[Hpn] Days of Knights at Dupont Circle: [...] Suits & Street People Tangle Over Chess
Morgan W. Brown
Wed, 25 Jul 2001 14:28:10 -0400
As a person who is homeless and who enjoys playing chess when I am able to,
I could not resist sending the below forwarded article which may be of
interest to you and others whom you know.
However I do not play for money. As it is, I am not as good as those playing
at Dupont Circle and would only be hustled out of what little money I do
have anyway. And the fact is that I only play chess for the fun of it. It is
an excellent way to spend quality time with other human beings.
Morgan W. Brown
Wednesday, July 25, 2001
Washington Post <http://www.washingtonpost.com>
[Washington, D.C., USA]
Days of Knights at Dupont Circle
With Small Bets and Big Talk, Business Suits and Street People Tangle Over
Arthur Washington, Doc Landolfi, Jonathan Guerrero, Darrold Hunt and Scott
Thomas are some of Dupont Circle's chess champions. (Juana Arias - The
--[End of photo caption]
By Abhi Raghunathan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2001; Page B01
In a haze of cigarette smoke and trash talk, financial gurus fresh from
their offices tangle over chess tables in Dupont Circle with players whose
finances consist of a few bucks stashed in a coat pocket. Park regulars
hustle -- they prefer the word "teach" -- curious newcomers. Family men on
their way home to the suburbs catch a few games with homeless men who sleep
on city benches.
"It's great," said Ramsey Ross, a portfolio manager from Silver Spring who
came over from near Union Station on his lunch break recently for a few
games. "This guy over here eating out of a trash can can play some guy in a
business suit and take him down a dollar."
The chess scene here has been one of the many minor tableaus of District
life for decades, played out every weekday and weekend from the early hours
of morning into the night. Players are undeterred by the weather; they are
there throughout the year and have been for decades, with several regulars
saying they've been coming for at least 25 years. The games go on despite
the heat this summer and construction in the circle, which forced the
removal of a couple of tables, leaving eight.
This is not the somber type of chess practiced by Gary Kasparov and Deep
Blue, just as the street ball in Harlem's Rucker Park is not the
professional basketball of Madison Square Garden.
These chess players swear and shout. They fight the clock as well as their
opponent in timed games that last 10 minutes or less. They do not tell an
opponent when they have him in check. Some make illegal moves, hoping no one
"You talk to your opponent all the time, unnerve him. There's a lot of curse
words," said Jerry Lucas, 58, who worked in the payroll department of
McDonnell Douglasandhas been coming to Dupont Circle for about 25 years.
"It's a beautiful thing to see them play."
Park regulars embrace their brand of chess and are proud of their prowess.
Some, such as James E. "Black Knight" Taylor, 54, call themselves "Street
"In Dupont Circle, we here are the drumbeat of chess," said Taylor, who got
the nickname Black Knight because of his fondness for attacking with that
Taylor, a slight, white-whiskered man, said he learned to play chess while
in prison for attempted robbery and forgery. After getting out, he said, he
lived in the circle's park for about 15 years, making money by pocketing the
stakes put up by those he beat before moving into Section 8 housing.
"Let's just call that a lesson fee," he said of his winnings. "Around here,
we don't call it hustling."
Some players in the park have always played for money. Most players,
virtually all of them men, play for small stakes such as spare change or a
few dollars. Bottle caps, pennies and pebbles serve as chips, lining the
sides of chessboards.
Taylor also explained other park lingo: Those who play just for fun or watch
are "idle players." Newcomers are "patzers." And formal tournament players
who try out park chess and lose are "too sweet." Chess, which keeps them in
Dupont Circle and away from home, is sometimes referred to as "the
Many of the players have developed mystiques and acquired nicknames to go
with them. A stout man with a gift for taunting during games is "the
Godfather of Yak," and a bulky, bearded man who wears a dark suit and shades
goes by "Master Don." According to park lore, Don has not castled -- a
common technique in chess -- in more than 20 years. In that time, other
players said, he has beaten the many who have.
Then there is Rob Landolfi, a young high school teacher who moonlights by
teaching prep classes for medical school entrance exams. Landolfi is "Doc"
because he reviews lessons and science textbooks while waiting for a game.
"A number of the guys out here showed me the ropes by beating me up" at
chess, said Landolfi, who added that he learned to play chess by coming to
A player who said he has made money by "instructing" people like Landolfi is
Alexander Passov, 49, a Russian national who has been spending a lot more
time in the park since he was laid off from his job as a computer programmer
a few months ago. Passov, who lives in Falls Church, said he once won $300
in a day of chess. "I don't consider it gambling," he said. "Gambling is a
game of chance. Chess is a game of skill."
Recently, he set up his chessboard on one of the eight concrete tables and
announced: "Gentlemen, three dollars a game."
The player who took him up on his offer was Arthur Traldi, a 19-year-old
from Pennsylvania who is working as an intern with a campaign consulting
company this summer. Last year, he tied for first place in the U.S. Junior
Open chess championship. In two months of park chess here, he said, he has
won about $100.
"You get a reputation. People want odds and stuff," said Traldi, who has
trouble getting games now. A crowd gathered and watched the two streak
pieces across the board into the night, all the while muttering comments and
The best player, say many in the park, is a lanky, middle-age man with
leathery hands and a silver tooth named Tom Murphy, who usually plays for
money. "Like any endeavor that you really love, you put everything into it,
even your wallet," he said.
Murphy, who lives in Capitol Heights, said the most he ever won in a day was
a few hundred dollars after playing 30 games against the same opponent. He
did not win every game.
"It would have been very unsporting," he said, "to not let him take a few."
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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