James, The Chess Champ

Monday, June 06, 2011

James Black is not your typical tween. The 12-year-old from Bed-Stuy is one of the best junior high chess players in the country.

This April, James took home trophies for best individual chess player, along with several other first place honors, after competing at the National Junior High Championship.

"It might be surprising to know that I started playing just four years ago," he said modestly. "But right now, my goal is to become a grandmaster by the time I'm 16."

Black said during chess games, some players take between 20 and 40 minutes to make a single move.

"Most adults try to use that strategy against kids to see if they'll get bored or tired," he said. "But that doesn't work with me."

Indeed. James and the rest of Intermediate School 318's top-ranking chess team stick a bishop in the eye of anyone who thinks that these days kids universally have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Of course, it takes more than laser concentration to become one of the highest ranked tween chess champions in the country, as James has. It also requires non-stop training.

Like a driven music prodigy or an Olympic athlete, James combines a natural feel for the game with constant practice. Kasparov, Fischer -- you've got to study every match played by the best if you want to be the best.


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Comments [7]


your videos oppen my world in such interesting ways. Thanks.

Jul. 15 2011 03:00 PM
Marley Kaplan from New York City

James learned chess when he was in elementary school through the Chess in the Schools Program. He has continued his chess development through our program at IS 318. We are enormously proud of James and it is an honor and a privilegde to work with such a talented and hard working student.
Like James, more than 13,000 students learned chess this school year through our programs in public elementary and middle school throughout the city. In all, we have taught more than 500,000 students this ancient game which offers a perfect learning opportunity that goes far beyond the game itself.
And most Saturdays during the school year, James, his team mates from IS 318 join more than 600 NYC students to play in our scholastic tournaments which are open to all NYC students. To register for a tournament, please visit our website:
We look forward to working with James again next year as he enters 8th grade. And when he reaches high school, we will welcome him into our College Bound Program where he will join with other Chess in the Schools students as they progress through high school and prepare for college. Through the College Bound Program we provide our students with academic support, individual college counseling, meaningful work opportunites and a host of other support to ensure that our students graduate high school on-time and go to college.
If you would like additional information about Chess in the Schools, please visit our website, or email us at

Jun. 24 2011 10:28 AM
Jannell from brooklyn

Love this one.
6 hours a day studying!
Love the opening scene with all those trophies!

Jun. 08 2011 10:27 AM
Christine Vitale from Teaneck, NJ

Kudos to James. I love to see and read about young kids and teens playing this intellectual strategy game. As kids, my brother and I learned to play from reading an encyclopedia, and taught the others in the family, so we could have another family bonding activity, and enjoyed many years of it together.

Jun. 08 2011 07:56 AM
John Galvin from brooklyn

Hey Everyone! If anyone is interested in helping make James his dream come true and would like to support him please contact me at I.S. 318 at or 718-782-0589

Jun. 07 2011 02:01 PM
tim tam

woot woot, james is the coolest.

Jun. 07 2011 12:06 PM
Felix from NJ

So inspiring! Truly brings to life the many kids we all see on the subway. He's bursting with personality, passion, and promise. Not unlike this whole series. Thank you, WNYC, for highlighting optimistic stories and positive people.

Jun. 07 2011 09:15 AM

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