In 1999 Maurice Ashley became the first African-American to achieve the exalted chess rank of international grandmaster. He has been a chess commentator on ESPN and is the author of the book "Chess for Success: Using an Old Game to Build New Strengths in Children and Teens."
Question: What does it take to play top-level chess?
Maurice Ashley: I think that chess grandmasters come in all shapes and sizes, stripes, different personalities. You have your types that are hyper aggressive killers, I mean gangsters really, guy who just don’t care. They want to rip your heart out, cook it, and eat it later. You know you have those types in the chess world where they just go straight for the throat and that is their natural personality and you have other types that are more like boa constrictors, the quiet types. They got you. You’re going to die. It’s okay, relax. This won’t be… It will be slow and maybe it will be painful, but you know it’s over, so just enjoy the death. So you don’t see the same types in the chess world, but I think that competitiveness is one quality though, definitely people who want to win, people who are about victory and if you’re not truly determined, if you’re not the kind of person who sees a goal and goes right after it and will work any amount of time, any amount of hours just to make sure that happens you can’t be a chess grandmaster. I think that is first, determination and competitiveness.
Question: Are you a boa constrictor or an aggressive killer?
Maurice Ashley: Well I’m from Jamaica and I’m from Brooklyn and so that… You know in my earlier days I was much more a shoot them, kill them type definitely. I had a lot of creativity. I calculated really well and so I just thought go for the throat. That is the only way to do it you know. You got to kill them. Don’t let them blink. First chance you get attack. When I started going out into the chess world and playing against better players, particularly those Russians who somehow knew how to defend really, really well and they just sat there and it was like Napoleon trying to come into Moscow or into… like right into the heart of it and then Siberia… the Siberian winter shuts you down. That’s what happened on a chess board and I realized this style just didn’t work at least at that level, so I had to pair it back a little bit and start to understand a more nuanced style, so now my style is a lot more family man if you will, a lot more delicate, a lot more nuanced as to how I execute, but don’t make a mistake because Brooklyn comes right back.