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.
Among that select group of prodigies are three black players from the New York City area — Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. — who each became masters before their 13th birthdays.
“Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,” said Maurice Ashley, 45, the only African-American to earn the top title of grandmaster. “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 federation, the game’s governing body, does not keep records on the ethnicity of its members. But a Web site called the Chess Drum — which chronicles the achievements of black chess players and is run by Daaim Shabazz, an associate professor of business at Florida A&M University — lists 85 African-American masters. Shabazz said many of them no longer compete regularly.
Ashley, who became a master at age 20 and a grandmaster 14 years later, said the rarity was not surprising. “Chess just isn’t that big in the African-American community,” he said.
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.
The three New Yorkers met several years ago during competitions. Justus has an edge over James, mostly because he won many of their early games, before James caught up. Head to head, James and Joshua each have several wins against the other. Justus and Joshua have rarely competed against each other.
Although they are rivals, the boys are also friends and share a sense that they are role models.
**Read prior Teenz Media eMag postings...click here
TEENZ MEDIA eMAG