Black History Month Profile: Emory Tate

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Emory Tate was born in 1958 in Chicago, Illinois. An unconventional genius, Tate learned chess early in life and was linguistically gifted. He was adept in a number of languages, and fluent in Spanish and Russian. His language skills proved very useful during his service in the United States Air Force.

Tate’s enthusiasm for chess was well-known. During his life he played in over six hundred rated tournaments, and won the United States Armed Forces chess championship five times during the 1980s. During this time he defeated over eighty grandmasters in tournament play, often surprising his opponents with devastating tactics. On the military circuit he earned the nickname “ET” as in extraterrestrial because “we thought his play was out of this world,” according to fellow veteran Leroy Hill.

He apparently did not study chess texts and had no time for computers. He claimed to have only ever read one book on chess: Vukovic’s The Art of Attack in Chess. This no doubt appealed to him, as Tate’s style of play was famously aggressive and tactical.

As we said, Emory Tate was an unconventional genius. He was interested in and knowledgeable about many different things, but his overriding passion was chess. It seems that he spent much of his time going from tournament to tournament, and his tireless energy and keen mind finally earned him the title of International Master just before his fiftieth birthday in 2008. He was among the top 100 chess players in the United States.

Emory Tate died only a few years later while playing a game during a tournament in late 2015. GM Maurice Ashley said he was “a trailblazer for African-American chess… his love for chess permeated every pore of his being.”

To learn more about Emory Tate’s extraordinary life in chess, we recommend visiting Daaim Shabazz’s excellent website thechessdrum.net, which has many pieces on Emory Tate and many other Black chess players. (Our feature photo is by Mr. Shabazz.)

Emory Tate was survived by his three children. Here is a sample of his devastating gameplay.

This article is part of a series of pieces exploring chess in the context of Black History Month. Click on Black History Month to learn more about Black chess players, the African history of chess, and other issues relating to chess and race.

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