Checkmate: Dupont Circle Chess for Beginners

Again, I have to remember to take what he says with a grain of salt.

One of Dupont’s most skilled players, Murphy claims to know only a “little something” about chess. After taking a chess lesson with him, I disagree. For a newbie like me, Murphy’s mastery of the board game — featured prominently in The Washington Post Magazine“Tom Murphy’s Days and Knights” last fall – is nothing short of breathtaking, and the Dupont Circle chess tables are downright chilling.

Take a stroll through the northeast quadrant of the park and, unless you’re a competitive chess player yourself, you’re bound to agree. Fortunately, according to Murphy, there is hope for even the most clueless chess beginner – as long as you follow a few basic rules.

1. “It’s about joy.”
Before you sit down to play – even before you take a step towards Dupont Circle – admit to yourself that you are going to lose. Because you are. Murphy says regulars don’t always wipe the floor with a stranger – but in the example he describes, the so-called stranger was a future grandmaster from Bulgaria. Yeah.

So it’s a good thing that with Dupont, chess isn’t about winning; it’s about having fun. There are a few things you’ll need to do, though, if you want to enhance that fun, and it’ll cost you.

2. “They’ll come, they’ll play, they’ll leave a deposit.”
While you’re admitting to yourself that you’re going to lose at chess, you’ll want to accept another loss: the contents of your wallet. Murphy may profess to worship at the Altar of Joy, but he expects a little more from his clients – er, students and naysayers. My chess lesson and interview combo came in at $30, though I might have been spared the high rate if I had just wanted to play a quick game or two.

“One hand should wash the other,” Murphy says. Even spectators have to pay a small fee, and almost every story told by Murphy – whether it’s a married couple playing a few quick games or an experienced chess player wanting to see what it’s all about – end with the size of the players. deposits. » Although the range is $2 to $100, it depends[ing] on their bankroll”, everyone leaves Dupont Circle a little lighter.

Murphy’s lessons, for one, are worth the price of admission. It illustrates the basic principles of chess by reconstructing famous games from memory (for chess enthusiasts), while using grounded terminology to keep the splinter of the production from spiraling out of control. When the pieces are not in use, for example, they are “lazy moccasins”. When Black takes one of White’s pieces, White “pays taxes”. Murphy’s storytelling makes chess easy to understand, as well as more interesting – and fun – than this skeptical thought is possible.

4. “Don’t deprive yourself of your joy of playing for your joy of arguing.”
Murphy tells the story of a chess player who was so disagreeable that he gained a reputation for it. “I said, ‘You know, you like to argue just for the sake of argument,'” Murphy says. “He said, ‘No, I don’t! Ten other people passed by and said, “Yes, you do.”

“Chess appeals to all different personalities,” he says. “Now some people are just inherently controversial.”

However, when venturing into Dupont Circle, you should be sure to check your controversial nature at the door. According to Murphy, “arguing just for the sake of argument” only gets in the way of joy.

Murphy is convinced that he can teach anyone something about chess. True to form, he once bet on a distrustful college student and walked away $20 richer. “If they fail to learn, it’s the teacher’s fault,” he says, “not the student’s.”

If you’re looking to educate yourself a bit before jumping headlong into the Dupont Circle chess scene, Murphy recommends three books: “Endgame Strategy” by Mikhail Shereshevsky; “My System” by Aron Nimzowitch; and “Killer Chess Tactics” by Eric Schiller, Raymond Keen and Leonid Chamkovich. In Murphy’s opinion, these books are useful and fun for everyone, even beginners.

Intrigued newbies should also be encouraged that Murphy has several current students who have become regulars in their own right. “Usually people who follow my advice end up falling in love and their game grows exponentially,” he says. Play by the rules and you too may one day be able to play high-level chess in the park, just for the fun of the game.

And, if you’re lucky, someone might even leave you a deposit.

Written by Express Contributor Elizabeth Simins

Photos by Juana Arias/The Washington Post

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