Maurice Ashley, an immigrant from Jamaica, was 14 and living in Brooklyn, when he feel in love with the game of chess after reading a book about Paul Morphy, a 19th-century Louisianian who was America's first great chess player.
Ever since, Ashley has focused his life on the game. As a student at Brooklyn Technical High School, he joined the Black Bear School of Chess. From 1991 to 1997, Ashley was the chess director of the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, at which he led teams to three national championships.
On March 17, 1999 he became the latest of the world's 470 grandmasters, and the first black person to reach the game's highest rank as a result of his play in a tournament sponsored by the Manhattan Chess Club. The rank is conferred by the International Chess Federation to players who amass a set number of points in 24 official games played within a seven-year period. Of the federation's 85,000 members, 45 are grandmasters, including 10 in the New York City area. Before winning his last points, Ashley's rank was international master, one step below grandmaster.