New York chess hustlers get pwned by Magnus

by Frederic Friedel
10/19/2016 – No, it's not a typo! Background: there is vigorous chess activity in New York's Washington State Park, and plenty of hustling going on there. Sometimes, though, someone turns up who is really, really strong. And then the hustlers get owned, as in a video shot in 2010 that recently went viral: World Champion Magnus Carlsen took a detour to the park, watched his manager get "crushed" and then, with Liv Tyler watching, proceeded to restore the honour of Norwegian chess.

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First a little story from memory lane: many, Many years ago, actually in 1983, there was a Computer Chess World Championship in New York. As a special guest Mikhail Botvinnik was invited. One evening we were all invited to a Broadway musical – Chorus Line. It was spectacular and enjoyed by all (including clearly Botvinnik).

After the show we were walking back to the hotel when we saw a chess table set up with an African-American player challenging passers by – come on, play me, five dollars a game. One person in our group, Ken Thompson, was galvanized. He said one word: Botvinnik! And rushed ahead to talk the former World Chess Champion to play a game. In the meantime it was my task to get the street hustler ready for the encounter.

Unfortunately Mikhail demurred – the street was too dark and he the circumstances too scary. The hustler spent the time chatting me up: come on, sit down, make your move! I said sorry, we were trying to get the old man there to play. He won't do it – lucky for you. "Lucky for me??" the hustler said. "Listen, I am an FM, and I'm not afraid of no old man." Before I left to join the others I told him who the "old man" was.

We walked on a hundred yards when suddenly the man jumped out in front of us. "Are you really Mikhail Botvinnik??" the FM said. "Yes," nodded the white-haired man with a kind smile. "Mikail [expletive] Botvinnik? I can't believe it!" Then he pulled out a twenty dollar bill and said: "Please sign this for me. I will never spend it."

In the years after that I sometimes went to Washington Square Park, taking super-strong friends with me – the younger the better. Soon it became difficult: "Careful, it's him again, with some grandmaster dude," someone would say. If you want to catch the atmosphere of the chess activity there, check out our report: "Maurice Ashley: trash talk chess in NYC park."

But what happens when the reigning World Champion takes on the hustlers?

For the uninitiated: "Pwn" is a leetspeak slang term derived from the verb "own" and means to conquer to gain ownership. The term implies domination or humiliation of a rival, used primarily in the Internet-based video game culture to taunt an opponent who has just been soundly defeated. [Wikipedia]

This Gizmodo article points to a new viral video, published on October 6, 2016, which already has over 600,000 views. It shows Magnus Carlsen leaving the Marshall Chess Club in New York City and walking to Washington Square Park, where he walks straight up to the best players and destroys them in quick succession (we reported on this a few years ago). They did not know whom they were playing, but sensed something fishy when one of them was checkmated in just ten moves. But why are we describing it in words, watch the enjoyable video yourself:

Magnus tells us that his manager Espen Agdestein, who is a fairly decent player, tried first and got "completely crushed". So he needed to "restore the honour of Norwegian chess." Note that Magnus is accompanied by American actress and model Liv Tyler.

And in case you haven't had enough watch this lovely sequence of Vinny (Laurence Fishburne) teaching Josh Weizkin (Max Pomeranc) in Washington State Park in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer:

And here's a full 30-minute report on Chess in Washington Square Park:

You see the real Vinny Livermore, who was played by Laurence Fishburne in the clip above. Also clips of GM Roman Dzindzichashvili (at 8:20 min) hustling in the park, etc. Thanks to koko48 for the link.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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chessdrummer chessdrummer 10/21/2016 02:07
This video segment "Men Who Would Be Kings" was produced by National Master Miro Reverby back in the late 80s. I believe it was done as some type of film project. He sent it to me some years back and I uploaded it. It is poor quality from a video tape, but it is a wonderful video with some of the legends. This is not the full video. There is a part 2 as well.
T.V.Smith T.V.Smith 10/21/2016 11:20
Thanks hansj,
but Espen still has 2372 Elo, so the "hustler" must have some chess knowledge.
hansj hansj 10/21/2016 04:06
T.V.Smith 10/19/2016 08:07
How can you be strong enough to crush Agdenstein and not recognize Magnus?

This was not GM Simen Agdestein, but his brother Espen.

koko48 koko48 10/20/2016 05:52
Perhaps this old footage deserves a second look, since Carlsen will return to conquer his opponents in New York next month
fons fons 10/20/2016 05:06
This was from his G-Star photo shoot in New York in 2010 I believe. I'm pretty sure I saw this video back then, but the oldest original I could find is from 2013. (Maybe I'm misremembering and just saw the photos?)

Original video posted 2013:!/video/73842/se-carlsen-knuse-new-yorks-34-chess-hustlers-34

Article with photos posted 2011:

Articles about the G-Star photo shoot posted 2010:
Chessspawnvt Chessspawnvt 10/20/2016 03:46
It's named Washington SQUARE Park.
Gajak Gajak 10/19/2016 11:45
This is simply embrassing. This is several YEARS old....
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 10/19/2016 09:14
How many recorded games or just the results would make, do we have of Botvinnik? Didnt he once said hi only played Blitz once in his life on a train journey and that this was a bad decision. Blitz in his mind was bad for a players character and attitude to chess. Or this is part of propaganda?
tom_70 tom_70 10/19/2016 08:35
This was interesting news 6 years ago when it actually happened. Is there some sort of nostalgia thing going on today or what?
T.V.Smith T.V.Smith 10/19/2016 08:07
How can you be strong enough to crush Agdenstein and not recognize Magnus?
Ambicatus Ambicatus 10/19/2016 06:43
This video was made part of a documentary on Magnus Calrsen, on the Norwegian news site VG and the funny thing is that you, yourself, posted this already in 2013:
KevinC KevinC 10/19/2016 05:54
I am pretty sure it is from 2010.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 10/19/2016 04:42
The video has to be more than just months old (at least a couple years?). Magnus looks so young in it. And that was back when Liv was doing the whole modeling thing w/ Magnus for g-star, no?
koko48 koko48 10/19/2016 03:40
See "Men Who Would Be Kings"....A 30 minute film on YouTube of Washington Square hustlers, during the chess circle's heyday in the late 1980s

You'll see the real Vinny Livermore, who was played by Laurence Fishburne in the clip above...Also clips of GM Roman Dzindzichashvili hustling in the park, etc
Attack_the_king Attack_the_king 10/19/2016 03:18
Bobby Fischer the LEGEND is My Favourite!!!!!
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 10/19/2016 03:16
I think the video is many months old.

And what's with Liv? I know they did a photo shoot together a while back, but are they a thing? Or is she just publicity-mandated eye candy?

Ah, distractions . . .