At the age of seven, it’s safe to say that most kids want to be just like their parents – walk like them, act like them, work like them. For Diamond Shakoor, that meant being intrigued by her dad Abdul, who at the time was teaching older kids on how to play chess. “I asked him one day if I could play and he was like ‘Sure, if you stop getting in trouble in school.’ And so that’s how the journey started," she says.
Teach her he did, and now, after playing in nearly 250 tournaments, she’s unstoppable.
In 2009 she won first place in the girls primary of the Susan Polgar National Open Chess Championship, and just this past weekend after participating in the All Girls National Championship in Chicago, she surpassed 250 regular rated wins, a significant milestone as recognized by the US Chess Federation.
Her peak rating of 1416 was achieved in July 2011 at a Susan Polgar National Invitational event in Texas, and it was after participating in a chess tournament sponsored by the Polgar Foundation last July that her father was inspired to make the move to St. Louis from Columbus last September to further her game.
The twelve year old has set the bar high in the chess world not just for other kids who want to learn, but for the other players she faces.
“Most of my opponents are boys, and they’re very disrespectful. I just get their respect on the board. I play the game, not the opponent, and I do my best to win. And normally I win," she says. "My dad gives me a lot of advice – ‘grind now, shine later;’ or ‘win with dignity, lose with grace,’ which is by Susan Polgar.”
Her father puts a lot of work into her promotion and fundraising, but their hard work has paid off: According to the US Chess Federation website, Shakoor is currently ranked in the 71st percentile nationwide, in the 73rd percentile in the state of Missouri, and in the 90th percentile of female players.
Shakoor is adding her name to an ever-growing roster of youth who are climbing the chess ranks. The sport got a lot of attention last year from the documentary “Brooklyn Castle” that spotlighted a group of junior high school students who were involved in the game. One of the players, Rochelle Ballantyne is currently ranked in the 97th percentile in the nation and has a rating of 2101. She possibly stands to become the first black female grand master in the sport.
But Diamond doesn’t necessarily see her as competition.
“I look up to her because she’s an African American female whose doing a good thing. It made me feel good that I’m not the only African American female playing chess and doing really good.”
When she’s not practicing for an hour and a half each day or maintaining all A’s, the sixth grader likes to sing and dance, and spends a lot of time with her dad, who has raised her as a single parent since she was a year old. She really appreciates his companionship and guidance: “We’ve been together for 11 years, like ever since I was little. He’s very over protective, and I love it. I love it. Some people don’t have their dads, and I actually take the good from it.”
For the future, Shakoor would like to be a chess instructor, and maybe even open up her own school. No matter what path in life she chooses, she has instilled in herself a healthy dose of self-esteem through the role models she looks up to: “Oprah Winfrey, because she’s a woman that is handling her business, and myself. I inspire myself because like I said, I’m a role model and not a follower, and another role model is my dad. He’s a male, but he does a lot for me just so I can do well in life and do better than he can.”
This weekend, the first annual Diamond Shakoor Chess Festival will be held in Centerville. The Festival is free, and is open to players from kindergarten to high school.