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Story Time History: MORE Black Chess Players Who Changed the Game

Story Time History: MORE Black Chess Players Who Changed the Game

Story Time History: MORE Black Chess Players Who Changed the Game

It's been our honor to report on some of the great Black chess players in history over the past few years and during Black History Month, we'll add three fascinating names to that esteemed list of game changers.


We hope you enjoy this quick read and have a wonderful, enlightening Black History Month! 



CM Darrian Robinson

Darrian Robinson, one of the brightest young chess stars of the last twenty years, began her chess career at a Brooklyn elementary school because, in her words, “it was an alternative to doing nothing.” Her remarkable rise through the ranks continued at Brooklyn’s famed IS 318 when she joined its championship chess team (made popular in the documentary Brooklyn Castle).

In 2006, at the age of thirteen, Robinson stormed onto the world chess stage, representing the United States with aplomb at the World Youth Championship in Batumi, Georgia. By her late teens, Robinson became the highest-rated Black female chess player in the United States with a rating of 2100 and she currently holds the title of candidate master (CM).

Years of competing at the highest levels of chess propelled Robinson in other ways, too. She attended the University of Chicago, studied at the London School Economics, interned at the White House, and earned an MBA from Columbia University. These days, she holds her excellent chess rating steady while pursuing a career in finance. 

IM Justus Williams

The halls of Brooklyn’s IS 318 have thronged with chess talent over the last two decades, and one of that school’s most prominent alumni is none other than International Master (IM) Justus Williams. Now twenty-five years old, Williams has maintained exceptionally high ratings in the ~2500 range and is currently pursuing the rank of grandmaster.

Born in the Bronx in 1998, Justus Williams eventually earned a full scholarship to Webster University in St. Louis where he trained under the tutelage of GM Susan Polgar, an world-renowned chess legend in her own right. Just a year after being featured in Brooklyn Castle as a middle schooler, Williams earned FIDE master stripes in 2013 and became an international master in 2021.

As he chases his dream of becoming a grandmaster, Williams has also mounted a sensational effort to give back to the St. Louis community he’s come to love, founding the non-profit group Black Squares which is dedicated to “increasing access to the chess world for Black youth in North City and developing Black chess culture within the sport.”

GM Román Hernández

Cuba’s historical ties to the African diaspora run deep, as does the country’s legacy of chess greatness. Among the many brilliant chess minds from Cuban history, we’d like to recognize a lesser-known figure—at least here in the United States—the fourth Cuban grandmaster and one of the first-ever Black grandmasters, Román Hernández.

By all accounts a humble man from humble origins, Hernández rose to prominence in the 1970s and earned the rank of grandmaster in 1978. For the next two decades, he competed around the world, toppling such chess greats as Mikhail Tal, Bent Larsen, and Yefim Geller.

Wherever Hernandez played, he made an impression on players and officials alike. Venezuelan chess referee Uvencio Blanco once said Hernández “...was one of the [North] American chess players with the greatest culture and understanding of chess.”

After retiring from the active circuit, Hernandez became a FIDE trainer in 2014 and worked to further Cuba’s contributions to world chess until his death in 2021.