By KIA GREGORY
Published: January 15, 2013
On a cold evening, darkness enveloped a lonely street in Harlem, but for the glow of fluorescent lights cascading from a storefront. Inside, there were sounds reminiscent of combat. Hands slammed on time clocks in a vigorous percussion, accompanied by the taunts of opponents:
“This is masters’ chess.”
“Don’t you run from me!”
“I ain’t scared!”
“You can’t get out of there.”
The games being played had been honed by years of chess matches at St. Nicholas Park, near 141st Street, where regulars, hustlers and occasional visitors played for hours on end, drawing crowds and creating street chess legends.
But with winter’s arrival, the games moved inside, to the St. Nicholas Chess and Backgammon Club, on the corner of 139th Street and Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem. It is a place where the art of the hustle can get lost amid the players’ familiarity with one another.
“We eat together, we party together, pray together,” a regular named Two Hand Dave said.
Like most who frequent the club, he is known only by his nickname, particularly to outsiders. Two Hand Dave, 41, got his name because of his style of play, but also to distinguish him from players known simply as Dave and Big Dave.
Two Hand Dave had lost several matches to a gray-haired chess veteran, Charlie Harris, who then challenged an old friend.
At another table, less than a minute remained on the clock. In the last stand — Next move, smack! Countermove, smack! — a queen is hopelessly trapped.
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