The Greenwich Village Gambit

The Greenwich Village Gambit

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 Manhattan, early '60s --  a place and a time. 

     One of the few sources of insight into this particular chess scene comes to us through the pages of the March-April, 1964 issue of Frank Brady's marvelous, though short-lived, magazine, "Chessworld." 

1964... John F. Kennedy was dead. Lyndon Baines Johnson took office unelected but would defeat Barry Goldwater by a landslide in the fall.....The Great Society replaced Camelot; Leonid Brezhnev replaced Nikita Krushchev....The CIA fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident as a pretext for direct US intervention in Vietnam.....the 1964 Civil Rights Act was enacted.....BASIC programming language was invented.....Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali became heavyweight champion of the world.....FTC requires health warnings on cigarette packages, even Newports.....Beatlemania

Twist and Shout, I Saw Her Standing There, Love Me Do, She Loves You were instant hits...but so were I Get Around and Fun, Fun, Fun by the Beach Boys.....Baby Love and Where Did Our Love Go? by the well as Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison and You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling by the Righteous Brothers.....Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released Wednesday Morning 3 a.m. but not as Tom & Jerry.....Dylan ruled.


     This article, reformatted below, gives a brief, but perhaps unparalleled,  glimpse into the Greenwich Village chess venues of that time.



"Chessworld" March-April 1964

Greenwich Village Gambit
by Lucy Neumark
photos by Richard Hirshman and Harvey Seizer




New York City is one of the chess centers of the world.  At any hour or any day in almost any section of Manhattan one can find chess being played in a club, on a bench, in the subway, among the trees and dogs and people in a municipal park.

Perhaps the most "intensive" chess is played in the city's artistic and literary quarter,
Greenwich Village.  The most popular gathering places are the coffeehouses, but formal tournament-size clubs exist for the Caissiac as well.

Last month CHESSWORLD roamed the streets and alleys and mews of the village ferreting out chess as it is played -- with a beard, a guitar, a sip of Italian espresso and with as much love and fervor for the game as one can find in the midst of Moscow.




The White Horse Tavern is in the West Village, just a few blocks from the Hudson River.  You can have a game there in the late afternoons over beer or ale or a concoction known as "Black and Tan."  The bawdy atmosphere resembles an English pub.  One of its most famous guests was Dylan Thomas, the poet, who used to pen his sonnets at the White Horse.  Legend also has it that he died there.  It's a great chess place for the player who likes noise with his gambits.

Chumley's is impossible to find.  This former speakeasy on Bedford Street was converted into a quiet retreat.  Its external appearance gives no clue to the passerby that behind its massive oak doors there is a basement restaurant and bar.  Frequently one may trace and retrace his steps before coming upon the entrance.   Before a fireplace and excellent food, one can find chess being played by the literati.  Philip Wylie, Ring Lardner and many other great American writers played chess there in the 20's. Now the luminaries are not quite so bright but the chess seems better.
A few years ago a "chess murder" was committed at Chumley's.  A frustrated sailor who lost twelve games in a row played a final game . . . for keeps, with the ragged edge of a broken bottle.



The Queen's Pawn, Lisa Lane's chess "emporium" in Sheridan Square resembles a Village coffeehouse, with wood-panelled and white-washed brick walls, hung with paintings by contemporary unknowns.  Unlike the nearby cafes, the coffee is just fifteen cents and the paintings are good.      

Lisa, an Internatinal Woman's Master, is almost always in attendance.  She is 26, pretty, with square dark bangs and steady Slavic eyes.  

She is also a very intense player.
Her patrons, too, are young, and the atmosphere is lighter than the more austere clubs where conversation is quickly shushed.


A snappy black and white flag proclaims that chess is played at 191 Sullivan Street. Its elegant windows display sets and boards from all over the world.
Rossolimo's chess studio is the most cosmopolitan of the village chess spots, where one finds an exceptional number of French patrons.  Rossolimo, International Grandmaster and one time Champion of France, speaks the language fluently.  He gives exhibitions, and also plays in tournaments that he conducts for his patrons.

You can find a game of chess in almost any Village coffeehouse.  The most popular are the Cafe Rienzi, the Cafe Figaro, the Caricature and the Feenjon.  Chess here is much less formal than in other spots around the Village.  One can sometimes find a Bishop and Knight on reversed squares or a game with only one King.  Aside from these "patzer" games, there are some strong players who take the game seriously and prefer a continental atmosphere rather than a staid and hushed club.

    Copyright 1964 by Chessworld. Reprinted with the permission of Dr. Frank Brady

   My dear friend Deb supplied me with the above pages from the March-April 1964 issue.
   I want to thank her for the many, many times she's helped me. 
   I also want to thank Dr. Brady for his permission to use the article.
   Dr. Brady, International Arbitor, former sec. of the USCF and former pres. of the Marshall Club,
   also authored two of what most people consider the best books on Bobby Fischer
                     "Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy," and
                     "Endgame: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Bobby Fischer"




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