GM Maurice Ashley

Full name
Maurice Ashley
Born
Mar 6, 1966 (age 54)‎
Place of birth
St. Andrew, Jamaica
Federation
United States

Rating

Bio

Maurice Ashley is an American chess grandmaster and commentator. The first African-American grandmaster, he became a member of the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 2016.

Playing Career

Born in Jamaica in 1966, Ashley moved with his family to the United States in the late 1970s, and he went to high school in Brooklyn, New York. He didn’t learn to play chess until he was 14; nonetheless, he developed into quite a strong player during the 1980s. 

By age 25 Ashley was teaching and coaching chess to kids in Brooklyn. He told Sports Illustrated he wanted to become the first Black chess grandmaster. He was certainly strong enough, as the positional queen sacrifice below from 1991 demonstrates (against FM Sunil Weeramantry, who would soon be training a young future GM, Hikaru Nakamura). After achieving the feat of becoming a GM, Ashley told the U.S. Chess Federation that Tiger Woods’ 1997 victory at the Masters golf tournament also inspired him. 

By 1997 Ashley was already a strong player but had largely played in New York state events, so becoming a GM was to some degree a matter of playing tournaments where he would be eligible to win his norms. He began playing events in Europe—Hungary, Germany, France—and elsewhere. But it was in New York where Ashley made his third and final norm, with six points out of nine at the 1999 Manhattan International.

In 2002, Ashley scored one of his top career wins by defeating GM Larry Christiansen at the Foxwoods Open (below). After the 2003 U.S. Championship, the only time he played in the event, Ashley retired from competitive chess. However, he has stayed actively involved in the community and remains so to this day. 

Media

Ashley was a TV chess commentator even before he was a GM, covering the 1993 Garry Kasparov-Nigel Short championship and a 1995 blitz event with GM Daniel King. With GM Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade, Ashley has co-hosted "Today In Chess" with live commentary from St. Louis on world championships, U.S. championships, and other major tournaments and events. In this role he often interviews top grandmasters such as Nakamura and GM Magnus Carlsen. Ashley describes his commentary, which he has also done for ESPN, as “high-energy, unapologetic and irreverent.”

GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Maurice Ashley
Ashley with Nakamura on the Grand Chess Tour. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Ashley has done more than most players to bring chess awareness outside the chess community in the United States. Throughout the 1990s, he taught chess in schools in Brooklyn and then at the Harlem Chess Center, which he started. In recent years he’s appeared onTED Talks, "The Daily Show," and various non-chess podcasts and radio shows to discuss the game. A collection of his media appearances is available at his personal website, www.mauriceashley.com

Ashley also starred in a 2016 viral video, reaching over 7,500,000 views, of him playing an unsuspecting park player in Washington Square in New York City. 

Chess.com

In 2015, Ashley created a video series for Chess.com that analyzes games from the Millionaire Chess tournaments, which ran from 2014-16 on Ashley’s concept that large prize funds could help expand chess’s popularity. Games analyzed in the series feature players such as GM (then IM) Jeffery Xiong and GM Alexy Dreev.

In 2020 Ashley began Twitch streaming and commentating for Chess.com. His streams include bullet games against Chess.com members and analyses of his past favorite games, including the above example against Weeramantry. As of December 2020, his channel has nearly 10,000 followers. As a Chess.com commentator, Ashley joined Wouter Bik to cover the Bullet Open Championship in December 2020.

Most Played Openings

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