Homeless Chess Player wins Award!

Jose Espinosa is a familiar face at the World Open chess tournaments every year. You will see him milling about the skittles area and usually chatting with another player. A native of Brooklyn, New York, his rich baritone voice is a complement to his usually friendly demeanor. However, there is a lot more to Espinosa than one could imagine. One may not know that during a lengthy career in financial services, he played bit parts in movies with actresses such as Glenn Close and Mariska Hargitay.

José Espinosa (wearing a cap) in a 2007 match
between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

While it seems Espinosa was riding high, the world would soon come crashing down around him. The company that Espinosa worked for had taken on new ownership and in the restructuring, he was laid off. Unable to meet his bills, he lost his New York home. At that time, he was taking care of his ill mother in Philadelphia. He ended up moving there, but when his mother passed away in 2005, that house was lost as well. He suddenly found himself homeless.

“I went from having two places to live to no place to live. There were times I thought it was over. You’re in the shelter. Things happen to you and you ask yourself, ‘Why me?’ I was shocked.”

Espinosa had been homeless since 2005, but at the shelter in which he was residing, they had begun a newspaper project. Espinosa signed up and began doing brief articles while he continued to look for a break. He approached Matthew Saad Muhammad, the light-heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1977 to 1980, who he felt had a gripping story. Muhammad had be a resident at the shelter since 2010. He agreed to share his story with Espinosa.

The article was aptly called, “Fighting Back”. It wasn’t an easy task. “Here’s a man who was on top and now he’s on the bottom, so his trustworthiness of people was on the lowest end,” remarked Espinosa. Such a distance from the subject may have contributed to the objectivity of the article. The article appeared in One Step Away is a member of the INSP, which supports 112 street papers in 40 countries, published in 18 languages and reaching 6 million readers worldwide. We all may have seen homeless men peddling these papers in the major cities. Many have been able to earn living through selling INSP papers.

Espinosa checks up on the latest news in the One Step Away paper.

The article caught the attention of the judges at the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) conference in Glasgow, Scotland. When told he had won the award, Espinosa was surpised. “I was floored. I was shocked that the story did have legs and it took off. I am honored.”

Such a turn of fortune was welcomed by the 58-year old Espinosa. However, he is still looking for employment and to leave his homeless history behind. “I hope to get a new lease on life. It might inspire someone else to do something, to show you it’s not too late in life. Don’t give up hope.” His subject Muhammad has moved onto better things and Espinosa played a big role in this. Hopefully, fortune will soon shine on him.


Christina Ng, “Philadelphia Homeless Man Wins International Journalism Award,” 4 August 2011.

Kevin Roberts, “RHD’s One Step Away wins International Street Paper award,” 25 July 2011.


    1. Please send my information to jose he is a good friend of mine who I lost track with, very good article he wrote and very good information by you daaim in keeping us all informed , or send me his information,peace

      note: strong player back in the days before computers, we had a few great battles!

  1. i dunno but iwent the homeless route and pulled myself back by becoming a chess instrutor for sports and arts in the schools (sasf) and chess in the schools and finally obtained a vendor id number with the board of ed so i contracted with a school direct. it was enough to get off disability

  2. if jose is still in philly i suggest he contact glenn bady or if he wants to relocate to dallas my friend herminio baez from let’s play chess would have work for him he helped lousiana state ch after katrina

    1. Right… I’m the one who set Alfred Carlin up with Herminio after Katrina, but I’m not sure what Jose’s plans are. I believe he knows Glenn. I will make sure he sees these comments.

  3. Pingback: The Chess Drum » Blog Archive » Homeless Chess Player wins … | Chess IQ
  4. The Black chess community in Philly did reached out to Jose. He was working for chess in the schools (Philly) recently.

  5. This hits close to home since Jose and I have played many times..blitz battles. Since I work for one of companies he sold insurance to I had opportunity to see him quite often. I have a book called “Read like your life depends on it” by Art Lewin. Jose’s picture appears on the inside of the back cover. One day when he was at our site he had the book and sold me an autographed copy..signing it right then and there. We used to play blitz on my lunch break. I am saddened to hear of his plight but gladdened to hear that the Philadelphia chess community reached out to him. Most of us do not realize just how close to homeless we are.

    1. hold on to that book. I am being honored at the Loews Hotel on October6th. from 8am to 10am. at the Steppys, a homeless event. 17.95 breakfast. Jose

  6. I had just viewed the chess Drum and was impressed by the outpourings from many of my friends.I am no longer homeless as of Aug 26th. of this year. See youat the NCC in Phila. Jose

  7. Life is precarious indeed! What I admire here is that Jose didn’t let his bad luck keep him down. Stories like this is a reminder for all of us to remember that all of our possession can evaporate in a blink of eye. Take nothing for granted!

    1. Guy, thank you for the admiration. I will tell you that it wasnt easy.It reminds me of many a game in which it turns around, never knowing how or why.

  8. I’m glad that things are looking up. The chess community has always been reliable. I remember when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and displaced both Rene Phillips and Alfred Carlin. They were both assisted by chess players. These guys lost everything! Rene is back in New Orleans and Alfred is still in Dallas teaching chess.

