WASHINGTON – Take on one of the youngest chess masters in America. Check.
Students involved in the after-school program Chess Challenge in D.C. got a rare chance to learn from — if not be humbled by — three 13-year-old chess masters from New York.
The prodigies — Joshua Colas, Justus Williams and James Black Jr. — each took on 10 local students in what is called a “simul.”
Passing from board to board, the masters — each of whom achieved the ranking before his 13th birthday — took just seconds to size up the next move.
“It’s like I’m setting up a puzzle for myself, and once I see the board I have to make the best moves as possible,” Williams said.
Colas has participated in a simul before, and he said playing multiple boards is just an extension of long hours of study.
“I play a lot of chess, so I’m used to certain positions,” he said. “The moves just come to me.”
He told the after-school program he studies and reads about the game for hours every day.
“It takes hard work. It takes dedication,” he said.
In less than an hour, the young masters zipped through each of their competitors, winning every match.
“For me, the most important thing is that [the students] get exposure to three young kids that are basically peers,” said Jamaal Abdul-Alim, a coach with Chess Challenge.
“They can see that, ‘Hey, this kid can achieve a high chess rating masters status and this is what he did to get there, then I can do the same thing,'” he said.
The three masters received national attention not only for their skill, but also for ascending from an underrepresented demographic.
“Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,” Maurice Ashley, the only African-American to earn the top title of grandmaster, told The New York Times last year.
Abdul-Alim hopes that inspires his students.
“There’s no magic involved. It’s not a mystery. It’s about study, it’s about hard work, it’s about dedication,” he says.
The chess masters didn’t divulge secret strategies, but Williams did mention his go-to piece.
“My favorite piece is the knight because it’s the only piece that can hop over other pieces, and it just annoys a lot of people.”