Maurice Ashley

Maurice Ashley (born March 6, 1966) is a Jamaican-American chess grandmaster, author, and commentator.[1][2] In 1999, he earned the grandmaster title (GM),[3] making him the first black person to attain the title of grandmaster.[4]

Maurice Ashley
Maurice Ashley playing a Chess game in 2015
Ashley in 2015
Spouse(s)Michele Ashley-Johnson
CountryUnited States
Born (1966-03-06) March 6, 1966 (age 55)
Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica
TitleGrandmaster (2000)
FIDE rating2440 (October 2021)
Peak rating2504 (July 2001)

Ashley is well known as a commentator for high-profile chess events.[5] He also spent many years teaching chess.[6][7] On April 13, 2016, Ashley was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame.

Early lifeEdit

Ashley was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica. He attended Wolmer's Boys School in Jamaica, and then moved to the United States when he was 12.[8]

He went to Brooklyn Technical High School.[9] Ashley graduated from City College of New York (CCNY) with a B.A. in Creative Writing. While at City College, he represented the school in intercollegiate team competition.

Ashley said he discovered chess in Jamaica, where his brother played chess with his friends. He got more serious about chess during high school, where he grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and played in parks and clubs throughout New York City.[9]

Always promoting chess among youth, Ashley coached the Raging Rooks of Harlem, and the Dark Knights (also from Harlem), both of which have won national championships under his guidance.[6][10]


Ashley in 2005

In 1992, Ashley shared the United States Game/10 chess championship with Maxim Dlugy.[11]

On March 14, 1999, Ashley beat Adrian Negulescu to complete the requirements for the Grandmaster title. This made him the first black chess Grandmaster.[4]

In September 1999, Ashley founded the Harlem Chess Center,[5] which has attracted such celebrities as Larry Johnson[12] and Wynton Marsalis.

Along with GM Susan Polgar, Ashley was named 2003 Grandmaster of the Year by the U.S. Chess Federation.

In 2003, Ashley wrote an essay The End of the Draw Offer?, which raised discussion about ways to avoid quick agreed draws in chess tournaments.

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.

In 2007, Ashley returned to his birth country of Jamaica and became the first GM to ever participate in a tournament there. The tournament was the Frederick Cameron Open. After sweeping a field consisting of several of Jamaica's top players, Ashley was upset in the final round by Jamaican National Master Jomo Pitterson.[8]

In 2008, Ashley was featured in an interview for the CNN documentary Black in America. He was shown during one scene in the film Brooklyn Castle mentoring a young chess player. He was mentioned in the chess movie Life of a King starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Starting in the Fall of 2012, Ashley was a Director's Fellow at the MIT Media Lab and, between 2013 and 2015, Maurice was also a Fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society in a joint fellowship at both Harvard's Berkman Center and the Media Lab at MIT. Currently, Maurice is a Research affiliate at the Media Lab at MIT.[13][14][15]

In 2013, Ashley announced he was planning the highest-stakes open chess tournament in history, Millionaire Chess Open. Its first edition took place October 9–13, 2014 in Las Vegas.

In 2015, Maurice announced a partnership with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and Ascension, Your Move Chess. This program supports after school chess in the Florissant-Ferguson School District alongside other schools in the Saint Louis area. Longer term, the goal is to expand the program on a national level.[16]

In February 2016, a video of Ashley defeating a "trash-talking" amateur chess player in Washington Square Park went viral.[17][18]

On April 13, 2016, Ashley was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame along with Chess Grandmaster Gata Kamsky.[19]


Ashley during Today in Chess program

Ashley has worked, and currently is working, as a chess commentator covering many events including those of the Grand Chess Tour. He was one of the commentators of the two matches between world champion Garry Kasparov and IBM's Deep Blue that took place in 1996 and 1997. He provided commentary for the Kasparov vs. Anand World Championship match in 1995. In 2003, Ashley hosted ESPN's broadcast of Kasparov's match against X3D Fritz. He has also served as a commentator for the 2013–19 Sinquefield Cups, several US Chess Championships, and many other chess events.

Personal lifeEdit

In 1993, Ashley married Michele Ashley-Johnson. Their daughter Nia was born the following year. Their son Jayden was born in 2002. The couple divorced in 2014.

Maurice's sister is world boxing champion Alicia Ashley and his brother is former world kickboxing champion Devon Ashley.[20][21]


  • "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."[22]

Works and publicationsEdit


  • Ashley, Maurice. "The End of the Draw Offer?" The 65th Square.
  • Ashley, Maurice. Chess for Success: Using an Old Game to Build New Strengths in Children and Teens. New York: Broadway Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0-767-91568-7 OCLC 56793604
  • Ashley, Maurice, and Graham Burgess. The Most Valuable Skills in Chess. London: Gambit, 2009. ISBN 978-1-904-60087-9 OCLC 907184357
  • Ashley, Maurice. "Ferguson and The Chess Game of Life." Jet. October 15, 2015.



  1. ^ Eisenberg, Ophira (29 March 2013). "Ask Me Another - Maurice Ashley: Chessmen At Work". NPR. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  2. ^ Marshall, Colin (4 February 2016). "The Wisdom & Advice of Maurice Ashley, the Jamaican Chess Grandmaster". Open Culture. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  3. ^ "FIDE Chess Profile: Ashley, Maurice". FIDE. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b Hajela, Deepti "Correction: Black Chessmaster story", The Associated Press, 18 April 2016
  5. ^ a b Stewart, Barbara (29 December 1999). "In Harlem, a Chess Champion Passes On His Moves and Enthusiasm". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  6. ^ a b Lidz, Franz (11 November 1991). "The Harlem Gambit". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  7. ^ Jones, Brent (3 October 2007). "Grandmaster Maurice Ashley comes to Baltimore, playing chess - and teacher". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  8. ^ a b Pitterson, Jomo (19 December 2007). "Pitterson defeats Grandmaster to take Cameron Open". The Jamaica Star. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  9. ^ a b Larson, Eric (24 April 2015). "Chess' First African American Grandmaster. The World Is A Chessboard: The Infectious Wisdom of Maurice Ashley". Mashable. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  10. ^ Ashley, Maurice (13 August 2014). "Demetrious Johnson Charitable Foundation Lecture with GM Maurice Ashley: Chess for Football Players". Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  11. ^ "Our Heritage: 2006 U.S. Chess Federation Yearbook" (PDF). Chess Life. United States Chess Federation: 50–57. April 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 August 2016. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  12. ^ Leland, John (1 April 2001). "Playing Chess with: Larry Johnson; Fierce Competition, From a Seated Position". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  13. ^ "Maurice Ashley Biography". MIT Media Lab. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  14. ^ "About Maurice". MIT Media Lab Director's Fellow Program. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  15. ^ "Maurice Ashley". Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  16. ^ "Maurice Ashley 2016 Hall of Fame Inductee!". March 18, 2016. Archived from the original on April 19, 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-26.
  17. ^ Waxman, Olivia B. (17 February 2016). "Watch a Trash-Talking Chess Player Realize He Is Playing a Grandmaster". Time. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  18. ^ Dator, James (17 February 2016). "Chess grandmaster schools trash-talking, cheating old man in New York". SBNation. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  19. ^ "2016 Inductees to U.S and World Chess Halls of Fame Announced". Mar 2, 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-26.
  20. ^ "Chess For Success".
  21. ^ "Ashley: 'Chess is intellectual karate!'". 16 November 2010.
  22. ^ "Players and Ratings: GM Maurice Ashley". United States Chess Federation. Retrieved 18 February 2016.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit