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Famous Black Chess Players

Jul 20, 2021 03:00PM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho

The history of chess can be traced back nearly 1500 years, although its earliest origins are uncertain. The popularity of chess has, for the past two centuries, been closely tied to competition, usually in the form of two-player matches, for the title of world champion. The first major international event was a series of six matches held in 1834 between the leading French and British players, Louis-Charles de la Bourdonnais of Paris and Alexander McDonnell of London, which ended with Bourdonnais’s victory. But only as of 2015, there are three grandmasters of African descent. Here’s more about some of these grandmasters and other famous Black chess players.

Maurice Ashley

Maurice Ashley is a Jamaican-American chess grandmaster, author, and commentator. Ashley was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica. He attended Wolmer's Boys School in Jamaica, then moved to the United States when he was 12. In 1992, Ashley shared the United States Game/10 chess championship with Maxim Dlugy. In 1999, Ashley beat Adrian Negulescu to complete the requirements for the title of Grandmaster. This made him the first Black chess grandmaster. In 2005, he wrote the book Chess for Success, relating his experiences and the positive aspects of chess. He was the main organizer for the 2005 HB Global Chess Challenge, with the biggest cash prize in history for an open chess tournament. Ashley has worked, and currently is working, as a chess commentator covering many events, including those of the Grand Chess Tour.


Kenny Solomon

Kenneth Terence Solomon is a South African chess grandmaster and (International Chess Federation or World Chess Federation) FIDE Trainer. He took up chess at the age of 13, inspired by his elder brother's qualification for the Chess Olympiad in Manila in 1992. Within two years, Solomon was the South African under-16 champion. Solomon won the African Individual Chess Championship in Namibia in December 2014 and became a grandmaster, building on his previous excellent performances. “I continued to work on chess over the years until 2008 even when there were few opportunities,” said Solomon in an interview when asked what were the most important aspects in his chess development “It was important not to give up, to be patient, to bide my time, to learn from defeats and recover quickly.


Pontus Carlsson

Born December 18, 1982, Pontus Carlsson is a Swedish chess grandmaster. Pontus was taught chess by his adoptive father at the age of four and has represented Sweden in international competitions since he was a youth. His first international tournament of record was the under-10 European Championships in Rimavska Sobota. Carlsson's rise to the Grandmaster title was rather sudden as he earned the International Master title  in 2005 and after earning four GM norms, he was awarded the title in 2007. Recently, Carlsson has become one of the chess world's most prominent voices in support of the worldwide protests sparked by the May 25 2020 police killing of George Floyd.


Darrian Robinson

Darrian Robinson is the highest- rated African American female chess player in the United States Chess Federation system. Robinson graduated from the University of Chicago in 2016, and during her tenure there she held a White House internship, and studied at the London School of Economics. Her USCF rating is 2086 and she holds the title of "Candidate Master. Her chess career became notable in 2006, when she ranked 6th in USCF’s girls under 13 ranking and represented the United States in Batumi, Georgia at the World Youth Chess Championship. “Chess isn't about winning first place in tournaments. It's about beating individuals who are better than you,” said Robinson in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.



The Undefeated



The Chess Drum

Pontus Carlsson

Black Art Story

Western Cape Government

Bill Wall

 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content. 

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