|Come learn from the chess-hustling master|
It was in 1999 that chess got its first Black chess grandmaster in history, Mr. Maurice Ashley (for a fascinating lists of Black "firsts" consult this site).
Chess requires great patience as the player must analyze a number potential moves that could be made, consider how his opponent will retaliate and the players must become a virtual theoretician in considering the multiple outcomes of the aforementioned variables that are yet to be concluded.
Black people, long suspicious of the white move first rule, have been late to the practice of excelling at chess. One wonders, if like the debate at Towson University that called the structured world of debating a vile form of white supremacy and won the 2008 National Championship, what would happen if Black chess players demanded that Black move first?
Even for white kids chess is seen as a nerdy way to spend ones time, so you can only assume the vitriol fired at Black kids brave enough to test the uncharted waters of acting white and being the token Black in the world of chess.
One such student is Justus Williams, profiled here:
When Bronx student Justus Williams started third grade at P.S. 70, his mother, Latisha, urged him to take on chess. The hobby was “less common” than basketball, she said.Notice how he eats salads, spurning junk food as the sustenance of the imbecilic. Or it could be that Justus is a chess prodigy, like Joshua Waitzkin in Searching for Bobby Fischer.
But Justus wasn’t enthusiastic at first. “I thought I was going to be embarrassed,” he said.
As it turned out, mom knew best.
Justus, now 12 and completing sixth grade, is the highest-rated chess player in the U.S. in his age and gender group, and fourth overall in World Chess Federation international rankings for his age group.
Justus found out recently that he will travel to Halkidiki, Greece in October to represent the U.S. in the 2010 World Youth Chess Championship. That’s after a summer filled with tournaments such as the Pan American Youth Chess Festival in Brazil and the World Open in Philadelphia.
Justus first played at a Chess-in-the-Schools program in the Bronx’s P.S. 70, when he was in the third grade. His instructor Shaun Smith said Justus had more focus than his peers, and pushed himself to the top of the class—and the country—by fourth grade. “He’s a very mature sixth grader in that he’s stoic and adult-like,” Smith said. “He’s the quietest person. He’s very shy.”
As he started winning, the champ began to see chess as less of a chore. “My mom didn’t have to push me to go to tournaments anymore,” he said. His grades got better, too.
Smith, who coordinates Justus’s tournament play, started bringing him to more prestigious games when he hit fifth grade. He now practices one or two hours a day.
How does a 12-year-old chess champ prepare to become a master? His mom figures that out. She makes sure Justus gets a good night’s sleep and steers him from junk food; healthier foods such as fruit and chicken salad help his mental stamina, she said.
It is in this film that Waitzkin learns two different forms of chess, one from a traditional chess master and the other from a Black street hustler:
In the film, Josh learns the moves by watching them played in the park. At first his parents, Fred and Bonnie Waitzkin (Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen), are even unaware he can play, and there is a sweet scene in which the boy allows his father to win a game, to spare his feelings. Josh's first teacher is a black chess hustler named Vinnie (Laurence Fishburne), who uses an in-your- face approach and advises unorthodox moves to throw an opponent off.
Eventually Fred becomes convinced his son needs more advanced tutelage, and hires the brilliant but prickly Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley), a difficult case - but then all good chess players are difficult cases.
The difference in strategy between Vinnie and Bruce is much simplified in the film, and comes down to whether you should develop your queen at an early stage in the game. For the film, the queen is just a symbol of their opposed styles; the movie is really about personalities, and how they express themselves through chess.
Every event, every game, every sport has a hustler. Thankfully this movie had a Black chess hustler to teach Josh how to play chess and to go to the edge of defeat to ultimately win. Going to the street is one of the top ways that the white character can learn how to deal with life and be victorious in the end.
Thanks to Vinnie, Josh was able to succeed. Now if only Vinnie could come around and teach those Black students who are struggling on AP exams, the future might look much brighter. Maurice Ashley is a chess grandmaster, the first Black man to earn that title. Scholastic achievement is normally up to the individual, a combination of how hard that person studies, applies themselves and is blessed with inherited intelligence.
It's great that Vinnie helped tutor Josh to become a more formidable chess player, and we can only hope this pedagogy is reproduced in the real world.
Black Fictional Heroes include Vinnie from Searching for Bobby Fischer, a chess hustler who helped improve a chess prodigies comprehension of the game. If only chess prodigies could sign up for Teach for America to improve the scholastic performance of inner-city schools so they don't resort to cheating to inflate grades.
Perhaps introduce students to a chess club? Help them beat Gary Kasparov, like this Black kid in the AltaVista commercial (a company about to dissolved). It's time to let Black move first, ahead of white. We do it in everything else in Black Run America (BRA), why has chess waited so long to be welcomed into the 21st century?