Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

Five Best Chess Players of All Time

Jul 21, 2022 09:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian
collage of chess players of Black or African descent

Every nation is proud of its athletes' achievements in sports and games. When we think about African champions, we generally think of our top athletes and sports stars. However, Africa has produced some incredible grandmasters in chess, which is recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee. While the game is not as popular in Africa as in Europe or Russia, the region has produced some outstanding chess players. It took 43 years for Africa to taste this championship when Tunisian Grandmaster Bouaziz Slim broke the ice in 1993. Without further ado, here are the top five chess players.

Amon Simutowe Amon

Simutowe is a well-known chess player regarded as a pathfinder for Africans in the game. He is the third person of African heritage to achieve grandmaster status in chess. The first was Jamaican-American Maurice Ashley, who became the first black person to achieve grandmaster status in 1999 and was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame. Pontus Carlsson, a Swede, was adopted by a Swedish couple after his family died. His stepfather, who engaged with chess and even led the Swedish Chess Federation, made it a point to introduce Pontus to the game. Pontus Carlsson moved swiftly through the ranks to become General Manager in 2007.


Darrian Robinson

Darrian Robinson is a chess player from the United States. She was the highest-ranked African American female player in the United States Chess Federation system as of 2014. She is a Candidate Master's with the USCF, and her most recent USCF rating is 2086. Darrian's chess career took off in 2006 when she finished sixth in the USCF's girls under 13 rankings and represented the United States in the World Youth Chess Championship in Batumi, Georgia. Robinson received her bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 2016. She had a White House Internship, studied at the London School of Economics, and worked at Hillary Clinton's Iowa campaign headquarters in Des Moines during her time there.


Tanitoluwa Emmanuel Adewumi

 Tanitoluwa Emmanuel Adewumi is a Nigerian-American chess player who is now a FIDE Master (FM). He won the 2019 K-3 New York State chess championship at age eight after just a year of playing the game while living in a homeless shelter in Manhattan with his refugee family. Austin taught Tanitoluwa a chess-like game called "Latter," which he played using a makeshift board and Play-Doh pieces. He participated in the 52nd Annual New York State Scholastic Championships (kindergarten-3rd grade category) in Saratoga Springs, New York, on March 9,10, 2019. He was seeded eighth out of 74 players, with an Elo rating of 1473, more than 200 lower than the top-ranked players. He won the tournament with a perfect score of 5.5/6. (five wins, one draw, no losses). Adewumi reached the 2200 Elo rating barrier required for the official USCF title of National Master on May 1, 2021, at ten, making him the 28th youngest chess player in history. In April 2022, he earned his first IM norm by scoring 7.0/9 in the New York Spring Invitational Norm event. In July 2022, he won the IM C event and earned his second IM norm after scoring 7.0/9 in the New York Summer Invitational.


Emory Andrew Tate Jr.

Emory Andrew Tate Jr. was an international chess master from the United States. Maurice Ashley, the first black chess grandmaster, described Tate as "certainly a pathfinder for African-American chess." Tate was born in Chicago, the son of notable attorney Emory Andrew Tate. As a kid, he learned to play chess. Tate's best FIDE rating on the October 2006 rating list was 2413, placing him 72nd in the United States and among the top 2000 active players in the world. On the April 1997 list, his highest USCF rating was 2499. After gaining his third norm at the 2006 World Open, he was awarded the international master title in 2007. On the US chess circuit, Tate established a reputation as a clever and deadly strategist, winning roughly 80 tournament games against Grandmasters. Tate won the United States Armed Forces Chess Championship five times. He was admitted into the Indiana State Chess Hall of Fame in 2005 after winning the state title six times (1995, 1996, 2000, 2005, 2006, and 2007). In 2010, he also won the Alabama state title.


Theophilus Augustus Thompson

 Theophilus Augustus Thompson is the United States' first known African-American chess expert. In addition to playing in tournaments, he released Chess Problems: Either to Play or Mate in 1873. Thompson saw the game for the first time in an April 1872 bout between John K. Hanshew and another guy. Thompson was given a chessboard and several chess problems to tackle by Hanshew, the publisher of The Maryland Chess Review. Thompson had shown an instant aptitude to understand and grasp the game's rules. Thompson's prominence rose, and he began competing in competitions. He is well known for his book about endgame positions, Chess Problems: Either to Play or Mate (1873). Orestes Brownson Jr., the editor of the Dubuque Chess Journal, for whom Thompson also worked as a servant, published it.


Maurice Ashley

A Jamaican-American chess player, author, and pundit, Maurice Ashley, was born in the United States. In 1999, he became the first black person to achieve the title of Grandmaster (GM) from the FIDE (Federation Internationale de Chess). In 1992, Ashley and Maxim Dlugy tied for first place in the United States Game/10 chess tournament. After defeating Adrian Negulescu on March 14, 1999, Ashley fulfilled all of the qualifications for the Grandmaster title. Because of this accomplishment, he became the first black chess Grandmaster. Ashley was awarded the title of Grandmaster of the Year in 2003 by the United States Chess Federation, sharing the honor with Susan Polgar. In 2003, Ashley wrote the article "The End of the Draw Offer?," which sparked a conversation about how chess competitions may be improved to reduce the number of hastily accepted draws. In 2005, he published the book Chess for Success, in which he discussed how playing chess may lead to professional and personal success. He was the primary organizer of the HB Global Chess Challenge in 2005, which included the largest cash prize ever awarded in an open chess tournament. In 2013, Ashley announced that he intended to organize the Millionaire Chess Open, the open chess tournament with the most significant stakes in the game's history. Las Vegas hosted the event for the first time from October 9th to the 13th, 2014. Alongside Chess Grandmaster Gata Kamsky, Ashley was admitted into the United States Chess Hall of Fame on April 13, 2016, marking the occasion. His FIDE rating is at 2440 as of July 2022.


 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

Read more from Anand Subramanian:

Popular Black Entrepreneur Podcasts to listen to in 2022

Popular Black Entrepreneur Podcasts to listen to in 2022

We've compiled a thorough list of the most popular Black Entrepreneur podcasts. Look no further if you want to fire podcasts for Black companies - we've got you covered. Read More » 


5 African American Movies You Need to Watch Before We Enter 2022

5 African American Movies You Need to Watch Before We Enter 2022

2021 is coming to an end, and before we embark on a new chapter in our lives, it's time to reflect on and enjoy the African American films that dominated our screens of all sizes. Read More » 


Hip Hop and its Global Influence in the Present Day

Hip Hop and its Global Influence in the Present Day

In this article, we will be discussing how hip-hop culture, despite its controversial lyrics, has unified the world and created a positive environment around identity, race, and culture. Read More »