James Black Jr. is not your typical 12-year old boy. The Brooklyn resident is trying to become the youngest American Chess Grandmaster in the history of the United States.
Leading his chess team at Intermediate School 318 to the national championship in both the K-8 and K-9 divisions last April, Black is only seven points away from the 2,200 he needs to be named a master by the United States Chess Federation.
“It would mean a lot because I’ve worked so hard for it,” said James. “I’ve practiced a lot to become a great player.”
After he becomes a master, Black’s new goal will be to take down the record set by Ray Robson of Florida, who became an elected grandmaster at the age of 14. Black needs 2,600 points to defeat Robinson’s record, which he can obtain by performing well in tournaments against other leading chess players around the world. Very few players ever reach that level at any point in their career.
“I’m amazed by James,” said Elizabeth Vicary, James’ Chess coach. “He’s got enormous potential and is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
James became a great player after being taught and mentored by his father, James Black Sr. The senior black bought a chess set at K-Mart and taught his son how to play. James then joined the chess team in the third grade at Public School 308 and began to dominate the competition immediately.
“My dad showed me how to move the pieces around and I just liked it,” he said.
“He learned some things so he could start whipping on his dad,” Black Sr. said.
James then supplemented his father’s training with hard work. He would get up in the morning before school and play against the computer. He also read books on chess strategy. His father says that the strategic thinking James gained by playing chess has helped him become a well-rounded human being.
“Over the years his chess has become something that makes him think first before he reacts,” he said. “We attribute that all to chess. It’s a wonderful feeling.”