Washington Square Park in the “Village” area of New York is a historic place in chess lore. It is the place where many famous chess players have roamed and many stories have been borne. “Searching for Bobby Fischer” featured scenes in the famous park and featured these players as did movies like “Fresh” and books like “The Chess Artist.”
I remember hanging out in Washington Square Park back in the summer of 1990. I lived at New York University during the summer while interning at Time-Warner. Maurice Ashley and I met there so I could discuss with him a chess network I envisioned (it became ‘The Chess Drum’). In the park, I learned of “Russian Paul” “Sweet Pea,” “Poe” and other characters. Chess rivalries were heated and dollars were flowing. Ernest Colding came down there too.
1990 Flashback: “Russian Paul” waiting for a game while
Ernest Colding (seated right) is in a test. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
I saw some very disturbing things in the park including a large, chemically-induced Black woman who somehow came out of her shirt! 😯 I remember the staccato beat of dancehall reggae and the gruff rapping of then-king, Shabba Ranks. I made some friends and learned another side of chess in that park.
It’s amazing how many of these hustlers have to face leaving their “fame” and venture back into the harsh realities of a cruel world each night. Some of them play through the winter as well. What is it about chess that will cause a man to become so absorbed? (See Simon’s clip below)
It is amazing that some of the characters mentioned above have become “park legends.” I recently read an article on Russian Paul (tattoos and all) and it is amazing that he is still at it! (See article)
Simon discusses life in the game of chess.
Hikaru Nakamura waiting to take someone’s lunch money.
Yaacov Norowitz getting swindled.