Chess captivates HCC’s Ahmed
By Kyle McCaskey
The Hutchinson News
Every single play, Bashir Ahmed’s vision is meandering ahead, strategically plotting his options. If the opponent stops path, Ahmed leaves himself a way out.
This doubles as a description for Ahmed’s play on the court for the Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team, but in this instance, it outlines his love for chess.
“Basketball is also a thinking game, just like chess,” Ahmed said. “You have to find a way to win. Know how to beat your defenders and set up an offense.”
Ahmed opens the match. “E4,” he confidently proclaims as he moves his pawn forward two squares.
Ahmed discovered chess back in middle school in The Bronx, New York. He became curious when he saw a friend bring home a chess board. He played a few games to understand the basics before he approached his school’s chess club adviser about joining the club.
“All the students, players, used to go there and learned how to play chess,” Ahmed said. “It’s a very competitive game. It’s a thinking game, too. I love to think, come up with new strategies.”
Ahmed examines the board. “What do we have here?” he wonders aloud. He sees he made a wrong move early in the game, “but it’s OK, though.” He has experience on his side.
Chess became a lifestyle as Ahmed grew from amateur to ace. He traveled in limousines to play in tournaments, visiting Boston and other nearby cities. He estimates he has seven chess trophies and 10 gold medals back home.
“It was a great honor for me to win a trophy, because when I first started, I was a beginner, and everybody in my chess club was really good. When I first started, I was whack,” Ahmed said. “When I won my first trophy, it really meant a lot to me.”
One of Ahmed’s proudest moments was defeating one of the chess masters at his school. The exhaustive amount of time he put into learning the nuances of the game had paid off.
There is a sign of danger. Ahmed recognizes the opponent is in pursuit of his queen. “I have to back up now,” he says. The queen is his favorite piece on the board because of its versatility. He greatly values it.
Ahmed lived in The Bronx his entire childhood. The borough’s reputation precedes itself.
He has eight older brothers. He learned from their experiences before him.
“All my brothers, they played basketball, but none of them really took it serious like that. That’s why they push me every day,” Ahmed said. “They know they didn’t take it serious, and I have a chance and I have the talent. They try to push me so I won’t make the same mistakes.”
Ahmed’s family unit growing up was atypical. His father died six years ago. His mother now lives in Africa, though they remain in close contact. Ahmed’s grandmother raised him and his eight brothers most of their lives. They all want more for Bashir, encouraging him to strive for his seemingly limitless potential.
“I think that is one of the reasons why I’m tough today, and one of the reasons I’m successful, is because of my family pushing me. Making sure I stay out of the streets, going to school to get my education,” Ahmed said. “Try to make my dream come true.”
The opponent makes an aggressive move, sending a bishop across the board to steal a rook from Ahmed. The play surprised Ahmed as he loses a useful piece. Ahmed shows no concern, though. Thinking miles ahead, he knows it opened the path for him to win the match.
After this season, Ahmed, a sophomore, will depart for St. John’s University, where he is committed for basketball. Being back in New York was a big selling point for him.
“I feel like St. John’s has all the tools to take me to the next level. They have a great coaching staff,” Ahmed said. “I feel like representing my home, playing in front of my family, is really big for me.”
Ahmed is not done at Hutchinson, however. He was Freshman of the Year in the Jayhawk West a season ago, as well as a second team NJCAA All-American. This season, he has broken into the Top 20 of Hutchinson’s career scoring mark. He tied the program’s single-game high with a 46-point performance against Cowley.
There is no restrictions to the ways Ahmed can score. He is a deft 3-point shooter, deadly off the dribble and possesses a smooth stroke from the free-throw line. He can be reckless at times, but he has good intentions.
“We give him a little more leeway than some of the guys,” said Hutchinson coach Steve Eck. “No, it’s not hard to tame. It’s just how hard I want to tame him.”
Ahmed moves his queen deep into the opponent’s side of the board. “Check,” Ahmed says. “Oh, I think it’s over. I think it’s over.” The opponent’s king is left to dance around a couple more turns, but the queen has him trapped. The ending is inevitable. “Check, now it’s checkmate in one more move,” Ahmed says, seeing every possible move leads to his opponent’s demise.
Ahmed has a chessboard and a time clock with him in Hutchinson. From time to time, he tries to teach the game to a teammate or fellow student.
“First of all, you always want to protect your king. Always protect your king,” Ahmed said. “Never leave your king open. You don’t want to leave it open, and you don’t want room for the knights or the bishops or the rooks or whatever piece it is to get in there and check the king, or trap it.”
Each move Ahmed makes is meant to benefit his team in the here and now, but also is made with an eye on the future. He sees the bigger picture. He wants to be a leader for the Blue Dragons this year. He is always contemplating how to do that effectively – his own personal game of chess on the court.
“And most important, think before you move. You always have to think before you move. Chess is a thinking game. You have to come up with a strategy,” Ahmed said. “And never be greedy, neither. Being greedy gets you killed.”
The opponent’s king topples onto the board, a lifeless rattle of despair. “Checkmate,” Ahmed says.
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– GM Susan Polgar