All At Once!
To appreciate our next story, you'll first have to know what a Chess Grandmaster is.
First of all, there are only about a thousand of them in the whole world, and the title Grandmaster is awarded only to the strongest, highest rated chess players by the world chess organization, which is known as FIDE. It's the highest title a chess player can attain, short of wolrd champion, and it is a lifelong title.
Maurice Ashley is among the super elite in that already elite grouping; he's the first African American Grandmaster.
And the Jamaican born US Citizen has taken a special liking for Belize's Belize National Youth Chess Foundation.
He's visited seven times in the past two years, and this time he's here to put on a dazzling exhibition of Chess mastery.
He played 28 opponents all at once! The event was held at the Radisson and 7news was there:..
Jules Vasquez Reporting
28 Chess mats were laid out with 28 players - including grown-ups, kids - and even an 85 year old woman sitting next to a ten year old boy.
Ella Anderson, Programme Director, BNYCF
"He is playing against best players from Belize and the best thing about it is that each district has a representation."
And so it begins, Ashley works the room greeting each play and making a move on each of their mats.
Gradually, the moves are slower, more deliberative - but Grandmaster Ashley moves with the deftness and certainty of a man who seems to know what his opponents will do before they do it.
This goes on for over two hours. At the one hour mark the players start to fold, crushed under the force of his mastery.
And that's when the Grandmaster has to be a little more careful - weighing his options, going it seems into the vast reservoir of moves and strategies in his head, thinking plays ahead to come up with the right move
On this table he contemplated his next move deeply before simply moving his King diagonally. Finally it came down to this, the grandmaster versus Alfred Awe, the youth chess Federation's top ranked player - a draw - the only one of the day. After finishing up some business elsewhere, it was sealed by a handshake: a draw, 27 wins and one draw for the Grandmaster, not too dusty for two and half hours of work:
Maurice Ashley, Chess Grandmaster
"Playing 28 people at the same time is brutal; there is no question about it. You are trying to calculate all these possibilities on all these boards - a lot of them I try to do instinctively but its still, no matter how many times I've done it and I've really done it scores of times now. It's still a challenge, it's very difficult and just keeping all those positions in your head and keeping track but it's usually a worthwhile thing to do."
Worthwhile and a marvel to watch . Part endurance event, part Olympian feat, it's like watching a gymnast in a floor competition, except in this case, the acrobatics are in his head - as he makes lightning fast assessments of each players moves.
Their chess mats, a blank canvass for him to devise and implement a strategy - the fallen pieces casualties of his conquest
"The best thing about today's event is that it lasted really long. Our kids did not lose faster than grandmaster; they really were fighting well which means the strength of them as chess players is growing."
"I think the level of chess in Belize has grown exponentially in two years since I've been here. Before I could beat these kids easy, now they are grown; some of them are taller than me even and they are playing some chess, they are hunkering down making it a fight and it was a really struggle on a lot of boards. I couldn't just walk up and play, I had to really think and make the game happen."
"A 16 year old played you to a draw. How frequently does something like that happen and what do you have to say about the young Mr. Alfred Awe's of play?"
"Well in these simultaneous exhibitions I often draw and once in a while I lose, so it's not unheard of but if it does happen its usually against a very capable opponent."
"You've played a grandmaster to a draw."
Alfred Awe, 16 Years Old - Played To a Draw
"Well its go show that I can play my game but I am still not as good as him because he was playing all of us, but it shows improvement. The last time I played him it was a horrible loss now. Hopefully next time I will win."
"I think this is a life lasting experience for the players who are here experiencing it but also for those who are in their clubs because what going to happen is those kids go back and they say 'I play grandmaster and I learn this and that and I saw all the best players from the other districts' so the word will be spreading about the event."
And while it is a great and rare opportunity to face off with a grandmaster, something else is happening - minds are being molded. These kids won't become chess masters - but within this narrow grid they are training thinkers - and by extension - citizens, for life
"Chess is very much like life's skills because when you play in the game you have to look at the consequences; you have to look at the options, you have to make a decision and you cannot blame anybody else if you made a bad decision, as a player you learn to be responsible for your actions, you learn to make the best decision you can possible make at the moment then later on after the game analyze if you lost a game, why it happen, so become conscious of your own mistakes, learn from them and improve and it doesn't even matter if they will continue playing chess or not. Those skills will last them their whole life."
"Training kids at chess is not about making them into international masters or international grandmasters; that's simply not the point, that's not even realistic. What you want to do is get them focus on an activity that a) develops their mind, develops their critical thinking. b) develops their self-esteem, there is nothing like winning a chess game - to make you feel so good about yourself."
And in one more spellbinding exhibition, in the afternoon, the grandmaster faces off against 14 opponents in what is known as blitz chess - a really lighting fast game played by a clock - he gets one minute to play, they get two - and while one or two players brought him down almost to the wire - he made fast work of most of them.
It may look taxing, but you won't find a bigger believer in this programme than this master who has visited 7 times in 6 years:
"I love Belize, I love the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation, I love its mission that they are so focus on the idea of helping kids, the way I was a kid and chess changed my life - they are doing that here in Belize and I support it 100%."
Grandmaster Ashley is on a Caribbean tour, and is visiting Martinique, Guadeloupe, the US and British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Jamaica and Belize - which is the only country that he visited 6 times.