Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
Her name list as one of the best chess players in the country. And according to an April 6, 2013 5KSDC. com St. Louis posting, this chess prodigy has become by the age of 12 a seven-time national champion.
She is young, gifted & Black. Diamond Abdus-Shakoor when 8 years-old at the Susan Polgar National Open earned the recognition as the youngest African American female to go undefeated in a national chess competition – “Ever!” cites 5KSDC.
Diamond took an interest in the game at the age of 7. Her father, Abdul Abdus-Shakoor, himself an avid chess player, was teaching children how to play chess when his daughter expressed her desire to learn the game.
“I asked him one day if I could play and he was like, ‘Sure, if you stop getting into trouble in school.’ And so that’s how the journey started,” she recalls in Erin Williams May 3, 2013 stlouispublicradio.com.
Brooklyn native Shakoor holds two master degrees as noted in 5KSDR and has been Diamond’s exclusive coach since that time.
In a July 8, 2013 interview with The Final Call assistant editor Ashahed M. Muhammad, Shakoor, a single father with full custody of his daughter, noticed that even at the age of 7, she was beginning to get in trouble in school. His concern was that he didn’t want his precious daughter to end up “Street!”
“I was trying to find some way to harness that energy and to use it in a positive environment. She was getting in trouble in school.”
He further shares that his objective was to get her to focus better in her studies and then he would begin to teach her the game of chess.
“So she started doing better in school and applying herself,” said Shakoor. “I’ve been teaching youth for about 18 years and I didn’t have a child then. So once I had a daughter of age who wanted to learn, it was a perfect fit.”
And his vision and dedication to his daughter sooner than perhaps expected, certainly paid off when in a little less than a year later, Diamond at the age of 8 would become the youngest African American female to go undefeated in a national chess competition.
Then just a second grader at Columbus, Ohio’s Deshler Elementary School, Diamond scored what Daaim Shabazz in the February 17, 2009, The Chess Drum called a “stunning 7-0 result” at the Susan Polgar National Open. Such a victory earned her an automatic invitation to the Polgar National Invitational for Girls that following July. She proudly represented the state of Ohio in this tournament.
Shabazz records that Diamond was the only African American at the Polgar National tournament of upwards of over 200 participants.
She walked away with three trophies, a laptop computer and a digital clock. And her father’s reaction to this her first win?
“I was in shock,” he said in Muhammad. “I knew that God, the Most High, had a calling in her life and I knew that it was bigger than chess. But I know that chess was going to be her platform. It may not be her purpose, but one of her major platforms,” he adds.
Diamond said after this first win in 5KSDK, “I love to play chess. It’s like life basically.” “It’s like a battle. Half of it is natural talent, but I’m starting to study now,” she adds.
Two years later at the 2011 Susan Polgar National Invitational in Texas, Williams reports that Diamond had amassed a peak rating of 1,416 in chess and that by 2013 in 5KSDK, she was consistently “hovering around 1,300.”
No African American female in competitive chess has ever broken a rating of 2,200 as cited in the posting.
The station adds that a Chess Master typically holds a rating of 2,500.
Motivated by her continued winnings at the Susan Polgar Invitational, father Shakoor was driven to move himself and daughter from Columbus to St. Louis in September of 2011 to further advance her game.
St. Louis has been quietly attracting parents who want their children to succeed in the most “cerebral of games” writes Laurie Skrivan in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Following decades of stagnant growth, this Midwestern city has become what Shabazz phrases as a “centrifugal force of chess growth in the U.S.”
Retired businessman Rex Sinquefield opened his chess club, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis (CCSCSL) in 2008.
The area, documents Skrivan, is now home to the U.S. Chess Championship, the World Chess Hall of Fame, the country’s number one ranked chess player – Hikaru Nakamura, and the nation’s top collegiate chess team at Webster University.
“It’s like any other sport, you have to play somebody better than yourself to improve,” said Laura Smith in the Post-Dispatch account. A mother of five up-and-coming chess players, she and her husband moved to Ellisville from Lamar, Missouri.
Echoing in this writing Smith’s sentiments, father Shakoor said of his daughter that, “To be the best, you have to be around the best.” So after two years in St. Louis of being “around the best,” Diamond by the age of 12 has become one of the best with over 250 tournaments to her credit.
Yolanda Spivey in The Black HomeSchool reports that Diamond as of 2013 ranked in the 71 percentile nationwide and 73 percentile in the state of Missouri. And within the field of female players, her high ranking scoring is in the 90th percentile range.
“Most of my opponents are boys, and they’re very disrespectful,” she says in Williams. “I just get their respect on the board,” she adds.
Her tactic in the Williams quote is to “play the game, not the opponent, and I do my best to win. And normally, I win.”
She further shares that, “My dad gives me a lot of advice – ‘grind now, shine later,’ or ‘win with dignity, lose with grace,’ which is by Susan Polgar.”
Our chess queen hosted her first annual Diamond Shakoor Chess Festival on May 4, 2013 in Centerville, Illinois.
The festival was free and open to players from kindergarten to high school.
Shakoor puts in a lot of work promoting Diamond’s brand and holding fundraisers to raise money for her to travel and to compete.
Spivey tells her readers that Diamond is “ecstatic” to have her dad around not only as a father, but also for his guidance.
“We’ve been together for 11 years, like ever since I was little. He’s very over protective, and I love it. I love it.
Some people don’t have their dads, and I actually take all the good from it.”
A straight “A” student in her area elementary school, Diamond is inspired by the wins of Rochelle Ballantyne who is currently ranked in the 97th percentile in the nation and has a rating of 2,101.
“I look up to her because she’s an African American female whose doing a good thing,” as quoted in Williams. “It made me feel good that I’m not the only African American female playing chess and doing really good.”
A 3-time Girls’ National Champion, Rochelle represented the United States at the World Youth Tournament this past December 17 through the 19th at Al Aim UAE in the United Arab Emirates.
YG&B covered her rise in two Milwaukee Courier articles, the last on October 12, 2013 and our first story on her entree into the chess arena on November 1, 2012.
Father Shakoor said that he would like to see more Black youth involved in chess, but realizes that cost can be a barrier. Such financial challenges include paying for travel, training and hotels.
He is working on one solution, the establishment of the Urban Kings & Queens Chess Learning Center.
“If a child has talent, then social economic factors should not stop that child from tapping into their own genius,” he said in Muhammad. He posits that a child has to be treated like a champion in order to become a champion.
“You have to make sure you feed them like a champion.
You have to make sure they get the proper rest, their nourishment. It’s a formula.
You just can’t get on the board and read a couple of books and move some pieces.
It’s really a formula and we’ve been blessed to tap into that formula and we want to share it with other youth around the nation.”
When she is not practicing for an hour-and-a-half each day or maintaining all A’s, the sixth grader likes to sing and dance and spends a lot of time with her dad.
For the future in the Williams’ posting, Diamond would like to be a chess instructor with sights of possibly opening up her own school.
Her high self-esteem is fueled by looking up to such role models as Oprah Winfrey, “because she’s a woman that is handling her business, and myself – I inspire myself because like I said, I’m a role model and not a follower.
And another role model is my dad.”
Within this current 2014 year, congrats to both Diamond and her father as the duo team tied for 1st Place in the Mixed Doubles of Indianapolis Chess Open on August 24, 2014.
“Chess means everything to me,” said Diamond in the April 8, 2013 Atlanta Black Star. “It’s changed my whole life for the positive.”
For more information on the Urban Kings & Queens Chess Learning Center, follow them on Twitter @ShakoorChess.