Jamaica will have its first Chess Grandmaster in 10 years if Finance and Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke has his way.
The minister is determined to ensure that this happens and is dedicating funds to ensure the dream is realised.
To this end, he has allocated $40 million to the Jamaica Chess Federation through the Ministry of Sport to get the process going.
And, he said United States Grandmaster, Maurice Ashley, who was born in Jamaica, has indicated his availability and willingness to “godfather this national effort in collaboration with the Jamaica Chess Federation”.
Clarke made the announcement on Tuesday as he opened the 2023/24 Budget Debate at Gordon House.
Ashley, 57, was born in St Andrew, Jamaica. He left with his family for the United States when he was 12 years old. Apart from chess, he is also an author and commentator who has been inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame.
“With Grandmaster Ashley, they (the ministry and the Jamaica Chess Federation) will develop a national programme to achieve this goal even as the ...Federation pursues a broad-based chess-in-schools programme,” said Clarke.
He highlighted that “Jamaica has proven its ability to compete internationally in many areas of physical sport,” while pointing to the "spectacular exploits" of sporting greats - Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Chris Gayle, Leon Bailey and Raheem Sterling, among many others.
“The drive of the Jamaican is unmatched when it comes to the focus, determination and execution required to attain goals,” Clarke stated.
“With so many bright minds all over Jamaica the next area ripe for competitive conquest is the prestigious game of chess,” he added.
Clarke noted that Ashley made history in 1999 by becoming the first black person in the world to become a chess Grandmaster.
“It is high time for another Jamaican to follow in his footsteps,” he said.
The minister noted that the Jamaican chess community without much national support has already produced two homegrown international masters, the level immediately below Grandmaster.
“If Jamaican individuals can achieve that on their own imagine what can be achieved with dedicated national support,” he remarked.
Clarke wants Jamaica to be among the majority black countries that boast a chess Grandmaster. The International Chess Association lists 1,773 active Grandmasters with only two of them belonging to a majority black country – Zambia and South Africa.