My Game Against the Hustler

My Game Against the Hustler

| 47 | Amazing Games

Four years ago my wife Shelly and I were having our anniversary dinner at a restaurant in downtown Philadelphia. The meal was rather sumptuous, so afterwards we decided to take a walk. After we strolled a while Shelly made an unexpected suggestion:

"Why don't we walk over to Rittenhouse Square? Maybe you can find a game against a hustler there."

Say what?? I looked at her like she was from Mars. Was she serious? Amazingly, it turned out she was. So we switched directions and headed south toward the Square.

When we got to Rittenhouse Square, I immediately recognized Hustler X, with whom I had played backgammon several times at the skittles room of the World Open. I had never played X in chess, but I knew him to be about a 1900 player. However, hustlers are usually better when hustling, since they know the environment so, even if they are lower rated than I, they can be very dangerous opponents.

"Hi X!" I piped as we approached.

Hustler X eyed me curiously, as if he was trying to place where he knew me. I think he recognized me, but had no idea that I was a good player, much less a master. He certainly did not remember my name but, like any good hustler, he asked:

"Would you like to play a game?"

"Sure! You got a clock?"

He looked around and told his friend "Look in the bag". His friend searched but didn't find anything. So he turned around and smiled,

"No, but we don't need one. The last fellow I played the game only took 2-3 minutes."

He certainly did not recognize me!

I then made what I considered to be an obligatory gesture: "I would be willing to play you for free" - didn't want it to look like I was hustling him - that was his job.

He looked insulted, so his answer was certainly no surprise:

"I never play for free!"

"OK, what would you like to play for?"


"$5 it is."

So we set up the board and Shelly sat on top of the stone fence, overlooking our park table. We drew for colors and I got black.

Hustler X opened with a rare version of the King's Indian Attack and I defended quickly. Soon his unorthodox moves had me thinking. Could I refute them and get an advantage with black or just settle for equality? Then we maneuvered back and forth a couple of moves (which later made it more difficult to recreate the game when I got home. Normally as a master I can recreate most games after I play them fairly easily, assuming I am not recording them for some reason).

Eventually I got an initiative but the play had slowed down. On some moves I was taking a "normal" 2-3 minutes but that's could be considered slow for a non-clock "skittles" game. Hustler X was playing a little faster, but even he could only manage 1-2 minutes per move when the going got a little tougher.

On move 32, I contemplated abandoning my rook by moving my queen to f3, attacking a knight on e2. However, after a minute or two I could not make it work. But then what else could I play? I could not find any way to strengthen a possible attack. Tic-tic-tic... So I finally settled on a "quiet move" 32...Bf6, which would be a handy dandy place to have a bishop on some of my opponent's possible counter-attacks.

(After I got home and recreated the game, the first thing I did was ask computer engine Rybka what I should have done on move 32. After a short think it popped up 32...Bf6! Smile)

But on his very next move Hustler X, who was not aware of the danger, unwisely pushed his king up a square. I immediately thought "He can't do that!" Now my same idea of 33...Qf3, with multiple threats including mate, does work.

When you see a winning move, don't play it! Check it a few times to make sure it is really winning. It was.Smile Here's the recreated game (corrected!):

I took my $5 and we headed back toward the car (not enough to pay for most Philadelphia parking lots...). Shelly wanted to give me a "My hero" look but she knew that I was the favorite all along. So her allowing the game was really an anniversary gift to an old master. Wink

PS: I just posted a shorter, companion blog at

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