In the chess world, we often believe we know a talented young player when we see one. How many times in America have we heard that a young player will be the next Bobby Fischer? Plenty of times. Each time we hear such a pronouncement, we smile inwardly with skepticism, but we quietly take notice. Currently, the American chess scene is in the midst of a renaissance with the finest collection of young talent seen in years. This includes “veterans” such as Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, both products of U.S. scholastic chess.
I have been fortunate enough to see and play some of these talented scholastic players and have watched many from afar. On one occasion, I witnessed one of these talents sprouting. At the 2006 World Open, I was strolling through the skittles room, scanning the area for a story. As I walked in, the room was rather sparse, but I saw a man playing blitz chess with a diminutive boy. It appeared to be a father-son battle, so I presumed it would be fun to watch.
With their intermittent punching of the chess clock, I stopped mid-step with intrigue as the boy was playing theoretical lines with confidence. I started scrambling to get my camera ready to take a shot as the boy continued to bang out moves. After the game, I asked the man, “Is this your son?” My hunch was right. I learned that the man was Guy Colas playing his 7-year old son Joshua Colas. They had traveled from New York to play in the World Open. It was Josh’s first national tournament.
Immediately, I wanted to get a better look at the boy’s talent so I asked his father if I could show him one of my games, a tactical win with some nuances. To my surprise, he was seeing patterns and ideas when prompted. Impressive! After our session, I went to his father and told him, “Your son is quite talented. Keep him interested.” Many times you see young players come on the scene, but it is hard to tell when interest will wane and another hobby will come calling. Sometimes a little encouragement helps.
Fortunately, American scholastic chess has been buoyed by the local Chess-in-Schools programs and the nationwide scholastic events. There has been the Denker Tournament of High School Champions, the U.S. Junior Open, the U.S. Closed and the Cadet Championship. However, the “Supernationals” has been the crowning glory allowing obscure scholastic players to shine on a national stage. The tournament draws more than 5000 players from around the country.
Ten years ago, Josh started a gradual ascent supported by his family and friends. He started chess in October 2005 playing in local tournaments in New York, but his father put him on the fast track. Guy has always had confidence in his son, but could he have known that he was grooming a master-level player? Guy told The Chess Drum, “I knew he had potential, but when he was solving 4 to 7 move puzzles within seconds, I knew there was something natural.”
In time, Josh became an Expert at 10, a National Master at the age of 12, a Senior Master at 14, and a FIDE Master at 16. He has won six national grade championships and a number of open tournaments and is a mainstay at the Marshall Chess Club. One of his first confidence builders was the 2010 Caribbean Chess Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, his first international event. As an 11-year old, he received international publicity, became the sensation of the tournament by beating national hero FM Ryan Harper. He scored +2 in the process and lost only to IM Kevin Denny of Barbados.
Over the years, Josh has built up a fine collection of Grandmaster scalps along the way and has finally developed a bit of stability. He had been fluctuating between 2350-2420 since 2012, but has recently tipped the ratings scales at 2487 USCF after his first GM norm at the North American Open December 2015. Lately, Josh has been working on his opening repertoire, a necessity at higher levels. As a senior at White Plains High School, he aspires to secure the last two norms to secure the coveted Grandmaster title.
To appreciate the journey, one has to look at the circumstances. Josh comes from a loving family of Haitian ancestry with hard-working parents Guy and Yanick, an older brother Korey, and a younger sister Chellsie. He also has a supportive uncle named Clotaire Colas, an early chess inspiration. They are his biggest fans and have supported him in his quest for chess excellence. After earning his GM norm, Josh stated, “My parents constantly remind me that if I work hard and believe in myself, nothing is impossible.”
Josh has a growing legion of friends and supporters and has gained the respect of his peers. When one meets Josh, it is easy to see his humility. He maintains this persona despite being a scholastic chess All-American since 2009 and one of the top 100 players in the country. His growing list of accomplishments has been mentioned above, but also includes being honored by the New York Senate (Resolution J.4136) for his national and international chess accomplishments.
An aspiring computer scientist, Josh will attend Webster University to pursue his studies while under the tutelage of GM Susan Polgar. Perhaps university chess programs have become the best opportunity for players to focus on chess while in school, but in reality, these are academic scholarships. With a challenging major such as computer science, Josh will have to meet high standards. Without such a supportive environment, his pursuit of chess goals would hardly be possible.
In social media, Guy often complained of the lack of norm opportunities for his son. Last year, the Colas family set up a website (www.joshuacolas.com) and launched a fundraiser for Josh to complete a series of tournaments. The fundraiser was a success and has helped Josh compete in several major tournaments. This summer, he is looking to earn additional GM norms, which may require international travel.
After graduation this summer, Josh will prepare to move to St. Louis to attend Webster. Guy Colas has praised Polgar for her genuine interest. While St. Louis is nearly 1000 miles from White Plains, New York, there are few places as hospitable for chess. Of course White Plains will remain Josh’s ancestral home. The city already has a bit of a chess pedigree being the childhood home of America’s top player, Hikaru Nakamura. Young Josh will be looking to make history of his own.