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Places to Play Chess

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This little article from a college paper on places to play chess seems more about using chess as a metaphor for making out. But it seems like a good idea to make a list of places to play casual chess. It could be a list to check before traveling. (Because doesn't your girlfriend just love it when you go to a lovely, exotic place on vacation and you get into a street chess game.)

Clubs that allow free drop-in play can be included. List the country, city, name of the place you could tell a taxi driver or find in a guide book, whether play is serious (with clocks, strong players, for money) or casual, and the usual hours of play. Add comments as you like after that. If it's an obscure place give an address, directions, or a link to a map. When we have a good list here I'll post it to a separate page and maintain it with a submission form.

I'll start with an obvious one.

USA, New York City, Washington Square Park, serious play, including blitz for money with expert-level players, all day until dark. Most are hustlers who only play for money. Rather mangy crowd with occasional drug trafficking, not recommended for unattended kids. Players often move to the nearby Chess Shop or Chess Forum shops to play in winter or after dark. Both are on the same block, two blocks south of the park on Thompson Street. They charge a few bucks for use of set and clock.


USA, Boston MA (area): Harvard Square, Cambridge; in front of the Au Bon Pain restaurant. Serious blitz for money or many offhand games outside and inside the restaurant. In the warmer months, you can take on "The Chessmaster" (inactive USCF Master Murray Turnbull) for $2 a game. He also offers lessons right then and there.

USA, Washington, DC (area): Dupont Circle, Intersection of New Hampshire Ave, Connecticut Ave, 19th Street and Massachusetts Ave in Washington DC NorthWest (NW) area; Variety of chess strengths depending on the day and time of the week. Some hustlers. Best day to meet strong players is usually Sunday afternoon/evening.

16th Street Mall, Denver CO, Near Arapahoe and 16th Street. Games outside in warm weather with clock for free against high average players, generally from about 11:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday - Friday. Very informal.

I'll just mention four of the more colorful places to play chess in the Los Angeles County area of Southern California, although there are many others and I hope some other posters will supplement this list:

(1) Santa Monica Beach: About a city block or two south of the famous Santa Monica Pier on the beach in Santa Monica, there is an area designed for chess players. Best times to play are on the weekends during daylight hours, although you can often find players on week days as well. It is free to play, and there are usually some strong players (from NMs to Senior Masters and even the occasional IM) who show up to play on the weekends. Some money changes hands here but I wouldn't call it a serious gambling spot and you can easily find no-money games. Best of all, it is on the beach! The scenery is excellent, and if you aren't having a good day at the chess board you can always try your hand at beach volleyball.

(2) Plummer Park: Right off Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, 5 or 6 blocks west of La Brea Avenue, this park is smack in the middle of Los Angeles' answer to Moscow on the Hudson and is a big hangout for former Russians/Soviets. In good weather and during daylight hours, you will find many former citizens of the Soviet Union playing various games (backgammon, chess, and some card games) in the back section of the park (right next to the tennis courts). Be forewarned that: (i) this is a serious gambling place despite the "no gambling" warning signs, and you might have problems getting a friendly game here; and (ii) you don't want to bother the old Russian men playing backgammon for large stakes who are accompanied by 300-pound guys talking constantly on cell phones (or even look at them funny). Strength of opponents varies widely, but there are usually at least a couple of players of expert to master strength there during peak hours (mid to late afternoon 7 days a week), and there are a few guys approaching IM strength (at least at blitz) who sometimes show up and hustle a bit.

(3) Tang's Donut Shop: At the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue in Hollywood, a couple of miles west of downtown Los Angeles along Sunset. A donut shop that is a hangout for chess and backgammon players (they also play cards there), this is chiefly a place for gambling (for small to medium stakes unless you are lucky enough to gain entre into the perennial "high roller" game, which has been going on for sporadically for at least 15 years to my knowledge) but it is still possible to get free games here. There are normally a few players there at any time after dark 7 days a week, but the peak hours are between 9 p.m. and dawn the next day. Somewhat of a hangout for local Filipino players, there are usually one or two masters there in the evenings willing and able to take your money. (This used to be a much better place to play and spectate, with the likes of Cris Ramyrat and other extremely strong blitz players showing up on a semi-regular basis, but seems to have gone into a bit of a decline in recent years.)

