I Just Went To The Park To Play Chess For Money

washington square park chess

Photo: Business Insider

I’ve been an avid chess player for a long time, and in the summer, one of my favourite things to do is play chess in the park for money.For those who don’t know, in various parks in New York, people set up with chess boards and clocks, and play against people for $5/game. Sometimes it’s $5 to the winner. Sometimes the people with the boards are just giving a “lesson” and charge people to play regardless of who wins.

But I’ve always been curious about how much money the players can make, and how they got to be park chess players.

So today I went to Washington Square Park to learn a little bit more.

This is the corner of Washington Square Park. It's on University and Washington, and it's right near the heart of NYU.

There weren't many people playing when I got to the corner.

This is Leroy Mack. He was set up with a board, and he offered to play me for $20. He said he wouldn't gamble me, since he had no idea how good I was.

We each put 5 minutes on the clock, and were ready to do battle.

Playing white, I started off with a very traditional king's pawn opening. Leroy played a very unconventional defence.

Leroy says he makes about $60 a day playing chess. He lives in a homeless shelter, but the money lets him buy 3 meals a day. And it also gives him money for the occasional gamble. He says he learned to play chess during a 6-month stint in prison.

It was a tough, fast-paced game. I was rusty as I haven't played much since last year. He was much more at ease.

In addition to playing chess, Leroy does odd jobs. He worked at the Belmont this weekend, cleaning up from 3-midnight after the race.

My king was horribly unprotected and my pawn structure is a mess. His king is far better protected behind two pawns.

Quickly the pieces whittled down

It ended in a draw. My king against his king and bishop. That's the look of relief on my face.

Occasionally people will refuse to pay up, but there's nothing you can do. As for law enforcement, they don't care about people gambling, so long as nobody is selling drugs.

Later in the day, the park will fill up with more people.

After the game, I left the park at the opposite corner.

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