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.