The Hustler Gets Byrned

I just posted a story about playing a hustler on Rittenhouse Square ( but that reminded me of a story my college coach, Donald Byrne, told me. Since I consider it an obligation to not let Donald's fun stories die, here it is:

In the 1940's Donald was 13 and his brother Robert (later a GM) 15. The dress code for Central Park tennis was "tennis whites" and the two teens dressed accordingly for their fun tennis match.

After tennis they happened to pass an area where a park hustler was playing chess. Donald said the hustlers there tended to be in the 2200-2300 range.

Older brother Robert approached the hustler and asked how much he was playing for. The answer was 25 cents per game (maybe $5 in today's money). Robert said sure, and sat down to play. They played three games, each of which Robert won easily.

The boys pocketed their 75 cents, said thanks, and left, leaving the poor hustler to wonder what was happening now that he was losing to 15 year olds coming off the tennis courts (i.e., Who was that masked man?)

As with all of Coach Byrne's stories, he laughed heartily when telling it and we (the eager audience of chess club players) could never help but laugh along, too.

For those of you whose only acquaintance with Donald is that he lost the Game of the Century to Bobby Fischer in 1956, Donald was a super-strong player, many times representing the US in the Chess Olympiad. After he won the US Open in 1953 ( I believe at that point he was the second rated player in the US behind Sammy Reshevsky. Donald Byrne is a member of the US Chess Hall of Fame.


  • 3 years ago


    Stanley Kubrick, the film director, was a talented chess player as well. Before his career took off, he was got by as a freelance photographer and supplemented his income playing chess for quarters in Washington Square.

    Kubrick claimed that his careful, disciplined approach to filmmaking was partly formed by his experience as a chess player.

  • 4 years ago


    I read somewhere that Magnus Carlsen played some of the chess hustlers in New York City's Washington Square Park when he was here a year ago.  (He was also in town this summer, and may have done the same.)  Can anyone confirm this, and offer an anecdote or two if it's true?  Thanks.

  • 4 years ago

    NM danheisman

    Draconis: Thanks (better to email me thru my website if you have a question or I could very easily miss it!):

    I have seen Reshevsky in person but never met him. During my college days when someone (me?) mentioned to Coach D.Byrne "Gee Coach, you seem to get along with everyone in the chess world", he thought a second and replied. "Well, everyone but Reshevsky" and then he laughed "But nobody gets along with Reshevsky!"

    Reshevsky was a great player but apparently did not make a lot of friends who wanted to laud his play these days. And of course in his later career he was completely overshadowed by Fischer (who sued him over their aborted match).

    Speaking of the World Open in the mid-80's, FM Karl Dehmelt, who went to my HS, Hatboro-Horsham a few years after I did, played Reshevsky and got a draw. When I said "You got a draw with Reshevsky!" Karl replied "No, I got a draw with some old man", meaning that it was no great feat any more, as Reshevsky was over 80 and only a shadow of what he had once been (understandably so).

  • 4 years ago


    Coach Heisman,

    You mentioned Sammy Reshevsky. I have his autograph (from a World Open in the mid 80s), but that brief interaction is the extent of my contact with him. What is your personal experience with Reshevsky, if any? He doesn't seem to be held in as high esteem as we might expect for a player who had the kind of career he did, and I often wonder why. I mean, Reshevsky played at the famous Zurich 1953 and almost won the thing (Smyslov in fact edged him)!

    PS. I also got Igor Ivanov's (RIP) autograph at the same event, which seemed to amuse him greatly.

  • 4 years ago


    Actually, there's a fine, if dubious, art to hustling: You 'lose' a series of games, just barely, to an inferior opponent so that he keeps agreeing to another game, then another game, thinking he's caught a 'fish'. Of course it's all an act, as you're a retired grandmaster. The stakes get higher and higher, he keeps raking in the winnings, until at some point, you goad him into betting all his winnings on one, big ultimate contest...... Then bam!  You win, of course, get all the money back and then some, and he thinks you just got lucky the one time....... Paul Newman demonstates the technique in a film called, what else? The Hustler. If you play for big stakes right off the bat, and crush the guy, you run the risk of getting a chess clock smashed over your head by your vanquished, but disgruntled opponent.

  • 4 years ago

    NM NoRematch

    Too bad little brother couldn't have beaten him too.  Laughing

  • 4 years ago


    that hustler wasn't very smart if he continued to play after losing even one game. i've played chess with hustlers in Washington Square Park and if someone wins a game he is forever ostracized. 

  • 4 years ago

    NM danheisman

    CGK - yes, that is someone who plays chess one-on-one (as opposed to in tournaments) for money. To "hustle" someone usually implies to make them think they have more of a chance than they do, so they are willing to bet (more).

  • 4 years ago


    hustler means the person who playing chess for money..

  • 4 years ago



    My apologys to my poor english: what mean the word "hustler"? (When I look in my dictionarys they inform me something like push with energy and so on... . Is there your name?

    Previosly thank.

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