Places that Matter

Chess and Checkers House, Central Park

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Michelle Peña
Michelle Peña
Michelle Peña
Michelle Peña
Offers 24 chess tables under a shady pergola open to all
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For a free, friendly game of chess, regulars head to Central Park, in the area near 64th Street. Since the 1950s, the Chess and Checkers House there has hosted a socially diverse community, many of whom play every day. The space is known for its courteous character and lack of hustling, providing an alternative to the more frenetic, competitive atmosphere of chess meccas like Washington Square Park.

Players come from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds and all ages, though many are old enough to be retired. Most of them are men. The "family" of players includes homeless men and foreign visitors, businessmen, tourists, and children. Beginners are welcome to play, and don't have to pay for their games, as they would in Washington Square ($3.00). Some have been champions in chess tournaments. Some have been playing each other for decades. The regulars are there "all the time," and some are known by their quirks or nicknames like "the crazy Russian." Most players bring their own chess pieces and timers--the game here is five-minute speed chess--but the information center nearby also lends out pieces.