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Kings and Queens Come Out to Play in New York City

May 26, 2010

Kirsten Hall, WJI Times Observer

It is a typical day in Midtown Manhattan; sirens are blaring as bright yellow taxis whizz past busy pedestrians on their Bluetooths. Shoppers bump into oblivious children engrossed in their game boys and ipods, while the subway rumbles beneath their feet like some caged beast. In the midst of all of the commotion, a father and his son sit in the middle of Greeley square playing a rousing game of chess.

In a world of cheap thrills and digital junkies, some find greater entertainment and excitement through playing the traditional game of chess.

Russell Makofsy, the director of Chess NYC, an organization whose sole purpose is to promote the game of chess and chess playing in New York, believes that competitive nature of chess and the mental challenge is what really draws people to the game.

“I’ve had people describe chess as a puzzle...people who like sudoku and other games that engage your mind, that’s the sort of person that chess attracts,” he said, “I’ve also heard people say that they become addicted to the thrill of checkmating someone.”

When many think of chess, a stereotypical situation comes to mind of two elderly men sitting in the park playing chess. While the game does remain popular with an older demographic, Russell says that more and more young people are becoming avid players through programs such as Chess-in-the-Schools Inc.

Zach Garner, a young chess enthusiast, claims that the competitive nature of chess is what really engages him. When asked why he would rather play chess than video games he laughed and said, “I’ve never really been into video games, chess is much more competitive.”

“I think that in this day and age, with all of the media and technology, to be able to engage someone in a game like chess doesn’t seem right or even possible.” said Makofsky, “It’s sort of an old, slow, traditional game...It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles.”

He believes that what really fosters interest in the game for kids is the thrill of winning, along with the anticipation of getting rewarded; It makes them want to play again and again.

For some, chess is more than just a form of entertainment, it defines their entire lifestyle.

Tyronne McNair, a daily chess player from the Bronx, claims that he not only has a passion for playing the game, but also makes his living by betting money on games.

“I like it because it’s a combination of things,” he said, “It’s a combination of art and science but it’s also a game...It’s fun.”

McNair is one of the notorious “chess hustlers” of Washington Square, people who lure unsuspecting players into a game then take them for all they’re worth. When money becomes involved, the games really heat up.

“Chess creates the most unusual interactions between people,” Makofsky said, “You see the weirdest people playing together; people who would never interact in any other situation except a game of chess.”

“That is the beauty of chess,” he said, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t always know someone’s culture or language; People can come from all over the world and unite over the chess board.”

The New York City chess community really prides itself on this idea that chess is the ultimate equalizer. Young, old, rich, and poor can all come and experience the excitement of a quality chess game in New York City.