(4) Macarthur Park: Yes, there is a real park named "Macarthur Park" in Los Angeles, a 32-acre park in the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles (from downtown Los Angeles, take Wilshire Boulevard west for a couple of miles and you can't miss it, although that's not necessarily a good thing), and yes it has an area for chess players. In the old days this was a popular chess spot frequented at one time or the other by most of the strong players in Southern California. These days, Macarthur Park falls smack in the middle of the 18th Street Gang's territory (the 18th Street Gang being the largest gang in LA) and is, to put in mildly, in a high crime area. It's still possible to play chess there during the day if you are brave of heart (or foolish of mind) and don't mind witnessing the occasional drug deal or knifing, and being propositioned by prostitutes of various persuasions and levels of aggression. But please don't go looking for a chess game there at any time approaching dusk because, despite recent police efforts to "clean up" the park, it is not a place you want to be in after dark. In fact, it is one of the places you least want to be in except in the clear, bright light of day and preferably with a noticeable police presence (think of an area a small fraction of the size of Central Park in New York City but with more total crime). If you are particularly bold you can certainly find a game for money there (you can find almost anything you can imagination in Macarthur Park for enough money), but don't necessarily plan to get paid if you win or even to leave the park with your wallet if you show any green. Chiefly of historical interest these days, or a place to visit with a large group of friends (or perhaps a small group of large friends). I don't know of any strong players who frequent Macarthur Park anymore, although admittedly it's been a couple of years since I went there looking.

Just a few of the places to play in Los Angeles. Of the four, I would say that Tang's Donut Shop (almost any night, but best on Friday and Saturday nights rather late in the evening and through the night)and Santa Monica Beach (mostly on the weekends during the day) are the best places to find a game against strong players in a safe environment, although you might end up paying a modest fee for the privilege.

- Geof

Glendale (CA):
Java City coffee house located in the city of Glendale, which is north east of Los Angeles, is a great place to play casual chess. There is always some people playing chess in there during weeknights, but the strong players (expert level) show up during Friday and Saturday nights from 6:00 pm until 11:00 pm. Occasionally an IM/GM may show up. Very clean environment for playing chess, no gambling is permitted, even though you might see occasional games for a dollar, but mainly people play for fun. Next time you are in Los Angeles pay them a visit. There is also a chess park in Glendale where AAA chess club holds unrated blitz tournaments about every Friday night. The chess park is only a block away from Java City. So if you are in Los Angeles and if you looking for a friendly game of chess, try Java City.


New York City - Queens County (7 minute drive from midtown Manhattan)

MacDonald Park - Queesn Boulevard, between Yellowstone Boulvard & Continental Avenue - Accros the street from Post Office.

Best gathering of players in New York. No gambling whatsoever. Daily playing from about 1PM to midnight. This is an open area in the middle of Queens Boulevard. Lost of shopping and entertainement in nearby Austin Street. Play from late Spring to early Fall. Players of all strenghts, but masters show up on Saturday afternoons, occasionally Friday night or Sundays.

On cold winter days, action moves to the Astoria Billiards, on Steinway Street, two blocks off Northern Boulvard, accross the street from PC Richards. Cheap, good food (try the Greek salad). Playing is free, but it's suggested you order some food or drinks. Best playing time is Friday, Saturday & Sunday, after 4 PM.

Good luck!

Chess 'professionals'.

I saw them in "Searching for Bobby Fischer" and always wanted to play them. I got to finally play some at Harvard Square, Cambridge for $2 a 5-minute game. I lost about $12; I got close in a few games and got wiped out in the others. Anyway, can someone enlighten me on this 'profession'?

(1) Are these people homeless? I was excited to have one of my dreams realized, but then I started to feel strange about the setup --If I could, would I want to take $2 from a down-and-out chess player?

(2) Are these guys that strong? Yes, in the five-minute games they seem to be effective with non-book lines, but are they masters and experts like their cardboard sign says?

(3) How does one go from a normal chess player in tournaments, etc., to becoming a 'professional' who haunts parks all day --rain, shine or even snow? It's disturbing.

Or did I get the wrong impression of the guys who play at Harvard Square?

USA, Maryland, Baltimore, Fells Point Chess, 1717 Aliceanna St.

Located in Fells Point, it costs a few bucks to use the boards and clocks. (Five dollars used to be good for the whole day.) They run a lot of tournaments as well. Fun if you're looking to go to a bar in between rounds. This place was a favorite of mine when I lived in Baltimore. Not sure what the current hours are, though, as I moved away a little over a year ago.


Anybody know anywhere in Tokyo to play, apart from the obvious of going down the courthouse to play Fischer Random?

If anyone knows a nice club to play chess in Athens, Greece, please let me know!

