Trump protesters clash with chess players

5/5/2017 – To be fair, the clash was not meant to be a direct confrontation, but chess players at Union Square were caught in the middle of a clash between protesters, and found their games interrupted with tables tossed and chess pieces sent flying, in spite of trying to stay apart from the angry banner bearers. Still, the community showed its spirit as a couple of Good Samaritans came to the rescue, and replaced the missing or destroyed material.

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Trump protesters clash with chess players

Report and photos by Vanessa Sun

Chess players may be known for their intimidation or aggression over the board, but most players have kind hearts and show that through various generous deeds, such as holding tournaments to raise money for charity or even giving lessons to the next generation of young learners.

A few days ago, an interesting story about a good deed caught my eye while I scrolled through Facebook. Two men were buying sets from my favorite chess shop in NYC, Chess Forum, to help out some chess players due to some form of “political melee” at Union Square.

Chess is no stranger to politics, as the 1972 World Chess Championship match exemplified with its Cold War overtones. However, at around 1 or 2 PM on May 1st, 2017, a unique issued cropped up: political altercations in Union Square caused damages to several chess players - or more specifically, their chess sets!

The protests in Union Square were a part of the numerous protests taking place on May Day, the International Workers’ Day. The day has been popularized as a day for workers or unions to protest and go on strike for various worker’s issues. This year’s Union Square protests focused specifically on immigration policies and immigrant rights.

Protests in Union Square around the chess players

The protests took a violent turn as alt right groups/Trump supporters arrived at the scene.  They had come for their own form of opposition, but set themselves up near the chess players. Within minutes, the political tension was too much for the groups and they began to clash. Police barricades were knocked over and several people fell to the ground.

“They were getting closer and closer to our table,” said chess “hustler,” T.C., who had his chess table set up in the south side of the park. “They said to us, ‘Why won’t you help?’ We didn’t want to get involved, so we said no.”

T.C. plays a game after the trouble arose

Refusing to take sides, T.C. plays a woman, in a live and let live attititude that was not shared by those around him

In the action, chess tables went flying and pieces scattered everywhere. Kings’ crowns were broken, bishops lost their tips, and some pieces were simply nowhere to be found.

Luckily, two random heroes came to the rescue, and offered to replace the broken and lost pieces. “We felt the best thing to do was to clean up after them,” said one of the Good Samaritans, who had gone to the park just to play chess. “It sucks that events like this will screw with the surrounding community. We wanted to take some responsibilities.”

The two men had no obligation at all to buy the new sets, but they did nonetheless, knowing the players rely on their pieces in order to make money and pass the time. In their own way, they gave back to the chess community in a monumental way with such a simple gesture.

The chess players informed them of a chess shop – Chess Forum – nearby. I was fortunate enough to catch the two good players as they were still wandering around the park, weaving around chess tables, protesters, and police barricades alike. The best people to talk to seemed to be the chess players that sit and hustle in the park, though.

Washington Square Park has long been known for its chess hustlers and was especially popularized in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Legendary World Champion Bobby Fischer was known to frequent the park and many players since, such as GM Magnus Carlsen, have visited it.

Many videos which are not necessarily hustler-centric are filmed around the chess tables in the park dubbed “Chess Plaza.” For example, GM Hikaru Nakamura’s CNN Money video was set there, so it is not only the chess community that knows the rich cultural history of the Chess Plaza.

Even more popular was GM Maurice Ashley’s Youtube video in which he was trash talked by a hustler that garnered over 2 million views.

Chess hustlers have traditionally made money off playing tourists and random people in the park. The faces have changed, but the practice of chess hustling has not. Visiting and playing hustlers in the park has become a sort of pilgrimage for all chess players, even though the chess playing practice has spread to other cities and to some other areas in NYC such as Union Square and Bryant Park (where there is free chess for all).  At Union Square, a few players construct simple tables to put their boards on and call out challenges to passing tourists and visitors. However, there is one important distinction to make as one of the Union Square chess players, apparently, as Douglas “Dougie” Miller, said to me, “We’re chess players, not chess hustlers!” Oh, but aren’t we all, Dougie?

“Dougie” continues business even amidst the protests

“Dougie” was actually one of the players affected by the chaos, but he did not receive a new set. I decided to step up and succeed the two men who had bought sets, but accidentally missed one affected player.

I arrived at Chess Forum, and was readily welcomed by the owner, Imad Khachan, who has been running the store for 22 years. He heard that I was chasing the story and compassionately donated the set for “Dougie,” charging me nothing. Imad is another great figure of our chess community and I strongly believe in his ambition to keep his shop open for the chess lovers who want a good place to play or easily buy chess equipment. In fact, a  few weeks ago, I started a fundraiser for the store owner who works from 11AM to midnight 7 days a week. In this story, I would say that Imad was another Good Samaritan and hero in his own right, for how would the two men replace sets destroyed at Union Square if there were no chess shops nearby to quickly buy pieces without a two day shipping delay?

Click here to visit fundraiser page

This story still hits close to home as a local, notable chess story, even with the turbulent political climate as the background action. “Dougie” described the crazy chess-May Day chaos perfectly:

“The chess players are affected by the revolution!”

About the author

Vanessa Sun is an avid chess fan and freelance chess journalist. She writes for Chess Life, Chess^Summit, US Chess, and more. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. (photo by David Llada)



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