Maurice Ashley

Maurice Ashley Biography

Chess Player (1966–)
Maurice Ashley is the first African American to become an international grandmaster in chess.


Born in 1966, Maurice Ashley lived in Jamaica until he was 12. He then moved to the United States where he eventually discovered a passion for chess. Ashley earned the title of national master in 1986, and rose up the rankings to become the first African-American international grandmaster in 1999. In 2003, he was named "Grandmaster of the Year" by the U.S. Chess Federation. He has written about the game in such books as Chess for Success (2005).

Early Life and Career

Born on March 6, 1966, in Kingston, Jamaica, Maurice Ashley is best known for being the first African American to earn the title of international grandmaster in chess. Ashley spent his early years in Jamaica. His mother left him and his siblings in the care of their grandmother when he was just 2 years old. She went to the United States to find work. The rest of the family joined her in 1978 in New York.

Ashley began playing chess at the age of 14. At Prospect Park in Brooklyn, he played countless games against older and wiser players. "I used to lose my lunch money like crazy," he told Sports Illustrated. But Ashley continued to practice and his persistence brought success. He became a national master at the age of 20.

Leading Chess Authority

While a student at the City College of New York, Ashley took a part-time job as a chess coach. He helped the team from the Harlem's JHS 43 public school win the 1991 national championship. "These were not kids who had chess tutors when they were 5 or 6 years old," Ashley later explained to Ebony magazine. "They had only been playing chess for a couple of years, and they defeated the top private schools in the nation. That was a stunner."

Ashley went on to coach at another Harlem school, the Mott Hall Middle School, and led his students there to victory at the both the 1994 and 1995 junior varsity championships. Ashley also became a chess commentator for such television channels as ESPN. While he was helping others excel, though, Ashley noticed his own game was slipping, so he decided in 1997 to take a break from coaching to focus on fulfilling his own dream of becoming a grandmaster.

International Grandmaster

Ashley made history in 1999, when he became the first African-American international grandmaster. With this accomplishment, he joined the ranks of such other chess luminaries as Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Paul Morphy. Ashley continued to excel, becoming the first African American to qualify for the U.S. championships in more than 150 years in 2002. The following year, he was named "Grand Master of the Year" by the U.S. Chess Federation.

Ashley has been generous with his knowledge and expertise. In 1999, he established the Harlem Chess Center, where he coached young chess players. In 2005, he published Chess for Success, promoting chess as a tool for improving student achievement. That same year, he launched the Generation Chess competition. Additionally, Ashley developed a popular application called Learn Chess with Maurice Ashley.

A resident of New York City, Ashley and his wife, Michele, have two children, Nia and Jaden.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!