The Magic of Chess, The Art of Trash-Talking, Must-Read Biographies, and More | Maurice Ashley on The Tim Ferriss Podcast

Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Chess is a lot like any other sport: You watch films of how other players play, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and try to develop strategies to beat them.
    • “You have to really dig deep into the psychology of the player through the information you’re getting from their games, that’s a huge part of our preparation” – Maurice Ashley
  • Practicing aikido helped Maurice with his chess game 
    • “It was life-changing, it totally took my game to another level”Maurice Ashley
      • “When I was able to physicalize that and get it into my body and internalize it and then transfer that into mental mapping onto the chessboard, my game went to a completely different level and that’s what took me to becoming a grandmaster” 
  • Chess has been around for 1,500 years and is still loved by millions of people today
    • “The game holds an eternal fascination for the human mind” – Maurice Ashley
  • COVID really exposed the inequities between students: Some kids have poor WIFI and need to share one laptop with their siblings which makes it much more difficult for them to learn
    • “Potentially for the next year and a half, these kids are going to fall behind even further, it’s heartbreaking” – Maurice Ashley

Intro

Books Mentioned

About Maurice & Getting Into Chess

  • Maurice was born in Jamaica but came to the US when he was 12 years old
  • Competitiveness runs in Maurice’s family, his older brother is a 3x world champion kickboxer and his sister is a 6x world champion boxer
    • “The family was a pretty driven bunch” – Maurice Ashley
  • When Maurice came to the US, they lived in Brownsville, Brooklyn
    • Since it was a rough neighborhood and there wasn’t much to do, Maurice along with his siblings and friends would play board games
      • He played a bit of chess for fun with his brother, but it wasn’t until high school that he started to take it more seriously
  • Maurice really wanted to beat one of his friends in chess and discovered a library book that shared chess strategies
    • “That really stoked the fire and from then on, we played chess every single day after school” – Maurice Ashley
      • “It was basically school, homework, chess, and that was my life in highschool”

Black Bear School of Chess

  • Black Bear School of chess was a group of African American males that played chess together and took it extremely seriously
    • They studied chess books and chess materials from other countries. If the sources weren’t written in English, they would take a dictionary and translate it word by word.
      • “You’re literally trying to figure out, word by word, what the explanation is…you can imagine the seriously they took chess with” – Maurice Ashley
        • The group would play and hang out together from Friday night until Sunday
  • A lot of the Black Bear School players ended up becoming chess masters
    • However, Maurice recognized that to become an elite chess player, he had to expand who he played against so he started to go to different chess clubs and played grandmasters there
      • “That really took my game to another level” – Maurice Ashley

Becoming A Grandmaster

  • After seeing Tiger Woods, an African American in a mostly white male sport, win the Masters, Maurice was inspired to become a chess grandmaster but became depressed because he couldn’t pursue chess full-time because he had to work during the day
    • Fortunately, Maurice was able to get a sponsor to help him pursue chess full-time
      • To move up the rankings in chess, you have to beat players better than yourself
  • Chess is a lot like any other sport: You watch films of how other players play, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and try to develop strategies to beat them.
    • “You have to really dig deep into the psychology of the player through the information you’re getting from their games, that’s a huge part of our preparation” – Maurice Ashley
      • You have to study their openings, study strategies from books, and you need an experienced chess player who can train you 
        • The very top chess players usually have a team of trainers around them 

Building Mental & Physical Stamina

  • To become a top chess player, you need to have a high level of mental and physical stamina:
    • To build physical stamina, you need to bike, swim, run, or do another form of cardio that you enjoy
      • “Exercise is a must” – Maurice Ashley
        • None of the top players are overweight because they all exercise regularly
    • To build mental stamina, you need to play chess consistently
      • You also need to be thoughtful and respectful of your opponent
  • Practicing aikido helped Maurice with his chess game 
    • “It was life-changing, it totally took my game to another level”Maurice Ashley
      • He recommends reading Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere: An Illustrated Introduction by Adele Westbrook and Oscar Ratti to learn more 
        • Aikido is the art of finding gaps in your opponents’ attacks
          • “When I was able to physicalize that and get it into my body and internalize it and then transfer that into mental mapping onto the chessboard, my game went to a completely different level and that’s what took me to becoming a grandmaster” 

Reaching The Top

  • Maurice eventually became the first African American to become a grandmaster
    • He actually became depressed for a few months after it because he had achieved his goal and didn’t know what to do next
      • Maurice decided his next goal would be to become the best chess player that he possibly could
        • To this day, Maurice is still fascinated by the game of chess
          • “It’s made me happy all these decades” – Maurice Ashley

The Eternal Game of Chess

  • Chess has been around for 1,500 years and is still loved by millions of people today
    • “The game holds an eternal fascination for the human mind” – Maurice Ashley
  • When it comes to teaching chess, the teacher brings passion and spreads it to students
  • If you want to play chess, there are countless ways to play and learn about the game (books, websites, etc.)
  • Different styles of chess:
    • In classical chess, you can take your time and games usually last between 3-6 hours
    • In blitz chess, each side get a total of 5 minutes so games last 10 minutes or less
    • In bullet chess, each side gets 1 minute each so games last 2 minutes or less
  • There is trash-talking in chess:
    • Some players make subtle remarks, one chess player would just respond with “That’s what she said”, another player just quoted Shakespeare

Studying Chess & Book Recommendations

Education Needs Fixing

  • Maurice would like to see reform in police tactics and public education
    • Police officers should be champions of justice and children should get equal opportunities for education in school
      • Schools need better resources such as computers and books for each student
        • COVID really exposed the inequities between students: Some kids have poor WIFI and need to share one laptop with their siblings which makes it much more difficult for them to learn
          • “Potentially for the next year and a half, these kids are going to fall behind even further, it’s heartbreaking” – Maurice Ashley
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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