Teens Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. Earn Praise As Young Chess Masters

It rarely comes as a surprise for an African American to be the latest rising sports star, whether he's slam dunking on the court or scoring touchdowns on the field. But cornering a king on the chess board? That isn't so common.

However, a trio of black teens have all become chess masters before turning 13, an achievement that's not only rare in their sport, but virtually unheard of in the black community.

Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. are three black chess players that have obtained the difficult title of chess master at a very young age, The New York Times reports.

The trio, each of whom are from the New York City area, is part of only 13 chess masters under age 14 in the entire United States Chess Federation.

"I think of Justus, me and Josh as pioneers for African American kids who want to take up chess," Black told the news outlet.

The boys joined the honorable ranks in September 2010, when Williams, who is now 13, became the youngest black player to receive the title. Colas was just a few months younger than Williams when he became a master in December 2010, and James, 12, joined the two in July 2011.

"Masters don't happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen," said Maurice Ashley, the only black player to earn the highest title of grandmaster. "To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn't get something like that in any city of any race."

Ashley became a master at age 20, and a grand master at 34, The New York Times reports. The boys hope to achieve the same title by the time they graduate from high school.

According to, there have been 40 black chess masters, including one man who compiled a book of chess problems in the 1850s. None, however, were as young as Williams, Colas or Black.

Although they play against each other in tournaments, the boys and their families maintain a friendship. Black's father, James Black Sr. told the newspaper that the parents often acknowledge what their sons represent, but try to avoid pressuring them. As a result, the boys seem to be able to keep their heads in the game they love rather than focusing on their historic achievement.

"I like the competition," Colas told The New York Times. "And I like that chess is an art."

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