By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Maurice Ashley, the first African-American international chess grandmaster, recently paid a visit to Poly Prep Country Day School’s Bay Ridge campus, where he told students in Poly’s middle school about his efforts to convince people that chess, while a difficult endeavor, is also a fun game.
Middle School Head Lori-Anne Brogdon introduced John Maucere, who co-founded a chess education program called Grandmaster Learning with Ashley. Maucere introduced Ashley to the students at the forum, which took place in the school chapel on Jan. 30.
Ashley talked to the students about his life, explaining to the youngsters that he was born in Jamaica and moved to Brooklyn at the age of 12 to live with his mother. “I caught the chess fever in high school at Brooklyn Tech,” he told the students. “I saw a book in the library on chess strategies.”
Ashley said that after being beaten several times by more experienced players, he was determined to improve his game. “I played chess after school every day,” he said. “I played in the park. I got good and traveled to tournaments in Europe, Africa, and across the United States. It was quite a bit of fun.”
Ashley, who started playing chess at 14, became a grandmaster at the age of 31.
History teacher Nick Hurwitz, a 2007 graduate of Poly Prep, serves as coach of the after-school Chess Club.
Ashley said he hoped to bring great chess to Poly. “We are going to bring more chess energy here with coaches. Poly is going to rock,” he said.
Ashley then introduced Indian Chess Grandmaster Magesh Panchanathan and expert player Kasaun Henry to demonstrate their skills. In a one-minute game, which lasted only a few moves, Panchanathan easily captured Henry’s queen, Poly Prep officials said.
Ashley is a three-time national championship coach, an author, ESPN commentator, iPhone app designer, puzzle inventor and motivational speaker.
Ashley asked for student volunteers to come up to the stage and to try their hand at Ashley’s “Learn Chess with Maurice Ashley App.”
“We try to keep chess fun,” Ashley said. In a brief question and answer session, Ashley advised novice chess players to learn by playing. “If you want to get better, you have to find the best competition and play them. Losing is learning,” he said.
“I truly appreciated Maurice Ashley's answer when a student asked him what steps it took for him to become a grandmaster. Maurice's attitude was a great example to our students of what it means to have resilience, and I think his message was heard by most in the audience,” Brogdon said.