‘Brooklyn Castle’ Documentary Profiles Young Chess Masters From Jay-Z’s Alma Mater

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Clover Hope / October 19, 2012

A tale of brainy underdogs, Brooklyn Castle recounts the highs, lows and money woes of the nation’s winningest junior high chess squad. The team’s 16-year-old leader Oghenakpobo “Pobo” Efekoro runs down the documentary’s four biggest cool points. Step your chess game up and watch the film, produced and directed by Katie Dellamaggiore, which opens in select cities today (Oct. 19)

1) Balling On A Budget

It seemed like every time the budget got cut, my team continued to break barriers. Even with a team that’s so underfunded, I.S. 318 in Brooklyn became the first middle school in U.S. history to win [the Chess Federation’s] high school national championship.

2) Say It With Your Chess

It’s funny, but gets a serious point across that education is really being threatened in the U.S. A lot of kids don’t know how to play the game. Once they see the film and know where chess can get you, they’ll think to themselves, Oh geez, this is pretty good.

3) There Will Be Tears

The mental side really does get to us. I used to crack under pressure. It was my last year that I started performing really well. Mentally, you have to think of the games ahead and your strategy; Physically, your head is really hurting.

4) Black Excellence

There’s a revolution going on in the chess world right now where more African American players are starting to play and get good at it. It started with Maurice Ashley in the ’90s when he became the first African American grandmaster. He’s been followed by Justus Williams who just graduated from I.S. 318 and is also part of the film.
5) All We Do Is Win: When you step into my room, there are 60 trophies. Being part of a [26-win] national chess team meant we had an obligation to the school and the city. We get that task of going out there to defend the championship. —As told to Adelle Platon