USA, Northbrook, Illinois (northern suburb of Chicago). The Renaissance Chess Club meets at the Renaissance Chicago North Shore Hotel on Sundays from 4-11pm, located at 933 Skokie, Blvd. just off the Edens expressway (I-94 and Dundee Road). This recently formed chess club (November, 2004) already promises to be one of the most important chess venues in the Chicagoland area. The site itself inspires chess. The hotel, clean and modern, has a pervasive chess theme throughout. As you walk into the lobby, the first thing you see in a 12 foot Rook and Knight as well as other chess objects d’art. If you’re hungry, stop off at the Rook’s Corner coffee shop. The crowd is diverse, both in terms of backgrounds and skill levels. There are some accomplished masters, regular club player types, strong juniors and patzers alike. Tournaments are held on Sundays, but there is a lot of casual play as well. The atmosphere is upbeat and welcoming. For details on tournaments and club activities, check out the Club’s content packed website at http://www.p4.hostingprod.com/@rknights.org/index.html.


Wow, only comments about US chess clubs. I'm envious :-)

I live in Frankfurt, Germany myself and would be really happy to see a description of a club around here.

Should be no problem to find a chess club in Frankfurt. Looks like there are about 25 clubs in or near Frankfurt. See http://www.hessischer-schachverband.de/bezirk/55000_vereine.htm

In Hamburg there are 44 clubs at the moment. See http://www.hamburger-schachverband.de for details. Of course I have to mention my club first: SK Wilhelmsburg von 1936 e.V. (http://www.bambam42.de.)

What a great string to promote chess tourism worldwide! Is anyone aware of a chess club or meeting spot in the Palm Springs/Palm Desert area in California?


I will add three more meta-resources, one that includes non US locations.

If a club is organized to the extent of being a USCF affiliate, they will be listed in the USCF's club directory. You can search this by zip code, city, etc.


However, in my experience this more often represents a list of tournament directors than actual clubs, and many are schools rather than open clubs. Still, you can get in touch with them and ask them if they know of places to play in the area.

Second, I have found that many Borders Book Stores have a chess club once a week. Level of competition varies a lot, dpending mostly on what other resources are nearby. Sometimes I've seen strong amateurs (1600-2000) there, sometimes lower. Clocks are common. No betting. Some, like the one in Cary, North Carolina, are very well organized with their own website and tournaments. Others are just drop in casual play. Some are listed on the official Borders site under Events, but many are not.

Generally if I'm travelling I just call the local Borders and ask if they have a chess club. For those who may be concerned about security, particularly in a strange town, this is a very safe place to find a game. Also, every one I've been to was wheelchair accessible.

The ICC also maintains a list of real world clubs recommended by members. This includes 12 clubs in Greece, 8 in Japan, etc. It's not very well organized, but it has a lot of information.



Regardling chess hustlers...try thinking of them as "street artists" and you may get a clearer idea of the range of people involved.

Some are homeless. Some are homeless by choice. Some are people who show up to play in the parks two or three days a week, and may have other jobs (other lives) on other days. A fair number are students.

Some are indeed very good. Certainly expert strength at blitz, some better. You do get an occasional grandmaster, although that's rare, and they're not usually fulltime participants.

Some hustle other things as well, and chess fills the time while they're waiting for the cell phone to ring.

The following is a good article on the street scene in New York as viewed by a first-time visitor, emphasizing the quality of play:


On the other hand, Matt Gaffney (a master) offers a more cynical look at the hustlers who are the equivalent of 3 card Monty players--proving that it's possible to rig even a chess game:


But in the "gypsies, tramps, and thieves" mix, it may be the "tramps" that predominate in most cities. The following is a very unromantic look at street chess:


What's my best bet for finding hustlers in London then?

Vatican City:
Right out front of St Peters Basillica Square theres a small street. I found a few guys @10 out playing chess on the sidewalk. I didn't play but it looked pretty casual.

Bloomington IL:
Lincoln Leisure center. Tuesday night at 7pm. If your on vacation, get terribly lost, and end up in Bloomington, your girlfriend definitely wont let you go to this former school building. Lets put it this way: I have lived in Bloomington for 6 years and my wife never set foot in the place. : ) No she is not a B its just she'd rather not. With clocks but not many rated over 1500. About 25 show up Mix about half kids half over 20.

"Rather mangy crowd with occasional drug trafficking" I got to get myself down to Washington Square Park...

Take lot of money. You might have to pay the Street Chess Gladiators whether you win or loose. If you loose, you have to pay double. Have a good time!

