Howard University Chess Team Makes Moves

WASHINGTON INFORMER: The Howard University chess team served notice that it is becoming a force in the world of chess. The club dominated the inaugural HBCU Chess Classic on April 22 with first-place wins in the individual and team categories, while Team B took third place.  Hampton University, the other HU, took second place.  

The event was held at Morris Brown College and featured students from Spelman College, Texas Southern and Morehouse College.  Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens was in attendance. 

Howard Chess President Malik Castro-DeVarona, a sophomore political science major from Los Angeles grabbed the first-place individual trophy after beating two other Howard students who were in a three-way tie for first place.  Each of the three had won all five games.  Howard’s Team A was the top-ranked five players in the tournament.   

 “For me, winning is a culmination of the time that I spent with chess,” he told The Informer.  “All of the excess chess I committed myself to can be justified. It is good to see the reward of that investment.  I think the biggest success of this classic was the bringing of everyone together. Getting a chance to see everyone. We are connected.”

“This was my first tournament,” commented Sagid Mohamed, a junior finance major from the Bronx.   “I started chess when I was very young, playing with my father but I dropped it for a while.  I decided to pick it back up recently. I had a favorable result at the tournament and that is encouraging.  It is good to see the advancement of Black chess and to be a part of it.”  

Azandria Hudson, a junior computer science major, was also competing in her first tournament.

“I recently came out and became more involved in the chess club,” said Hudson, who is from Colorado. “My main motivation was to support our mission to get more Blacks involved in chess.” 

The team was coached by Jerald Times, 2021 Chess Educator of the Year. The HBCU Chess Classic was organized by the first Black Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley and The Black Chess Odyssey Society. 

Three years ago, the Howard Chess Club was reinstated and went through the expected changes of first-time growing pains. Not knowing what to expect and with little experience they entered the prestigious Pan Am Collegiate Chess Tournament in 2021. 

It was online and they won their division, the under 1800 section and had the greatest upset of a higher-ranked player by a lower-ranked player. The next year in 2022, they failed to win any games.   

It was unchartered waters in a sport where few Blacks and even fewer HBCU students were involved. 

Dr. Nisa Muhammad, Assistant Dean for Religious Life in the Office of the Dean of the Chapel is the club’s advisor.  She embarked on a mission to train the students.  She found two qualified chess coaches to prepare the team for the 2023 Pan Am. Times and 12-year-old chess prodigy Tani Adewumi.   

“This is our third year and we decided to take things to the next level,” she said. “Students competed to be on our two Pan Am teams and with weekly coaching, we were ready.”   

In their return to the Pan American in January, with more than 80 teams and 360 participants, the Howard students surprised everyone.   Team A was rated 43 at the beginning of the tournament and left the competition in Seattle in eighth place.  They even scored several places ahead of better-known and more well-endowed universities, such as the University of Southern California and George Washington University.  

The club’s slogan is “Black Moves First.”  Their goal is to be instrumental in paving a path for more Black youth, particularly girls, to excel at chess, become grandmasters and eventually tournament directors.   

“We feel that we are creating a path for other Blacks and HBCU students to bring diversity to chess. We are creating a space for Black students,” Castro-DeVarona said.

Photo: The Howard University Chess team won the inaugural HBCU Chess Classic on April 22. (Courtesy photo)

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