Baraka Shabazz, the District's 15-year-old chess whiz, is scheduled to fly to England today to represent the United States at an international tournament for girls under 16 years of age.
As she prepared to depart this week, Washington-area chess players gave her a chess players' bon voyage -- 20 hard-fought simultaneous matches between Shabazz and 20 challengers. The results: Shabazz 7 wins, 8 losses and 5 draws.
It was all part of Baraka Shabazz Day, a fund-raising chess match-crab feast-disco dance held at Howard University's Blackburn Center.
The players who beat Shabazz were happy with their victories. Beating Baraka Shabazz, it seems, is a difficult task, difficult enough to make them perspire freely as they played, but the right way to celebrate Baraka Shabazz Day.
"A few defeats are good for you," reasoned Glenn Tillman of Northwest, the first player who beat her. "It might be a rough send-off to England, but it'll get her ready."
Other winners were careful to point out that Shabazz was a tough opponent even when facing 19 other players at the same time. She began playing only three years ago.
When the week-long under-16 girls' world tournament, to be held in West Sussex, England, comes to a close, Shabazz hopes she will be the world champion in that category. She also thinks she will move from her present United States Chess Federation Rating of 2,033 points to over 2,200 points, which would earn her the title of master. If that does indeed happen, she will become the first black female master.
At 2:30 p.m., Shabazz stood at the end of the Blackburn Center's ballroom, facing 20 chess players sitting at 20 chessboards. She recognized many of them from the chess tables of Dupont Circle. In those days, not so long ago, they would grudgingly play when the little girl would walk up, ask for a game, and then proceed to demolish them.
Shabazz, who ranks sixth among all female American chess players, began the play by walking the width of the ballroom, moving each of her 20 kings' pawns forward two spaces. The teen-ager who fended off questions about boyfriends with a smile had been replaced by the chessplayer -- deliberate, aggressive and intimidating.
At first, she scarcely paused at each board: a quick survey, a decision, and the move was made, leaving her opponent leaning forward to puzzle away the next five or so minutes until Shabazz came by again.
By 4 p.m. Shabazz and each of her 20 opponents had made about 20 moves apiece. The strain showed first on the opponents: Two resigned (that is, gave up) and slipped from the room, one leaving behind excuses about having to attend a birthday party.
At 4:40 p.m., Shabazz checkmated Lorella Bledsle, an unemployed electrical engineer from Northwest. By then Shabazz was occasionally rubbing her temples in fatigue. She had made several mistakes, and she was in trouble on more than one board.
At 5 p.m., at the beginning of the 29th set of moves, Shabazz lost a game to Glenn Tillman, a budget analyst at the Veterans Administration who had played chess with her at Dupont Circle.
Tillman savored his victory graciously but thoroughly: "In that Post story about Baraka Style, May 7 , she mentioned me chewing on a styrofoam cup when she beat me. So when I made my move and got her today, I held my cup up and showed her I hadn't bitten it. She smiled."
Tillman seemed almost as happy about getting past Shabazz's deadpan face as he did about winning.
A few minutes later came another defeat for Shabazz, this one delivered by David McCallum, a member of the Cardozo High School chess team and a resident of the 2300 block of 11th Street NW. McCallum had come to the event wearing cut-off blue jean shorts and a T-shirt advertising three pop music groups, "Cameo/ Fatback Band/ Mtume." He had not expected to play, he said, but had jumped at the chance when an empty chair was offered.
At one end of the row of chessboards, Shabazz gave up a draw.
Down at the other end, meanwhile, Shabazz's youngest challenger, 10-year-old Karl Brower of Suitland, Md., valiantly but futilely fought back. Shabazz put him into check for the third time and walked on, not hearing Karl's muttering: "That mean old girl!"
Brower's 9-year-old sister Tina, who by this point was following Shabazz from board to board, thought differently. "I'd love to be like Baraka Shabazz," she said. "She can play well, she thinks well, she acts nice, she's pretty."
Until this event, Shabazz had lost only one game in simultaneous play, to what she called "a very determined player in San Francisco."
Washington is apparently a very determined place: Shabazz was next defeated by Herman Washington, a newscaster at WRC radio, and then by Jim Cope, a Landover, Md., real estate broker. Subsequent winners were Donald Tucker of Rock Hall, Md., Benny Baldwin of Washington and Dr. Kenneth Scott of Silver Spring.
At 6:10 p.m., Shabazz finished the 20th game by checkmating Rudolph Yates of Washington. The marathon was over. She turned and began to sign autographs.