Hyatt holds a US Chess Federation rating of 1,947. In 2019 she went 6-0 in the State Championships in the U/1800 section and she is a divisional State Champion. Photo: Success Academy.

Brownsville teen Jessica Hyatt dreams of one day becoming the first African American female chess master, and judging by her recent award, she’s making all the right moves.

On Tuesday, the 15-year-old was presented with the Daniel Feinberg Success in Chess Award in a virtual ceremony. The award grants her $40,000 in college scholarship.

Hyatt, who has been playing chess since she was four years old, said it was amazing to get an award for doing something she loved. “I play in my free time,” she said. “When I wake up, during my breaks I play it, during my lunch I play it — maybe 6 to 7 hours per day I play.”

Gabe Bencosme-Lee, who is in Grade 4, won $500 in chess coaching. Photo: Success Academy

The award recognizes promising chess players from Success Academy Charter Schools across Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens.

Hyatt — who attends the Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in Manhattan — is currently ranked in the top 10 Black female chess players in the country.

The tenth-grader hopes to encourage more young Black girls to play when she becomes the first African American female chess master. 

“Chess is a game that is primarily dominated by white people and mostly white males,” Hyatt said. “It’s very rare to see someone Black at a chess tournament.”

A Master in chess is a player who is awarded a master title by the world chess organisation FIDE, or by a national chess organization. According to the International Chess Federation website, there are currently no African Americans in the top ten ranked female or male players in the United States.

Isaiah Brewster also won $500 in grandmaster lessons. Photo: Success Academy.

Hyatt’s teacher David Mbonu, who is a Black master-level chess player, said when he was a kid there was only one young Black player at tournaments. He looked up to him as a role model.

“Jessica doesn’t currently have that person,” he said. “But she has the ability to be that person for somebody else. “

Hyatt’s mom Loy Walker said it was amazing to discover her daughter had won a college scholarship from chess. “To me it was a hobby, but to her it was a passion. So it’s nice to know her passion is paying off.”

Walker said, living in Brownsville, they often had to travel outside the neighborhood to meet chess clubs and find tournaments. “Every time I tell people my daughter plays chess, everyone says, ‘The only people I know who play chess learned it in prison.’” 

She said she hoped her daughter might be able to lead the way for other Brownsville children. “I always tell her, eventually you can be teaching kids in the neighborhood chess.”

Success Academy Bed-Stuy Middle School seventh grader Isaiah Brewster and Success Academy Hudson Yards fourth grader Gabe Bencosme-Lee were also recognized for their chess skills Tuesday, winning $500 each in private grandmaster lessons.


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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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