Expert Meets Grandmaster: A Personal Perspective on Playing Maurice Ashley
By Josh Lawson   
April 26, 2010
ashleysimul2.jpgGrandmaster Maurice Ashley visited Greensboro, North Carolina on April 15,2010 for a lecture, "Critical Thinking and Chess", a book signing and a simul. The visit was sponsored by the Division of University Studies at North Carolina A&T State University and the Laurin Keller Memorial Chess Club.  Earlier this year Greensboro hosted the North Carolina Scholastic Chess Championship, has periodically hosted the Lipkin Pfefferkorn Open (LPO) and the North Carolina Championship. 
 
At Ashley's Barnes & Noble signing at the Friendly Shopping Center, he also played many USCF rated players in blitz (he won all the games with style.) He then conducted  a simultaneous exhibition at NC A&TSU to wrap up his visit.  

Maurice Ashley achieved the Grandmaster title in 1999 and became the first ever African American to earn the prestigious title. GM Ashley’s impact on chess has broadened with the publication of his books, such as  “Most Valuable Skills in Chess”, “Chess for Success,” and his CD-ROM’S such as “Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess.” He has been a commentator for the Man vs. Machine match (Kasparov vs. Deep Blue) on ESPN.  Ashley will also be a commentator at the 2010 US Chess Championship, set for Saint Louis May 13-25.


It was my goal to get Mr. Ashley to return to Greensboro as I missed him in 2006 when he came on a visit sponsored by the local YMCA and North Carolina A&T State University.  (I was serving in the military and living overseas.) I wanted to  play a living legend. With the help of my good friend Dr. Joseph Graves, we were able to make this happen and it was a great success! I remember waking up last Thursday morning and I was saying to myself, “Wow, I’m about to play chess with GM Maurice Ashley!” 

My first chance to play Maurice came at Barnes & Noble when we contested a few games of blitz.  I took him to the endgame every game, but couldn’t pull out a win  in any of them.  I then understood  why he is a Grandmaster and why I’m only an expert.  After playing many games with spectators and other chess fans and autographing his book “Most Valuable Skills in Chess”, my good friend Jacob Parish and I were asked if we wanted to go to dinner with Mr. Ashley. We of course accepted the invitation. It was the best hour of my life, as we all talked about school and career paths, sports (he is a Knicks fan by the way), hustling in Brooklyn, Mr. Ashley’s chess life, and how to get better at chess. Mr. Ashley has a very humorous side, if you can get him away from the chessboard. But while at the chessboard, Mr. Ashley has a very sharp, deep concentration style that can only add to the nervousness that you already have when you play him.

ashleysimul1.jpgDuring the simul itself, Ashley alternated from e4 to d4. As I saw him getting closer to my board, I was wondering what I should play. I was thinking of normal lines or maybe trying to mix it up and play something unorthodox. Finally seeing Mr. Ashley only 1 board from mine, I thought, “No, just keep it simple”. Mr. Ashley finally got to my board, shook his hand, and unleashed 1.e4. At this point, I had considered playing c5, c6, Nf6, or e5. Before I knew it, he had returned to my board. Without really thinking, I played c5. As the night buzzed on, players were falling like flies and as I looked around, I saw that I was one of the six remaining boards left out of 19. As I tried to hold on and delay mate for a few extra moves, I had no choice but to resign, due to mate in two after a nice exchange sacrifice.



Only five boards remained and by this time, it was almost 10pm.

Finally, after the dust had cleared only one board remained. Ashley put a clock down on the game providing both players with five minutes to finish the game.  Former North Carolina State scholastic Champion Jacob Parrish fought GM Maurice Ashley to the only draw of the event.



Grandmaster Ashley finished the simultaneous exhibition with a score of 18.5/19! To cap off the evening, he signed extra copies of his book and handed them out to the final five boards and took pictures with fellow players.

These events meant a great deal to the players of the LKMCC.  It's not every day that club chess players get to play a grandmaster! GM Ashley was generous with his time, providing analysis to individual player’s games as well as providing pointers. 

On the drive home, I was thinking what an incredible day I had, hanging out with one of the most recognized faces in chess and how lucky I was to have been able to play him and get to know him on a personal level, aside from chess. Many people think that GMs don’t have a life and are dull people, but after getting to know Mr. Ashley, I can safely say that he is full of life and also is a very inspiring individual. I hope to follow his example in my chess game and also in life.

See Maurice Ashley's website here, purchase selected products on USCF Sales and look for Maurice's live commentary from the 2010 US Chess Championships coming up from May 13-25 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.