Russian Paul and Little Daddy – the NYC chess scene

9/18/2007 – September is a time of rebirth for chess. With schools back in session, students are returning to their chess clubs. Some of those students may be dreaming of vying for the title, now held by Vladimir Kramnik. More likely is that they will someday vie for a few dollars in Union Square Park in Lower Manhattan against the likes of a man known as Russian Paul. The New York Times reports.

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Paul is one of a small legion of chess players in places like Union Square Park, Washington Square Park and St. Nicholas Avenue and 141st Street who make a living, or at least some pocket money, from hustling. Like basketball, chess hustling is a city game — fast and gritty and played on street corners and in parks with the throb of street life as a backdrop.

At the top levels it is polished, with high stakes. While the World Chess Championship, which began on Thursday, has $1.3 million in prize money, on the street the bets are usually $5 a game, and the quality of the opposition is unknown.

Another hustler, whose first name is Kenny and whose street name is Little Daddy (he is 5 feet 3 inches tall), said he could always tell how good his opponent was in the first couple of moves. For example, he said, if someone moves quickly but fumbles the pieces, or uses one hand to move the pieces and the other to hit the clock, which is against the normal rules of speed chess, then the person is not experienced.

Little Daddy, who said he started playing street chess in 1976, said he won about 80 percent of the time. A crucial part of the game is not to win too quickly, he said. “You make the games close,” he said. “You don’t want to crush them. You want to leave their ego intact, because you want to keep them coming back.”

Russian Paul, who displayed the opening knowledge, speed and tactical ability of a master (but not the much higher grandmaster), said he had been playing in the streets for about 15 years and always tried to win. “If they get scared away, it is not my problem,” he said.


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