NYC is a great place to be a chess player, and this is an attempt to document the best of New York City chess. Below, find everything from chess book stores and clubs to hot spots and great chess venues in NYC that you should check out if you’re coming to town, or if you live here and are looking for a good book store, club, or place to play. If there’s something I left out, leave a comment and I will add it to the list.
The Marshall is one of the oldest chess clubs in the United States.
They have been in Greenwich Village since 1931, and many of the greatest players in the world have played in its hallowed halls. This is where Bobby Fischer won against Donald Byrne in “The Game of the Century.” And here, you’ll find the board that Fischer played on in the 1965 Capablanca Memorial Tournament, a game that was conducted by telex because of Cold War tensions with Cuba.
The Marshall is the premier battle ground for top players in America, and holds organized tournaments practically every day.
The New York City Commercial Chess League was started back in the 1920′s by some guys at ConEdison and has been going annually ever since. It’s surprisingly large, well organized, and competitive, with teams made up mostly of friends and co-workers, competing in a four board format. I play on the “tea lounge team,” a reference to a coffee shop in Park Slope where Szymon organizes the Brooklyn Speed Chess Meetup on Friday nights.
The Bankers League The Bankers Athletic League is similar to the NYCCL, and is a recreational chess league. They play in a four-person team format, on alternate Thursday evenings from October through May. After two rounds of play-offs, trophies are awarded at a league dinner.
On Thompson street in the west village, you will find a hard kernel of chess culture in The Chess Shop and the chess forum. Both sell instructional books, sets, clocks, and boards, and have tables available for casual play at nearly all hours of the day. If you’re from out of town they’re worth checking out for the novelty alone. In the evening, there are usually a bunch of people playing 3-5$ games at the chess shop, and while I don’t endorse gambling, if you’re looking for it this is the place to find it.
Obviously every Barnes and Noble in the city has an overpriced chess book selection, but why shop there when there’s Fred Wilson’s Bookstore? Fred’s is a NYC treasure trove of out of print and rare as well as new chess titles. I almost hesitate to include it because I don’t want you to run there and buy the good stuff before I do. Half the books I own have come from this store. Fred, who is always there along with his cat Max, is a fountain of chess knowledge, gossip, and opinions.
The Strand also has a large selection of chess books, and is conveniently located across the street from Fred Wilson’s. So, if you’re in the neighborhood you may as well check out both. Lately, it seems as though they haven’t been getting new titles in, but what is left is priced to move.
The Brooklyn Speed Chess meetup is a great group of blitz addicts that I highly recommend to stronger players. My friend Simon organizes this group, and it has a large and stable following of regulars. If you’re a beginner, this is probably not the place for you to get your feet wet, but if you’re looking to do battle on a friday night- this is it.
The Matchless Meetup is another group of casual chess players who meet in Greenpoint Brooklyn every tuesday night at Matchless. This group has been around for years, and has a very large following of consistent players who show up. The organizer owns an impressive supply of boards and clocks, so there’s no need to bring your own. They meet in the backroom and welcome newcomers of all strengths, though there are also usually a few strong players lurking in the ranks on any given night.
I’ll be honest, I’m not as fond of the street-chess culture as I was in college, but if you’re looking for it then you will find it in almost any park in NYC. While Washington Square Park is no longer the hotbed of chess hustling it once was due to construction (my first internship as a law student was with a non-profit who fought against this plan in an article 78 action: we lost.), many hustlers still congregate in Union Square and Thompson Park in alphabet city.
There are also a bunch of friendly players who meet everyday when its warm out in Central Park on the upper west side. You can usually find them here. It’s been my experience that they don’t play for money, but simply enjoy playing.
Finally, Bryant Park is my favorite park in the city. It’s dramatic landscaping is the perfect backdrop for the Royal Game, and I highly recommend it. When it’s warm and sunny, there isn’t a more scenic place on earth to play.