Perched on a trash
can, Brito, a mustachioed Brazilian, has a similar viewpoint: "I don't look
for money. I just play for the excitement."
afternoon Brito is trying to hustle up a little excitement. "You, sir,"
he calls, "would you like to play some chess?" The passerby has short
hair, a skinny build and glasses; he looks as if he might be a computer
operator. His name is Del Area. He approaches the board warily. "What's
your USCF [ United States Chess Federation] rating?" he asks Brito.
"What's USCF?" says Brito. "Let's play." So they do, and the
bespectacled Del, a visitor from Arizona, loses. After the game, he walks away,
shaking his head and saying, "I think I could have got him. I've been
playing for 12 years—my rating's 1685. I'm just not used to playing on the
street—the noise, the heat, the feeling of what do I do now? If I had relaxed,
I might have won. If I get up my courage, I might play again. I would guess
he's only a little better than average, an 1800s player."
Actually, Brito is
a grand master with a rating of 2450 from the FIDE (F�d�ration Internationale
des Echecs). He beat Area with a slashing Queen attack and is such a powerful
player that he often offers opponents odds—giving himself only one minute to
complete all moves against their five. Brito has learned to ignore the
distractions of the street—at one point, as he plays, a bag lady sifts through
the trash can he is leaning against. "Once your mind is on the board, the
noise disappears," he says.
Police view street
chess as a game of skill, not a scam like three-card monte. Says Sergeant
Robert Treubert of the Midtown South Precinct, "Gambling is not condoned.
But as long as we don't see any money, and they don't create any problems, we
allow them to play. We've had no complaints as far as I can remember. The chess
players are very cooperative and friendly. And chess gives Times Square some
atmosphere, some class."
Back on the
corner, another patzer (a beginner or bad player, in the argot of chess) steps
up to one of the boards—Rumar Julissom, a visitor from Iceland. Down go the
three dollars. The clock is started. The players slam out their pawns, cut
through with their bishops. Seven and a half minutes later the game—a close
one—is over, and the visitor is three dollars poorer. He turns to leave, stops
and says, "I may come back tomorrow. I think I'd win." He pauses and
then adds ruefully, "You know, this game is addictive."