Chess is 'booming' in Detroit and these teens are behind the growth

Posted at 6:53 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 09:00:00-04

(WXYZ) — The game of chess continues to grow in popularity, and amid huge growth before the COVID-19 pandemic, one group is looking to have that growth rebound as things get back to normal.

"Chess was booming in Detroit. Booming. Probably more than any other major city in America," Kevin Fite, the founder of the Detroit City Chess Club said.

That all changed with the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Chess in the city came to a stalemate.

Fite, who is also an assistant director for STEM enrichment with the Detroit Public Schools Community District, said students and parents opted to take a step back during COVID-19.

At the time, Fite said the city probably had the largest chess club and DPSCD had a record number of teams.

“Before COVID, it was definitely like a lot more accessible, I’d say, because we were practicing for anyone at the DIA every Friday for years," Charisse Woods said.

The 17-year-old junior at Cass Tech High School said her father introduced her to chess at five years old. She joined Fite's chess club in second grade.

She's had a front-row seat to witness the evolution of chess in Detroit in her young life.

"It's not as good as it was, but it's starting to pick up again. So I'm hopeful for what could come next," Woods said.

What came next, just recently, was a match she could only dream of, as she faced off against Maurice Ashley.

“Detroit has only shown me love. I really wanted to get back to Detroit,'" Ashley, a chess grandmaster, said.

Ashley is the first Black Chess Grandmaster, and after sharing his story with a group of young people, he challenged them to a two-minute game of blitz.

For Charisse, it was checkmate – she won.

"Honestly, it’s kind of hard to describe because it happened so fast," Woods said.

Her focus was on not making a blunder, another word for a bad move in chess.

"Charisse was the very first person I played, in fact, and it was a challenge. It was a challenge, went down to the wire but in the end, she caught me with a nice tactic. And she was victorious. She’s extremely talented," Ashley said. "She has been playing for years and years. She’s represented the US in world youth championships, and she’s just been a bright and I really appreciate her talent level and I think she deserves all the support she can get to try to get as far as she would like to go.”

"Your thoughts on him saying that? Those are his words," I asked Charissee.

"Oh my God, I’m like…Whoop. I feel like, bubbly. I don’t know," she said. "It's like exciting that someone at such a high caliber talking so well about you. Like wow.”

For anyone interested in picking up the pieces, Ashley, Fite and Woods echo some of the same skills chess builds upon, and what it teaches: Focus, humility, and thinking steps ahead.

“Anyone who is willing or just has a community around them to help them out or keep them in the game would be really beneficial," Woods said.

If you or someone you know wants to get started in chess and/or you’re interested in the chess club, visit