Chess Grandmaster Captures DCPS Students’ Attention (as well as their kings and queens)
Children and chess boards were sprawled across the chatter-filled preparatory room at the U.S. Chess Center as students from seven DC Public Schools crammed in their last practice sessions. In preparation for a match of wits with International Chess Grandmaster, Maurice Ashley.
When the practices concluded, Ashley, the first African-American Grandmaster, played 30 simultaneous games with enthusiastic students from Bancroft Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, McKinley Tech High, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, Raymond Education Campus, Stuart-Hobson Middle School, and Tyler Elementary. Ashley travelled around the ring of boards, shaking hands and asking the names of each of his young opponents, before making his swift response within seconds of their moves.
Best friends and chess mates Jaleel Ali and Hayden Shepperd sat beside one another for moral support. During practice, they had talked excitedly about chess.
“Chess is just good, everything about it,” Ali proclaimed.
“I like chess because it is fun!” Mr. Shepperd quickly concurred. While darting his rook across the board, Shepperd smiled and added, “I especially like to move the rooks.”
Tonya Williams, mother of chess player Brown Anglin and assistant principal of Raymond Education Campus said, “You feel excited, watching them play, but also rattled because you want them to do well.”
For her students, the game held particular weight. One of the school’s competitors had mastered his game with best buddy Oscar Fuentes, who was killed in a shooting two years ago. Their chess mentor, Anna Rotenberg, said, “The kids play in his honor. They just take out their chess boards and find their calm.”
Readily transportable, chess is a game students bring easily from school to home. Jason Nguyen, a fourth grader at Bancroft Elementary said he taught his 5-year-old sister how to play because she wanted to learn. But he also practices with his big sister and father.
“Watching the Grandmaster play all of us will really help my game because he has so many strategies,” said Aisha Djibal, a seventh grader from Raymond Education Campus. “I am so happy that I came! I do not know what kind of chess fan would not want to be here with the Grandmaster.” Djibal’s friend, sixth grader Jasmine Perrier, said she felt “the match with Mr. Ashley was a really good challenge.”
Volunteer Sophia Mortensen said she hoped the students left the event with a sense of pride. Though none of the students won their games (such a feat is virtually impossible against a Grandmaster), they all went home winners, happy to have experienced the thrill of playing against one of the best.
“They played a Grandmaster, not many people can say that,” Mortensen said.