WASHINGTON (AFP) - He sleeps on a bench, but he is king of chess during the day at Washington's Dupont Circle, where he dazzles beginners and masters alike with his winning moves on the park's stone chessboards.Blitz chess, used to be called speed chess when I participated a few competitions at the Pompano Beach Chess Club over 20 years ago.(Blitz back then referred to one minute games) Ten minutes to play a entire game never felt like real chess to me, bullet chess is nothing more than shoving pieces in my opinion. No thinking required.
Tom Murphy, 49, makes what little money he has from teaching his prodigious knowledge of the game to passersby for a few dollars.
"He has the title of expert in chess. This is the second highest American title; above him are master. So it means he is quite good," said Washington's Chess Center director David Mehler.
A former math and science major and a celebrity among amateurs, Murphy has made the Dupont Circle public square America's most prestigious chess park after New York's fabled Washington Square, according to some chess lovers.
"The mathematical equation has always been fascinating to me, then when you add the camaraderie, the ambiance, the open air, it's almost irresistible," said Murphy, peering over a park chessboard that draws players from all walks of life -- students, doctors, lawyers, drunkards.
Garrulous and brilliant, Murphy, grew up in North Carolina and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, two well known chess centers, and specializes in a lightning version of chess known as "blitz."
Murphy has won several chess tournaments and finished 15th in the 2005 world blitz championship.There has been a history of talented players of the ancient game being either infamous or having mental illness or both. Claude Bloodgood, a correspondence chessplayer I once played, murdered his mother in 1969 and then spent the next over 30 years in prison where he quite a few chess exploits. Including manipulating the rating system at one point that had Claude rated #2 in the country.
He's not always down and out, but his addiction to booze often lands him on the street.
"The pursuit of the ego versus the pursuit of the spirit are in conflict sometimes," he explained. "I enjoy alcohol a little too much."
He attends Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and admits, "when I don't drink my chess is better."
Murphy aims to get better at chess and rise to the title of master.
"I would dearly love to go on and make my master's rating because through that I get a credibility to increase my teaching fee," he said.
"There is an upcoming tournament on Thanskgiving (November 22) in Philadelphia That's looking promising," he added.
For now, the homeless chess teacher charges 20 to 30 dollars an hour and will match his wits with any rival for two to five dollars per game.
Another talented chess player with mental illness was Raymond Weinstein. One of the top US players in the early sixties, Raymond was probably a undiagnosed schizophrenic when he committed murder. Ever since Weinstein has lived in a psychiatric institute. Here is a recent article about Weinstein.
I hope Tom Murphy continues to both succeed at chess, and putting his life back together.
Linked to- Bullwinkle, Church and State, Populist, Right Wing Nation,