Ashley laying foundation for future of local chess
Maurice Ashley is the first-ever chess grandmaster that Jamaica has produced although he now represents the United States after migrating at age 12.
Ashley grew up in Tower Hill, Kingston, with his grandmother, a schoolteacher, and his siblings, who are also champions in their own right. His brother, Devon, is a three -time kick-boxing world champion, and his sister Alicia, a former World Female Super Bantamweight champion. She also held the Guinness World Record for being the oldest-ever female champion in the sport at 48 years old.
He said that the reason for their successes is that they all grew up with competitive roots.
"We liked to beat people (at sports) when we were kids. We played a lot of games, and my brother was a martial artist from a very young age. He's older than me by eight years," Ashley said.
"I don't think any competitiveness was instilled in us. It was somehow just natural for us to want to be our best. That was something that our grandmother stressed - if you're going to do something, do it right, and it worked out. We just ended up being excellent in different fields."
Ashley is one of the organisers of this weekend's Jamaica International Chess Festival, which officially gets under way today with various activities planned across the Corporate Area. He said that his objective is to use it to increase the profile of the sport among youngsters in Jamaica and to give them hope of becoming champions themselves someday by providing inspiration through other International Chess Masters who are also teenagers, who will headline the festival.
"Jamaica has a lot of talent, but we're still lagging very much behind the major countries," Ashley said.
One such talent is Jamaican Jomo Pitterson, who was a national master at the time. He defeated Ashley in what many considered an upset in the final of the Frederick Cameron Open tournament at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston in 2007. However, Ashley is gracious about the loss, saying that he was proud that such an incident occurred.
"Jomo, in particular, is a fantastic player," he said. "I helped him by giving him lessons and showing him different paths to growth. I was actually proud to see that he was playing so well.
"Yes, he upset me that day, but I'd like to see the day when somebody from Jamaica beats me and it's not considered an upset - especially some youngster, who may start chess from this festival that we're doing. It's important that the young generation surpasses the old one. We want our youngsters to rise beyond what we have achieved. Hopefully, we get a number of kids through the pipeline, with the support from sponsors here, so that they can become, one day, International Grand Masters, but also look beyond that and become world champions. That's my hope for Jamaica."