16-Year-old seeks to become youngest African American Chess Grandmaster in history

Joshua Colas

Joshua Colas

The Word Chess Organization defines a Chess Grandmaster as the highest title a chess player can attain. Once achieved, the tile is held for life.

A native of St Andrews, Jamaica and currently a Joint Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center and MIT’s Media Lab, Maurice Ashley in 1999 became the first African American to achieve the Grandmaster title.

Following in this proud path as paved by Ashley, Our YG&B profile this week has as his goal to become the first and youngest American-born Black Grandmaster and the first to become an International Master.

He is young, gifted and Black. Joshua Colas at the age of 12 on December 16, 2010 became the youngest African American Chess Master in history. And just this past December 19, 2014 according to Huffington Post Senior Editor Nico Pitney, he won a national chess championship for the second consecutive year.

Now a junior at White Plains High School in New York, he hopes to become a Grandmaster before he turns 20 and to become a role model for other aspiring young chess players.

The YG&B series first came across Joshua three years ago in our April 7, 2012 writing, “African American males continue chess master legacy,” where along with profiles to included James Black, Jr. and Justice Williams. Like Joshua, both James and Justice were named masters before their respective 13th birthdays.

As then noted in this April series, less than two percent of the United States Chess Federation are masters, counting 47,000 members and at that time only 13 of the listed masters were under the age of 14. As of 2011, only three of the 13 are African American young men. And coincidentally, all three reside in New York.

“Masters don’t happen every day, and African American masters who are 12 never happen,” says Ashely in the 2012 article. “To have three young players to do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity.

You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race,” he adds.

The chess federation uses a rating system to measure ability based on the results of matches in officially sanctioned events writes Dylan Loeb McClain in his November 12, 2011 New York Times post.

A player, he notes, must reach a rating of 2200 to qualify for the master’s level.

Joshua shares in a March 9, 2011 United States Federation release that he started playing chess when he was seven years old.

“I wasn’t interested at first, but I was always watching my dad when he was playing. During one summer, he took me to an annual tournament in Philadelphia called the World Open.

There I got to see a lot of young kids playing chess, and from that day, I asked my dad to teach me the game.”

Quoting his father Guy Colas in Pitney, “within months, I was giving him puzzles that people who’s been playing chess for years couldn’t solve, and he was able to solve them instantly.”

Now in 2014, young Joshua as cited in Huffington can play his father blindfolded. He was right. He could not only match his dad but beat him – with his eyes closed writes Pitney.

“I just memorize the board,” Joshua says in Phil Reisman’s December 18, 2014 “Iohud” account. “I know where all the pieces are at. I have a photographic memory,” he adds.

“It blew my mind when I saw him doing it,” says his father.

“I asked him, “How do you do it, Joshua?”

The chess prodigy compared his skill to knowing the way home. “Do it enough times, and the route becomes second nature.”

His career highlights spans upwards of eleven pages, quite impressive for a lad who is still his early years.

Some folk’s life time curriculum vitae are not even that long.

At the age of 7 in 2005, the then second grader enters his first chess tournament, the Manhattan Chess Days Open, and finishes 10th out of 23 earning him then a start-up provisional rating of 606.

In February of 2006, his rating increased to 958 as he goes undefeated and wins the NSCF Greenwich Winter Chess Tournament. By November of 2006, Joshua is recoding his 100th win.

Entering his 60th career tournament in January 2007, the then 8-yearold finishes 4th out of 69 in the “Primary Varsity” section of the 2007 NYC Scholastic Championships and by March of that year, his winnings reaches a rating of 1368.

By May of 2008, Joshua is recording his 250th win and as of that year in October, his rating jumps to 1920 ranking him 5th in the nation among 9-year-olds.

A year later in May of 2009, he becomes a certified Chess Expert as his rating is now surpassing 2009.

And he is then only a 5th grader looking to enter 6th grade that September at White Plains Middle School.

The US Chess.org would rank him the following month in October as 3rd in the nation among 10-yearolds.

By December 2009, the US Chess Federation selects Joshua to the 2010 All-American Chess Team and in March of the same year, he is recording his 500th rated win. His rating has now reached 2088.

He goes on to win the 7th Grade National Chess Championship in Orlando, Florida in December 2010 and becomes a certified Chess Master in this month as his rating surpasses 2200, thus becoming the youngest Black Chess Master in history.

In December of 2014 writes Reisman, Joshua was ranked 231st out of the 52,532 chess players of all ages who are registered with the United States Chess Federation and was further selected to the 2015 All-American Chess Team.

“I don’t have his ability,” says his father as quoted in Reisman.

“But I use life experiences and see where I can help him. I told him if you’re going to be in it, you might as well go all the way.”

New York Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins sponsored a resolution on March 25, 2014 honoring Joshua in his victory.

“As the youngest African American Chess Master in history and a six-time National Champion, Joshua Colas is an outstanding representative for the youth of New York State and a cherished member of the White Plains community.

Today we honor his hard work and commitment to his dream, said Stewart- Cousins in TheExaminerNews.com.

St. Louis 12-year-old Diamond Shakoor says of Joshua in a requested comment, “He has shown me that with hard work that I can become the first African American female from the Unites States to become a national Chess master!’

“Young, Gifted & Black” featured Diamond in the September 8, 2014 series.

Her name was listed as among the best chess players in the country and by the age of 12 had become a seven-time national champion and the youngest African American female to go undefeated in a national chess competition – ever!.

And on October 12, 2013, the YG&B series featured Brooklyn teen Rochelle Ballantyne who represented the United States in the World Youth Chess Tournament held that December at the Al Aim UAE in the United Arab Emirates.

Joshua has won a full four-year college scholarship to the top chess college in the U.S., Webster University in St. Louis.

Additional to aspirations of becoming the first-ever American-born African American Chess Grandmaster, he hopes to one day write a book to inspire other young people to play the game.

“Joshua’s accomplishments would be impressive at any age and he is a true example of what young people can achieve with hard work and dedication,” said Stewart-Cousins.

“His family and community deserves praise as well for their support and encouragement for him.”


About Tsogo Sun Moves for Life

Education through Chess. A proven intervention to unlock the potential of SA's children. Moves for Life unlocks the cognitive potential of South African children by structured implementation of chess education where essential aspects of the game are actively linked with math, science and lifeskill concepts. Learning fundamental concepts are made fun and exciting for the child.
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