Brooklyn boy James Black Jr., 12, is on the track to become the youngest American grandmaster in the history of chess.
Black, who plays on the chess team at Williamsburg middle school Intermediate 318, led the school to national championships in two divisions in April. He's only seven points away from being named a master - the United States Chess Federation mandates that a master must have 2200 points, and Black has amassed 2193.
As a precocious third grader, James joined the Public School 308 chess team and quickly developed into a skilled player.
To become a grandmaster, James must earn at least 2600 points. He can do that by winning chess tournaments and beating existing grandmasters. He told the NY Daily News, "It would mean a lot because I've worked so hard for it. I've practiced a lot to become a great player."
The previous youngest American grandmaster was Ray Robson, who was elected to the title in 2009 at the age of 14.
James started playing chess when his dad brought home a chess set from K-Mart, and started teaching himself how to play. He joined the school chess team in third grade. "He learned some things so he could start whipping on his dad," said Black's father, James Black Sr. From then on, he studied chess almost every waking moment, getting up before school to play the computer or read books. He now aspires to play like his role model Mikhail Tal, a Russian grandmaster and world champion in the 1950s and 60s. "We have the same aggressive style," he said.
The game has also taught Black important life lessons, says Black Sr. "Over the years his chess has become something that makes him think first before he reacts," he said. "We attribute that all to chess. It's a wonderful feeling."
Few players ever reach that level, but Black's IS 318 coach Elizabeth Vicary said James has the ability to do it.
"I'm amazed by James," she said. "He's got enormous potential and is one of the smartest people I've ever met."
Elizabeth Vicary, Black's chess coach at Intermediate 318, says she's "amazed" by James' potential. "[He] is one of the smartest people I've ever met." His strength, Vicary says, stems from his lack of ego and willingness to try new strategies, even if they don't work at first.
"He's got a fantastic memory and is very clever at forcing plays," she said.