Chess references are often used on television to suggest intellectual superiority. Not many of these programs give a good view of chess culture.
One that has is a recent episode of “The Moth,” a program dedicated to the art of live storytelling that appears on public radio. The show’s art director, Catherine Burns, has given us a transcript of the appearance of Maurice Ashley, the first and only African-American Grandmaster, who has described a separate world of New York City black chess in vivid terms.
Ashley’s rendition, from the tranquillity of the show’s special Martha’s Vineyard location, is a remarkable specimen of description and recall. He relates that he was raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn; not exactly a fairy tale neighborhood to grow up in, with its share of abandoned buildings, guns, and crime. Somehow, Ashley got interested in chess and beat up on his friends at the game. One of them said he knew a bunch of guys that could crush him.
He was led to Prospect Park where he encountered the so-called Black Bear school, 30 men playing or watching, the foremost being George Golden, a player with an instinct to control the center and who, if drawn out, could trash talk all night while leveling his opponent. The Black Bear school got its name from the fact that the only way to stop a charging Black Bear is to kill it. They specialized in blitz. Ashley got thrashed, went home to study, returned, and got crushed again. This kept happening. Slowly, Ashley got some insights, and he would go to the Manhattan chess clubs where the Black Bears would not go, and started learning theory and technique.
Finally, he started beating the Bears one by one. His final goal was to defeat George, along with George’s unrelenting streak of trash talk (“Oh Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?), his singing, and even his decrying the return of Reaganomics while belittling his adversary. But Ashley was making progress.
The final confrontation was at George’s apartment, and Ashley beat him in blitz, often with a matter of seconds to go. On his way out, Ashley realized that he had broken something inside of George. Ashley concludes that he wanted to thank the Black Bear School for his rise in the chess world.
Here is this column’s postscript. Flash forward. It is 1995 and your columnist has arrived at the top of the World Trade Center. There Garry Kasparov was defending his world championship against Viswanathan Anand of India. They could not help but hear the commentator addressing a captivated audience of fans; the commentator was Maurice Ashley, who had made his way from Brownsville to the top of New York City — the hard way.
Brevity: K. Lahno vs. A. Gasik (2001) 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.exd5 Nxd5 5.Bc4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 g6 7.Ne5 e6 8.Qf3 f6 9.Bb5+ Ke7 10.Ng4 Bg7 11.d4 Qa5 12.Bh6 Bxh6 13.Qxf6+ Kd6 14.Qe5+ Ke7 15.Qxc5+ Kd8 16.Nxh6 Bd7 17.Nf7; 1-0
Winners: 2013 World Amateur Team East: 1st, Princeton U. “A,” 6-0; New England individual board winners: 1st Board, Larry Christiansen, 5.5.-.5, 2d Board, Alex Cherniak and Christopher Chase , both 6-0; Western Mass. – Connecticut Valley: Tie for first: Jayson Paul, Magnus Wennemyr, Eric Strickland, Norman Burtness, Michael Zyra Jr., all with 4-1.
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