      1. Yes… I talked the Rene as the Katrina disaster was unfolding. I did not know Rene before the disaster, but found his e-mail address and asked him how he was. I didn’t expect him to respond, but he had his computer with him. His family was stranded 40 minutes outside of New Orleans and he was in a hotel for about a week or so. He was under TREMENDOUS stress and hardship and told me how chaotic it was there. He told me he was going to Philly because he had connections up that way. I called Pete Rogers up there and told them he was coming and to look out for him. The brothers certainly did!

        Link: https://www.thechessdrum.net/65thSquare/65_Katrina.html

    1. Hi Daaim,
      I know I,m a little late (LOL) sending this reply. I want you to know I,m still in Dallas teaching chess. I,m working hard and enjoying teaching all the fantastic little kids here. Still trying to get where I want to be but far better than right after Katrina! One of the main things I think you for is helping me connect with Herminio Baez! He has proven to be one of the best friends I have here in Dallas. I think of him as more than just a person I work for. He has been there for me many times when I needed help. Also he,s a great chess instructor and all around great guy. Thank you for mentioning him to me and also for you being he guy you are! Keep up the good work Daaim!

      1. Hi Alfred,

        Was curious to know how things were going with you. Your name has come up a few times, but I had no knowledge of your whereabouts. I’m glad things are going well for you. Perhaps next time I’m in Dallas I will met with you.

      1. Glad that you put my story in the Chess Drum, I will be honored in Phila on october 6th.at the Loews hotel at 12th and market from 8am to 10am.by the steppys, an organization helping the homeless(which i am not homeless anymore thank goodness)

  9. Hi Jose Espinosa! This is Isaac M. Braswell(BigBrothaIke) from Chicago, Illinois. I don’t know if you remember me. I am a black gentleman from the Wild Onion Chess Club. Which the club is not running anymore and the gentleman named Arnulfo Benesa, passed away about atleast two years ago. He was the Philipine master that ran the place with Philipino IM Angelo Young along with many other unselfish warm hearted Philipine chess players and non-chess players, Philipine and other ethnic race individuals that went through there. One individual you might remember is William Aramil. Who has been a master since around some of the time you may have saw him when he was younger back then. He’s much bigger, mature yet still young and going strong. I wondered what happened to you and why you weren’t coming to the club like you use too. You would come and I believe it was when the Chicago Open was going on like after the tournament you would play at the club and Williams father Rick Aramil would make sure you got a ride back to the airport where you would go back home. Those times were fun and so much heart full filled. Your presents was not one that could be called in vain. If it was, I probably wouldn’t be giving this message now. I remember you. You were vibrant, wholesome, loving, cheerful, witty, humorous, filled with laughter, fun and just always ready to have a good ole time! You helped my chess game and the kids’! You know, the one they call, “Will, The Thrill, Aramil!” Yeah he thinks he’s big stuff. I had been homeless too for that same amount of time. I have a stable place of living at this present time. Knowing how things have been for me, I might know how things have been for you. Your story is different from mine. That’s why I said that I might know how things have been for you. I would just like to say, that I thank you for being the heart filled and positive kind individual you are, and most definately will always be. Happy to know you are still holding down the fort! Can’t wait to see you next, some time in the future. Keep on chessin’! I’ll checkmate you later. 🙂

    1. Ike, thanks for the comments!!! I no longer work for the company that sent me to Chicago.I do remember william and his father. Bill would stay with me, and his father would take us to the tournaments. He had a dog that had human qualities, nice ones.I wonder what happen to that dog? I remember arnulfo well,sad to hear that he had passed. IM AngeloYoung I remember well.I am going to improve my game so ,lookout. Jose Espinosa

  10. Jose-

    You wouldn’t remember me probably, but saw your story linked to a player here in Atlanta. In the early 90’s-used to lose to you frequently at the Highland Park chess club–you were a very strong tactical player I recall & showed me lines that I use today! Was also on hard times down here after my divorce and lived in a motel where you pay by the week for 6 months. Eventually got back into teaching math & chess. One of the schools here paid me $150/hr to get their team ready for the nationals & I probably taught them openings you taught me once. I got remarried 5 yrs ago and started my own math/chess tutoring biz & never looked back! If I could turn things around anyone can. Hang in there Jose

  11. Daaim, if you send me a copy of the Wilbert Paige booklet I would appreciate it. Email it to my address. Jose Espinosa

  12. Hello Daaim, Please foregive me for waiting so long to contact you. Just wanted you to know I,m doing fine here in Dallas working for Herminio (He,s a super nice guy!). I teach 7 days a week. 5 schools and about 6 or 7 private students. Dallas has been good to me. It,s a very nice city! Everyone I have meet for these years following my presence here has been very helpfull in every way and I do thank you once again for helping me meet Herminio! I do hope things are going well for you. You are truly needed and greatly appreciated in this beautiful game of chess! Your Chess friend, Alfred B. Carlin

      1. I was a close friend of Jose. I saw an online evite to a medicare event an saw the name Jose Espinosa and I was reaching out to him and found this site. I am so sorry to hear about Jose. If anyone knows what happened please contact me. Shearer.helene@yahoo.com

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