Tom Murphy: King of Dupont Circle


Tom Murphy in his office at the famous Dupont Circle.

Vaughn Bennett just sent me a link to an article from the Washington Post on Tom Murphy, a DC-based legendary chess hustler. Those who have been to Dupont Circle in Washington, DC have no doubt heard his name uttered. Those who have been to a World Open have no doubt seen him. His reputation as a strong blitz player precedes him.

With quite a checkered past, Murphy’s inate talent for chess is somewhat of an irony given the life of hard knocks that he has had to endure. In the video below you will see an articulate man of passion… a man who sees the world from a pragmatic view… a man who sees the world through a chessboard.

The 3:49-minute video clip gives a preview to the lengthy article and makes for intriguing reading. I was actually interviewed for the article and had forgotten about it. In fact, I cannot remember making some of the statements in the same context. However, the article gives a man deserving of honor his day in the sun. Tom Murphy will always be spoken of as a man of mixed fortune… a man of triumph… a man of tragedy. This appears to be the measure of history’s most intriguing men.

To read, “The Days and Knights of Tom Murphy” click here!


  1. I know Tom Murphy, and consider him a friend. This article is relatively fair, but it does not fully do justice to his sparkling brilliance, his civility, his character, or his abiding integrity. Also, the author makes it a story about “what could have been”, but if you really know Tom Murphy, it’s hard to escape the notion that it’s not quite too late, that his story is really one of “what could be.”

  2. I agree… especially since some of the comments associated with the “has-been” notion are mine. Some of my quotes were not put in proper context. However, having watched him play and having split two games with him in classical tournaments, I do believe that his dream of being a Grandmaster and a U.S. Chess Champion may be exceedingly difficult to achieve at this stage. There were so many thing pointed out in the article that I had no idea of since I have never had a deep conversation with Murphy. Rarely do chess players discuss their personal affairs unless it is with very close friends.

    A Venezuelan reporter recently asked me why there weren’t more Black Grandmasters. He asked, “Are they intelligent enough?” Yes… he really asked that! I simply told him that opportunities were lacking… lack of norm opportunities, lack of sponsorship funding, lack of personal wherewithal, lack of training, etc. Nowadays getting a Grandmaster title can only be done if (1) your personal life is in order (2) you are dedicated to chess full-time and (3) you have the resources to travel and play. If any one of these things is not in order, it becomes problematic.

    I look at the video and feel his passion and it certainly makes me want to help him achieve his goal. Without stability it would be very difficult for Murphy to accomplish his dreams. Fortunately, Murphy continues to fight the challenging problems life poses for him. I’d like to see him accomplish his modest dream of getting to 2200.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful response.
    Another factor is also the lack of resources in urban schools, I’m not saying this is a lack of capacity in the minds of the students, but rather a lack of ability to hire chess coaches and have sophisticated chess programs and databases available for young students of the game. It’s shocking how quickly some kids today are becoming GMs.

    There are a few other stories about Tom at my blog, Urbanagora, here’s the thread:

  4. Mr Murphy is not good enough to make a decent living playing chess, nor playing poker. But it seems to be what he feels he needs to do .. for reasons that perhaps even he doesn’t understand. Clearly he is talented, and you just know that if he can overcome whatever demons he is struggling with, that it would be straightforward for him to live a more prosperous life.

  5. RJT,

    It is interesting that talent is not lacking in many of our promising players, but in many cases (I can cite many), they have not taken the best path to realize their “potential.” However, who is to know what the best path is??? Tate was accepted into Northwestern and MIT (I am told) and Murphy attended Temple University. Both joined the Air Force.

    It is hard to understand one’s path in life. Each person’s path shapes them into what they have become. Perhaps Murphy’s purpose in chess is to show how a person can fight trials and tribulations and still find a joyful passion. Despite immense wealth, many rich people do not have this. It is amazing how you go to poor countries and see their joy. Not joy from their condition, but in those things that keep them in touch with humanity. Murphy is definitely in his element when he is in the chess world… an activity we sometimes use as a refuge.

    In the clip, Murphy says that he once dreamt about being the first Black U.S. Chess Champion. He says, “I still dream about that. That’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to chess.” That touched me because those words will inspire others.

