess, has become an ambassador of the game. On his Caribbean Chess Tour, after visiting Martinique, he went on the incredible tropical island of Guadeloupe – and found a similar amount of enthusiasm for the game there. Here is his pictorial report on the trip.
Ashley in Martinique – GM bearing gifts
23.11.2011 – In 1999 Maurice Ashley was the first African-American to attain the coveted title of International Grandmaster of Chess, and he has become an ambassador of the game, especially in the Caribbean area. Recently he embarked on a Caribbean Chess Tour, where his first stop was Martinique. He motivated local school children with simultaneous games and gifts from the ChessBase shop.
Maurice Ashley: What Grandmasters Don't See
21.10.2011 – "Maurice Ashley scores again as favorite teacher with this DVD," writes Steven Dowd. "Ashley teaches with a entertainingly fast pace, is quick to crack a good joke, and simply relates well to the audience. If there really were a ChessBase University, Ashley would be a candidate for teacher of the year, and would be my hands-down choice to win." Review in Chess Cafe.
Maurice Ashley rounds up Bilbao today!
08.10.2011 – This afternoon from New York, at 4 PM EST and 10 PM Paris, the dynamic and popular commentator GM Maurice Ashley will be the guest host of the Bilbao round up show on Playchess, where he will not only summarize the action of the day, but he will also take questions from the spectators. This show is free for Premium subscribers so consider upgrading if you haven't already. Don't miss it!
Belize: painted faces and chess on stilts
30.06.2011 – The Central American nation, south of Mexico, has a population of just 333,000. But in this country, with its spectacular abundance of terrestrial and marine species, chess has become a national passtime. Last May the best players from each district throughout Belize met for what they call a "Chess Olympiad". A special guest at the event, GM Maurice Ashley, sent us this beautiful pictorial report.
Final round in Monaco starts at 12:30 p.m.
24.03.2011 – We don't want you to miss a minute of it: so for your information on the final day of the 20th Amber Blindfold and Rapid tournament play begins two hours earlier than usual – at 12:30 p.m. CET instead of 14:30. While you are waiting, or in the pauses between the games, you might want to watch commentary by GMs Maurice Ashley and Daniel King in previous rounds. All on Playchess.
Ashley: 'Chess is intellectual karate!'
16.11.2010 – Maurice Ashley is a US grandmaster, commentator and teacher, one of the best in the world. He is also the author of one of our most popular Fritz Trainers ("Aikido chess"). In a remarkable 24-minute "Big Think" interview – of the very highest technical quality, we may add – Maurice gives us insights into his career and his chess thinking. Very revealing, very entertaining – must watch.
Ashley’s Secret: Aikido Chess!
20.10.2010 – American GM Maurice Ashley is one of the games premier commentators. He has authored books, traveled the world promoting the virtues of chess and has recently released a DVD in partnership with ChessBase. It offers a new and general strategy: look for what your opponents last move did that actually hurt his position. Review by Michael Jeffreys.
Maurice Ashley: The Secret to Chess
08.10.2010 – Since going into a self-imposed hiatus from tournament chess, GM Maurice Ashley has not rested on his laurels as arguably one of the game's premier commentators. He has authored a couple of books, traveled the world promoting the virtues of chess and has recently released another DVD in partnership with ChessBase. Review in Chess Drum.
Magnus pounds The World in RAW Chess Challenge
12.09.2010 – It was the chess spectacle of the year. Tens of thousands of spectators joined three strong grandmasters to play the world's highest ranked player Magnus Carlsen. The event took place in a penthouse overlooking New York City, with GMs Maurice Ashley and Garry Kasparov commenting, and Hollywood actress Liv Tyler dropping in. We bring you pictures and the annotated game.
Maurice Ashley: The Secret to Chess
02.09.2010 – This is one you really do not want to miss. Star international trainer and commentator Maurice Ashley reveals a secret he discovered on his way to becoming a chess grandmaster. It is a simple idea that anyone can understand – something that you can use immediately to improve your game. Maurice's entertaining style and great clarity make this a first class DVD. Here's a sample lesson.
Ashley on CNN: 'I just knew I would be a great chess player'
10.07.2008 – Maurice Ashley is the first black chess grandmaster in history. He is also one of the games finest ambassadors, an ardent spokesman and advocate of the intellectual and character building effects in young people for over 15 years. In a short CNN report, part of the series on "Black in America", he speaks about the driving forces in his life and his career. We bring you Maurice unsquished.
Maurice Ashley on Hip Hop, GZA and Will Smith
08.07.2006 – He is the first black grandmaster in history, and also an extraordinary chess teacher, an organiser and a friend of the stars. In this indepth interview by Adisa Banjoko, the "Bishop of Hip Hop", Maurice Ashley tells about his life, his likes and his encounters with GZA and Will Smith. Fascinating stuff.

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