FM Ronald Simpson’s Chess Autobiography

by FM Ronald Simpson
Born -
Feb. 1, 1960

I grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in New York City.  I learned to move the pieces at about the age of six from a neighbor. My cousin Clive Tulloch and I played almost every weekend. Clive was self-taught, and he introduced me to the Sicilian defense. He was my mentor, and I learned to think freely with his guidance. I learned my first opening from another cousin, Leopold Hall. It was a basic King pawn opening, filled with fundamentals.

I was competitive and very hungry to play chess but there weren’t many kids playing chess in the late sixties. I was about ten years old when my mother took me to Melvin Brady’s barbershop for a haircut, and to my surprise this was where the men in the community played chess.  It was like a local chess club.  Many of men in the neighborhood would stop in just to play a quick game before going home. I remember many times they would keep one eye on their watches and the other eye on the board, while constantly glancing out of the barbershop window (hoping their wives wouldn’t catch them playing chess).  Melvin and Herman Hacksaw (aka: Rock) had a great effect on me through my teenage years.  Rock had a flashy style of playing.  He played the Orangutan, or Polish opening, and Melvin had a solid conservative style, 1.e4 or 1.d4. These two men were my chess mentors and friends.  I learned so much from them.

The chess boom hit in 1972 when Robert James "Bobby" Fischer won the World Chess Championship and suddenly everyone was aware of chess. Chess went from a fun game to play to serious competition.  I was no longer the kid who played chess well.  I was a chess player who happened to be a kid.  The transition matured me and prepared me for the tournament world of chess.  I won many local tournaments in Brooklyn, but I will always relish the memory of winning the Malcolm X memorial tournament in the mid seventies. I beat Master Paul Robey, John Evans, and Steve Colding to win the tournament. Growing up in New York City allowed me the opportunity to play Chess in New York City’s famous Marshall Chess Club, Manhattan Chess Club, Washington Square Park, and in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.  I won some very nice games against Grandmasters like Joel Benjamin, Alexander Ivanov, Patrick Wolf, etc…

Enter the Black Bear School of Chess:

The Black Bear School of Chess was the most significant influence in my development in chess. It was led by George Golden, “the Fire Breather.”  I met George in 1973, and he introduced me to a group of older men who took chess seriously!  There were tournaments, chess study sessions, passionate chess discussions, etc…these were my best years of chess.  Looking back provokes extremely deep feelings for me.  All of those men were like an extended family.  Many of them are no longer with us, but in my heart they all live with every chess thought I have.  Our motto : “The will to win is greater than material advantage” has helped me to this day, and its meaning extends beyond the chess board.  By the early 1980s the Black Bear School was filled with masters and experts!  William Morrison, Steve Colding, Chris Welcome, Mark Meeres, Willy Johnson (Pop), Leon Monroe, and the first African-American Grandmaster, Maurice Ashley!

I first achieved Master level in 1984, and I was awarded the USCF Life Master honor soon after.  I achieved Senior Master level in 1991, and I reached my highest USCF rating of 2427 in 1999.  The World Chess Federation, known as FIDE (Federation International Des Echecs) awarded me the title of Master in the late 1980s, and I earned a FIDE rating of about 2300. 

I am now living and playing chess in North Carolina. The North Carolina Chess Association is a wonderful chess organization and I expect big chess things to happen here in the years to come.  I am also teaching chess at the Southern Wake Montessori School.  I am amazed at how well their system of teaching fits chess development. The kids are absolutely wonderful and a joy to teach.  

It would be extremely difficult to play chess seriously without the support of my wife and kids.  I am very blessed to have them.

Edited by Mark D. Stout & Tom Hales