  6. Daaim –

    Agreed. That is why I chose my words carefully in my previous post ..” a more prosperous life” is not necessarily the same as a happier life.

  7. I’ve played Tom on numerous occassions, and I agree he ( like many of us writing on these blogs and reading the chess drum) has a lot of potential to be a top player. The question it seems is how to move up from a plateau: where it be rating, chess playing ability, life’s situations, or otherwise. Others have done it, (e.g. Nakamura wasn’t born rated 2700) so it is possible. If I were to offer my humble opinion, I think the answer lies in overcomming that which stops us from developing the self-discipline to work hard and overcome our self made limitations. Personally I think a coach (or Fritz) can help or not (see Self Improvement for the Adult player) but as a friend of mines said … If you really want it badly, there’s nothing stoping YOU; so it comes back to the same questions: How badly do we want to improve? Can we say no to ourselves and distractions? Can we live up to our potential?

  8.  8)

    Personally Tom has always been a great friend and teacher to me. At his best, he channels his very spirit in the chess board. I can not think of a single better spokesman for our game.

  9. Much has already been said/written about Tom, now I would like to move forward. Since the article has appeared, Tom and I have sat down & talked about where does he go from here—
    Tom is interested in improving his rating and this past week played at the Arlington VA Chess Club-he held his own GM’s and IM players, he is doing this to get ready to play in tournaments.
    He and I talked about improving his presence on the web, so with Tom’s permission I have created a “Tom Murphy” profile on both and facebook. In the future he would like to write a blog about what is going on in his life and of course chess!!!
    An email account has been established and if you would like to write Tom, you can reach him at:

    On a personal note I have been taking lessons from Tom and my regular opponents have remarked that I am a much tougher/stronger player-all credit and thanks to tom.

    I play chess in dupont circle on the weekends, so if there is a message you’d like me to deliver to tom, my email address is:

  10. Brill,

    I looked for his facebook page and was unable to find it. There are so many people named “Tom Murphy.”

    Tell Murphy that he is always welcome to blog here. We’d appreciate his insight on issues. Hopefully we can draw inspiration from his words as he draws inspiration from ours.

  11. Daaim
    I found your profile on facebook and sent you a friend request from tom. Not sure if it went through.
    Tom’s facebook profile is still a work in progress-will be adding more content and photos soon.
    I will tell tom that he is welcome to blog here. I think it is a great idea and will pass along your comments to him. All the best,


  12. ❗ Stay tune to BBC radio.Tomm will be have live unterview featuring others in the Park, Also a doc) was done by the Germans toms liveing conditions have changed 😀

  13. Black Knight,

    I got to that point, but the audio was not on the right recording.

    Could someone post the exact link here, so we won’t spend 10-15 minutes looking for it?

  14. See comment #16. I got that far… not there. If someone else can find the exact link so we can click on it and hear Tom’s voice, then do so. I wouldn’t recommend posting any other link besides the exact location of the recording. Giving us the main BBC site doesn’t help. You just end up searching for it for 20 minutes.

  15. Great Article on Tom Murphy i lived in Dc from 06 til 2009 and those lessons and pure beat downs from Tom inspired me to create my club here in the carolinas.I hope and pray that Tom will bring it all together and attain his goal of Master an champion .Although he may not have all the glitz and kudos some top players receive he is with out question a lover of the game .His passion and fearless approach to the game is incredible.
    In the south there are not many African American Top players over 2000 except Ron Simpson 2360 of Nc, An Keith Eubanks 2062 of SC .Put with your site and coverage of black players its very promising.Thanks for covering Tom
    Tony (Tiger )

    1. There are some right here in Florida. There are players in North Carolina (Dominique Myers and Emmanuel Carter) and at least one Master in New Orleans in Rene Phillips. There is New Orleans native Alfred Carlin who was once over 2400. There are a couple of Afro-Cubans who play in Florida as well. There is Arkansas state champion in Tony Davis. There was former U.S. Junior champion R.O. Middleton who passed away. There was Leonard Dickerson of Tennessee. There is Joshua Alexander who is in Oklahoma. A while ago there was a National Master in Mississippi named William Lopes. Sometimes it simply a lack of information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button