The Days and Knights of Tom Murphy

10/6/2007 – Chess players and hustlers come from all over to be part of Washington's Dupont Circle scene. Tom Murphy, a member of the university's senior faculty, is holding a private seminar for a graduate of George Washington University who was taking a couple of weeks to hone his game of chess before joining the workforce. Must read must watch big Washington Post article.

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In Dupont Circle, an institution of higher learning has been operating unofficially along the park's eastern perimeter for the past three decades or so. Known to its habitues as the Chess University of Dupont Circle, the school has neither walls nor accreditation. Its campus and physical plant consist of little more than the ten uncomfortable concrete table-and-chair sets that line the arc of sidewalk on the circle between New Hampshire Avenue and P Street NW.

One day in mid-June, when the morning air was wiltingly hot, Tom Murphy, a member of the university's senior faculty, was holding a private seminar for David Benassi, a recent graduate of George Washington University who was taking a couple of weeks to hone his game of chess before joining the workforce.

Murphy is himself one of the least encumbered people you are likely to meet. He has no telephone, no bank account, and, at the time I caught up with him, he was spending most nights on a bench in the park and passing his days at his chosen employment: offering lessons at $15 to $20 per and hustling speed chess for $2 to $5 a game.

For a mere $5, I learned from Murphy that the entire tortuous body of the game's strategy is neatly reducible to three clean principles. "Number one, king safety" – above all else protect your king. "Number two, control the center" – i.e., maintain influence over the board's four center squares. "Number three, free the people and give everyone a healthy job" – that is, don't oppress your powerful rear echelon behind a torpid row of pawns; stagger your pawn platoon so that your ranking pieces can go to work attacking or defending.

Dupont Circle is a traffic circle in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, P Street and 19th Street. The name is also given to the public park within the circle, as well as the surrounding neighborhood, which is bounded approximately by 15th Street to the east, 22nd Street to the west, M Street to the south, and Florida Avenue to the north.


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