Thursday, 7 November 2019

The Hustler

Ben's recent article on chess in New York brought back memories of my own time there in (gulp!) 1984/85.

There was no league chess as we know it, and the only time I ever played at any of the famous New York chess landmarks was shorty after I arrived in September 1984. At the now defunct Manhattan Chess Club, where Fischer was once a member (though not in the same premises that I played in, on West 57th street near Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Rooms), I scored 3/4 in the NY September Open, losing only to future IM Dimitri London (USCF 2457 then, and still a highly respectable 2422 ELO now!) in Round 2. Serves me right for playing the Ponziani!

Thereafter my chess was restricted to participation in four small tournaments at the Game Room, which was a (quite respectable!) basement establishment somewhere high up on Broadway beyond Columbus Circle. I guess that they catered for bridge and other card players and goodness knows what else, but my memory totally fails me on this point now.

In their 5 round Swiss No 6 (Oct/Nov 1984; 1 game per week on a weekday evening)  I scored 4/4 plus a Rd 2 bye to finish first and pick up $100. Then in Swiss No 7 (Nov/Dec) I pocketed another $100 for scoring 3.5/4, plus another Rd 2 bye.  Quite what I had against playing in Round 2, I have no idea. My scoresheet tells me the last round was played on Boxing Day 1984. In this tournament I played the greatest game of my life against another future IM Jay Bonin (2388), that was so brilliant (though I say so, myself!) that it deserves an article all its own.

It was after one of these games that I very nearly saw Woody Allen, and very nearly (in my imagination anyway) appeared in his film Hannah and Her Sisters. As I walked along Broadway to go and catch my bus home, there was a film crew set up outside a Tower Records store, with tracks laid on the sidewalk (sorry, pavement) and a film camera sliding up and down, shooting through a floor to ceiling window into the store. I walked on, not having a clue what was going on, only to have a "what on earth?!" moment a few months later when going to see the film (this was well before Woody fell out of favour!), and recognising a scene as the one I had watched being prepared.

Thereafter, I played in two Quads at the Game Room. These were 4 player all play alls held over a single Sunday. On April 21st 1985 I scored 2.5/3 and took home the first prize of $30, but on May 5th my winning tournament run came to an end as I could only manage 2/3, and the $30 jackpot went the way of one G. Dimitrov (2062) who absolutely slaughtered me in our (Rd 2 of course!!) encounter with the Grand Prix Attack.

So my New York chess record ended up at won 12; drew 2; lost 2. And I ended up (briefly) with a USCF rating of 2303!

But this is all rather gentrified and several miles removed from Ben's New York experiences of street chess (even if some of it was played indoors!), and in fact one of my most memorable moments in New York occurred one workday lunchtime (July 9th, 1985) when I chanced upon 2 chess hustlers taking on all comers in the street near the ill-fated World Trade Centre, where I worked on the 83rd floor. For stakes of $3 a game, I sat down and played two games against a 20-something hustler who turned out not to have grasped the fundamental fact that he was supposed to take money off me, and not the other way around. Because, yes, I out-hustled the hustler in both of our five minute games -and luckily for all KCC members, I subsequently reconstructed them and they are now seeing the light of day for the first time ever.

Here's Game 1.

And here's Game 2.

So two nil to the Limey, but hustlers always have to have the last word, and my opponent then deducted two dollars from my winnings for "clock hire". It seems like not all hustlers have Paul Newman's class and style!

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