It Was Supposed to have been a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon in Bryant Park

Last week, I was passing through Bryant Park in New York City with my girlfriend Kayo, when I stopped to talk with several old friends I saw playing or watching chess there, including "Freddy the Fish", of old Flea House fame.

My girlfriend was so impressed with this that she decreed that we would go this past Sunday and spend the afternoon playing chess in the park.

I had my doubts about this plan, but she insisted upon it, so we went, arriving at about 11:00 AM on August 5, 2001.

Naturally, we brought our own chess board and pieces. We found a small table and set up in front of a statue of a man named Dodge.

However, less than five minutes after we started our game, a large heavy-set man whose name I later learned was Steve Manning came up to us and said that he owned that area of the park because he pays rent and insurance for it, and therefore we were required to move away, either out on the sidewalk or on the grass. I knew of course that this man did not own Bryant Park, which would be the most valuable real estate in New York City and would easily fetch more than one billion dollars if the City of New York put it up for sale. Also, it had been a big job for us to find a table and chairs and I had also brought some other equipment along with me, so it would require an effort and several minutes of time for us to move. Therefore, I refused.

After a brief argument, Steve said that in that case he was going to call security and went away. A few minutes later, he returned with a Bryant Park Security Guard, who told us that if we did not move, we would be removed.

I was even more incensed by this, so I went to his boss, who told me that Steve Manning has a permit to operate in Bryant Park. That, however, does not give him the right to chase others out of the park.

By this time, however, my girlfriend was screaming at me hysterically. She obviously felt that my life was in danger. We moved to the sidewalk area.

After we had moved, I saw a friend named Doug who sometimes manages a similar chess area in Liberty Park near the World Trade Center. Doug told me that Steve Manning often does this to people who try to play in the park without paying for the privilege. Doug said that Steve Manning years ago wrote letters and got other outdoor chess playing areas, including a line of 24 chess tables which used to be on Seventh Avenue near 42nd Street and another outdoor setup on 49th Street, closed down by the city. All this was done to eliminate rival chess playing areas. Doug agreed with me that what Steve Manning does is objectionable. While we were having this conversation, Steve came up and asked what we were talking about.

I also asked Freddy the Fish what he thought about this. Freddy said that he thought it was reasonable that if Steve Manning pays for a permit for the area, he should be allowed to drive out others who bring their own board and pieces.

I was able to find out from the boss of the security guards that the park is under the control of the "Bryant Park Restoration Committee". I called their number and left a message. The following day, which was yesterday, I got a call back from Dick Dillon at (212) 719-3434. I have been talking to him about this situation.

I have since found out that Steve Manning charges players $6 per hour each to play what he claims to be his area of Bryant Park.

Our planned afternoon at Bryant Park had been ruined, so my girlfriend and I decided to repair to Washington Square Park, where we felt the situation would be better.

Instead, the situation was worse. When we arrived at the stone chess tables on the Southwest corner of Washington Square Park, an area which was featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer", we found four tables in a row with pieces set up but nobody playing. I told my girlfriend to sit down at a table where nobody was sitting and I started to get out our pieces. Within moments, a Russian man came running up and said that that was his table and nobody else could sit there except to play him. He was, of course, one of the chess hustlers known to frequent the park. I told him that this is a public park, nobody was playing at that table, and therefore I was going to play my girlfriend there. He cursed me and said that he was getting ready to play a friend there (an obvious lie) and he called over one of his comrades and said that he was going to play him.

A shouting match ensued.

I noticed another old friend sitting at one of the tables named Sweet Pea. I have known Sweet Pea for more than 30 years, because we used to hang out at the flea house together.

Sweet Pea came over and attempted to moderate. The Russian man, who said his name was Paul, challenged me to a game. I declined, because he was obviously a strong player, and he wanted to play for $20 per game.

At the next table, a black man who appeared to be a homeless bum was lounging in front of a chess board half laying down on his chair, but he rose up and challenged me to a game for ten dollars. I know that all these professional chess hustlers are strong players, so I was not going to play him for $10, but I challenged him to a game for $5 and he agreed.

The black man started demanding to know if I was going to pay him if I lost. Sweet Pea came over and guaranteed him that I would pay him if I lost. But, added Sweet Pea, "This man is a grandmaster", pointing to me.

Of course, I am not really a grandmaster, but I was happy that Sweet Pea said this because that was my opponent could not later claim that I pretended to be weaker than I was. After that, Sweet Pea said over and over again, "You are both masters, so this is an even game".

Here is the Battle of the Titans which ensued:

[Site "Washington Square Park, New York City"]
[Date "2001.08.05"]
[White "Sloan, Sam"]
[Black "Bum in Washington Square Park"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[WhiteElo "1946"]
[PlyCount "61"]

1. g4 e5 2. Bg2 d5 3. h3 f5 4. c4 d4 5. gxf5 Nf6 6. Qc2 Nc6 7. a3 a5 8. e4 d3
9. Qa4 Bd7 10. Qd1 Nd4 11. Kf1 Bc6 12. Nc3 Nc2 13. Rb1 Qd4 14. Nf3 Qxc4 15.
Nxe5 Qd4 16. Nxc6 bxc6 17. e5 Nd5 18. Qh5+ g6 19. fxg6 O-O-O 20. Qg4+ Qxg4 21.
hxg4 Bg7 22. gxh7 Bxe5 23. g5 Kb7 24. Be4 Nf4 25. Rh6 Rd6 26. b4 axb4 27. axb4
Bxc3 28. dxc3 d2 29. Rxd6 cxd6 30. Bxc2 dxc1=Q+ 31. Rxc1 1-0
After my opponent played 27 ... Bxc3, he started saying "I beat the grandmaster. I beat the grandmaster". He obviously thought he was making a queen, but this move is refuted two different ways. Thus, I have concluded that he is not a master. He is obviously at least Class A, and possibly is a weak expert. Nobody would, or could, tell me his name.

I had won five dollars, but he went through his pockets and said that he did not have any money to pay. I called over Sweet Pea, who yelled at him, saying that he was ruining the action for everybody by not paying when he lost.

Meanwhile, the Russian man named Paul was screaming at me to play him for $20. My girlfriend kept saying to me, "We should bring Rusiko to play him."

I finally gave up on collecting my five dollars and we repaired to the Marshall Chess Club nearby.

In short, what started out as what was supposed to be a pleasant afternoon, ended up as a disastrous and unpleasant day. At least I did not lose any money.

Sam Sloan

Here are links:
Sam Sloan's Chess Page

My Home Page

Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: