For those of you not from the Chicago area,
Harper Square is quite a legend. Ideally located, it has provided Chicago
players with a place to find a quick pick-up game during a lunch break, after
work, or on the weekends. As a rising young player, I went down there as often
as I could and after leaving Chicago, I always paid a visit when I was in town. There was a sense of
camaraderie and brotherhood that was present amongst the players and the setup
was conducive to socializing.
While many of the players didn’t not play in
official chess tournaments, most were fair players (maybe 1500-1600 ELO).
Despite this, the Experts and Masters made frequent visits. In fact NM Marvin
Dandridge, Roger Hickman and I would sometimes go
down to Harper Square after leaving the Tuley Park chess club on Saturday and
immediately we would become the focus. Other strong players like Gene
Scott, Sam Ford, and former scholastic standout
Melvin Alsberry would come through. Several strong players from
University of Chicago would also drop by. Tom Fineberg, a
legendary highschool coach (in fact, MY highschool coach) could be seen down there passing out flyers to his
On recent visit to Chicago, I remember the
emptiness I felt after seeing that the benches had been removed. Storekeepers claim that players were loud, rude and were harassing the other patrons, thus running away their customers. I find this hard to believe. Yes... sometimes we laughed loud, "trash-talked," banged the pieces on the concrete benches and occassionally yelled MATE, but there were also many non-chess players who were intrigued and stopped by to watch while eating ice cream. It was really a peaceful environment (except for an occassional miscreant).
I had heard awhile ago that the stores didn't like the "negative elements" players brought to the area, but I believe the
players can work out a behavior code as is done in most pickup sports. If
someone asked me if race was a part of the decision to remove the benches, I
would have to say that it does play a factor... definitely.
When I started playing at Harper Square, there were six benches. Two were
removed after storekeepers starting complaining about the
environment. Let's hope that they return the benches. I'm
sure that chess players are rational enough to understand the concerns of the
storekeepers, but to remove the benches without an official notice is both
unfair and insensitive.