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Hip Hop Chess Federation

    Tue, 2007-10-16 13:35 — Gumby

    RZA takes the belt in 8-man tournament, but the real winners are the schools for which the event raised $10,000 in scholarship funds.

    Photo courtesy of Daaim Shabazz www.theChessDrum.net

    RZA takes the belt in 8-man tournament, but the real winners are the schools for which the event raised $10,000 in scholarship funds.

    Now you might be asking what is an article about chess doing headlining OTM, but the Hip Hop Chess Federation, the brainchild of frequent OTM contributor Adisa Banjoko and graffiti artist Leo Libiran, is about the synergy between their separate interests in Chess, Martial Arts, and Hip Hop. The cause is worthwhile, because Adisa firmly believes the lessons that can be held learned from each of these seemingly unrelated disciplines can be translated into real world positive affirmations for a target audience of youth, particularly at risk youth.

    If the game of kings (that’s chess) suffers from anything, it may be an image problem. Chess isn’t necessarily considered the coolest pastime to take up, but the HHCF aims to change that by bringing in stars from the worlds of Hip Hop and Martial Arts (which definitely have a high cool factor) who happen to be enthusiastic about chess and show that it is cool to play.

    Those involved go way beyond simply lending their name to the event in a one shot deal. The love shown by RZA and GZA of the Wu Tang Clan of Hip Hop Music (obviously), martial arts AND chess (GZA’s last album was devoted entirely to the subject), made them a natural fit for the event. RZA has actually come on board the HHCF as a director of development (Editors’ note: Gumby has accepted to become a director on the HHCF in some undefined role as well). Panel member Rakaa Iriscience of Dialated Peoples is known to frequently drop references to Jiu Jitsu in his lyrics, and is a purple belt at the Gracie Academy. Josh Waitzkin, subject of the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and spokesperson of the Chessmaster videogames, is also an avid Brazilian Jiu Jitsu stylist.

    The event, held at the Design Center in San Francisco, featured a very diverse crowd who each came from one group (Chess, Hip Hop, or Martial Arts) or the other, which facilitated a number of interesting conversations, many over the chess boards which were scattered throughout the area. This was tied in by a panel discussion moderated by Adisa, and featuring the above mention RZA, Rakaa, and Josh, along with Daaim Shabazz, webmaster of www.theChessDrum.net and noted chess journalist. (Our good friend Jeff Monson was originally scheduled to be a panelist as well, but had to withdraw to a rather serious car accident he suffered that morning. Fortunately he is ok, but the chaos that ensued caused him to miss his flight).

    In the panel discussion each of the participants got to explain their enthusiasm for both the game of chess and the Hip Hop Chess Federation, as well as engaged in a healthy discussion between the commonalities between chess, hip hop and martial arts and the life lessons which could be taken away from each. Each of the panelists got into the mindsets they achieve when engaging in either chess, martial arts or music and remarked how similar each one is. Josh Waitzkin made the excellent point that chess can be approached in many different ways, and depending on the nature of the game and his opponent he could either try to control tightly every aspect of the game, or he could try to create chaos on the board and see how his opponent would react. RZA added in some good point about the equality of music and chess and it was an opportunity for someone, regardless of their background, to make something their own. Shabazz contributed to the history of chess, and Rakaa rounded out the conversation based in his long involvement with all three subjects. There was a question and answer session in which the audience asked a wide range of questions truly reflecting the diversity of the event.

    When 11 year old Chess Champion Emma Bentley’s original opponent dropped out, Ralek Gracie stepped up and competed in a one minute bullet match against the prodigy. Emma flew all the way out from England for the event. Emma is also a Tae Kwon Do champion and a budding musician, and about the coolest 11 year I’ve ever met from the United Kingdom. Although scheduled for a minute (chess time), Emma managed to defeat Ralek in four moves. She later confessed she “felt a bit sorry for beating Ralek so badly”, but Ralek smiled and took it in stride.

    The day was highlighted by the Chess Tournament, the main event being an 8 man tournament between RZA, GZA, and Monk of the Wu Tang Clan, Ralek Gracie, Paris (Guerilla Funk) Sunspot Jonz (Living Legends), Casual (Hieroglyphics Crew) and spoken word artist Amir Sulaiman. Many of the other artists and possible participants sorely regretted their decision not to enter the main event when the saw the prize, the HHCF Belt, which rivaled in scale and impressiveness the belt of many combat organizations. Dr Alan Kirschner directed the event, which had the feel of an official chess event.

    There was actually some high level chess displayed in the matches that followed, most notably in the first round match up between RZA and Casual, probably the two participants who had been preparing for this tournament the longest. RZA had a bit of an ace up his sleeve, as with his new friendship with Josh Waitzkin (who was commentating the event), had his own personal chess tutor for the last few weeks and took the match. RZA went on to defeat GZA and was as it would happen the finals would be determined by the outcome of RZA vs Monk. If Monk was able to defeat RZA it would have forced a three way playoff and he seemed to have the “Abbott” on the ropes with a 2-1 Rook advantage. RZA somehow managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and checkmated Monk’s king with his lone rook, remaining undefeated and claiming the HHCF belt!

    More importantly, the HHCF raised awareness of chess in the youth, and the school tournament raised $10,000 in scholarship money to at risk schools in the Bay Area. By all accounts the event was a rousing success and a lot of fun for everyone involved. The next scheduled event will be the Chess Queens Invitational in Oakland in February, but be sure to look out for some more major news from the HHCF in the future. In the meantime, I’m going to be sharpening my skills over the game of 64 squares.

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