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|GM Maurice Ashley|
When Maurice Ashley, already a renowned commentator, coach and International Master saw Tiger Woods clinch the 1997 U.S Masters, he had an epiphany. As successful as he already was, he wanted more; he wanted to become the first Black Grandmaster. “I had been dreaming about being a grandmaster for over a decade, but life had seemed to be constantly pulling me in different directions,” Maurice writes on his website, “It was that Sunday in April watching Tiger realize his dream that convinced me that I needed to change my life and go chase mine.”
For the next two years, Maurice put his other activities on hold, studying and playing constantly to meet his goal. He made his final GM norm in the 1999 Manhattan International. Ironically, Maurice only got .5/2 in his first two games in the tournament, and lost his final game, but he went on a rampage in between, scoring 5.5/6 against IMs and GMs. A media blitz followed his accomplishment: Among the many sources to call him for interviews were Charlie Rose, the New York Times,CNN and Reader's Digest.
Maurice inspired students at schools like Mott Hall in Harlem, which he visited after winning the title. One Dominican student said, “ Because he did it, he made me believe that I could do it, because we’re both minority .”
Maurice is a born fighter; he’s tricky and aggressive. Maurice confidently contests the sharpest lines of any opening without worrying about whether his opponent will know it better or come up with a novelty. To earn the GM title, Maurice had to go past his natural talents and work hard on raising his positional and endgame play to the GM standard.
Maurice is the World's premier T.V and live chess commentator, appearing on ESPN several times to comment on Kasparov’s matches. He coached National Championship teams from Harlem The Raging Rooks and The Dark Knights; produced the CD-rom Maurice Ashley teaches chess and the DVD Speed Chess, and organized the HB Generation chess tournament in Minneapolis, with the largest open tournament prize fund in history. He wrote Chess for Success (Random House, 2005), which explains the value of chess to parents and educators.
In 2003, Maurice articulated clearly and widely the dangers of quick draws. Quick draws are common practice in professional chess. It’s hard to make a living in chess, and pros often prefer to guarantee a moderate payday than gamble double or nothing. Maurice admitted to taking quick draws in his own career to secure a share of first place. However, a a fan hoping for an exciting battle between two of her favorite players is disappointed when the two GMs make a peace offering within 15 minutes. This hurts sponsorship and advertising opportunities, ultimately coming back to hurt the players. Ashley instated the 30 (or 40) move-rule in his tournaments (such as the Generation Chess Masters and the HB Global Challenge), which barred players from taking draws before move 30. He also inspired this rule change in other prestigious events, such as the U.S. Championship and the New York Masters.
Maurice is philosophical about his historic achievement and the significance of his race. In comparison to black pioneers of the past he says he has experienced little racism. Still he's proud of the contribution he’s made to a community whose intellectual achievements are too rarely celebrated. "African continent GMs do exist; but, according to the system of racial classification, I am the first Black GM in history...it matters, and doesn't matter, all at the same time."