Qualo from ICC has the following webpage listing chess hangouts worldwide:


Maybe some of you who posted to this thread can go to Qualo's site and add your hangouts, and vice versa.

USA, San Francisco, California. Mechanics Institute Chess Club, 57 Post Street – 4th Floor (Downtown San Francisco) I have only been to this club on one occasion, but it was well worth the visit. A schedule of club events and activities can be found at http://chessclub.org. GM’s Alex Yermolinsky and John Donaldson are active in running the club. Below is an excerpt describing the club from the summer of 2004.

During our family’s recent vacation to Northern California, we had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club located in downtown San Francisco on 57 Post Street. The Mechanics’ Institute is one of the oldest chess clubs in the US having been established in the 1850’s. The Club itself is physically located on the 4th floor of the vintage Mechanics’ Institute Building. The space is dedicated to chess and exudes class and tradition. When entering you see the built-in wooden chess tables accommodating about 50 games and a few computer terminals to the side for online play. Old time photographs of players and matches line the walls reminding of the Club’s rich history and tradition. [the complete blog entry regarding my visit can be found at http://chessdad64.journalspace.com/?entryid=12 ]


Also in San Francisco:

Market & Powell. Almost always half a dozen tables with blitz chess going on. Probably the most interesting place in the world to sit and lose a few bucks. The cable-car turn-around is right there, hippie vendors selling nose jewelry and ear cuffs, etc.

Chicago, IL. Corner of Monroe and Michigan Ave. Outside of Millenium Park.
Guy sets up 4 or 5 tables for chess and checkers. $2 "donation" lets you play all day. He said he usually gets there between 10:30 and 11:30am. He was an average player himself but you never know who might be walking by...

I was in Toronto this summer, and there seems to be a lively chess scene in front of, believe it or not, a church. Location: Queen St. between Church and Bond. I didn't spend enough time there to find out if the denizens are sinners or saints.

The Toronto location is definitely more sinner than saint, as the park is the daytime home of many of the city's more drug-addled and damaged individuals. Unfortunately, it's pretty much the only game in town as they closed up the Gould St. location (chess hustlers don't really figure into the city's disneyfication of the Yonge-Dundas area). The city did move some tables to Nathan Phillips Square (in front of City Hall) but put them in an area with no shade and no light at night, guaranteeing that no disreputable types will play there. Of course, it also guarantees that none of the more respectable types will play there, either. Ah, progress. . .

Downtown Detroit
We have an outdoor area called Hart Plaza. It's right on the Detroit River, walking distance from Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Hall. Also a short distance from Comerica Park and Ford Field. Casino only blocks away, too.
Hustlers aren't as strong as in New York, but some are probably Expert strength. Usually play is for $5. I played a guy once where only a large beer was the stakes ($8 value).


USA, Chicago, Ill. North Avenue Chess Pavillion, North Ave. & Lake Michigan. This partially sheltered outdoor pavillion, built in the late 1950s, has about 20 usable concrete chess boards. You'll find huslters who play for money and others who are a bit more laid back. Most of the action seems to take place on weekends.

Also in Chicago: several locations in the Hyde Park area: Starbucks (53rd & Harper; 5-minute blitz games); Borders Bookstore (53rd & Lake Park, chess players welcome on weekende only); Hayden Market (1009 East 53rd, bet. Greenwood & Ellis). Hayden has a formally organized chess club. Last I knew it was $10/month to belong.

The legendary chess scene at the Harper Square shopping center is no more. It was shut down by the merchants association a couple of years ago, prompting a chess diaspora throughout the neighborhood to the locations mentioned above.

USA, Provincetown, Mass. - Governor Bradford Restaurant, 312 Commercial St (corner of Standish). This place has several chess sets for diners. I don't know what "the scene" is like, or even if there even is one, because no one was playing chess when I had lunch there on a weekday afternoon in July. But the restaurant is comfortable, has decent food, and is reasonably priced. Located right in the middle of P-town scene, it's a good spot to watch the sea of humanity pass by.

I wouldn't count on being able to drop in here alone a get a game, but if you're in the area and have an opponent, this place will give you a welcome and a chess set.

Elk Grove California Starbuck @ 7pm (Tuesday)
Casual Play - A and B players

Laguna & Franklin - Elk Grove
5060 Laguna Blvd
Elk Grove CA, 95758
United States

Santiago de Chile:
Plaza de Armas, the big pavillion.

Sokolniki Park

I heard there is a cafe in Toronto that has open chess - similar to the one in Greenwich Village NYC - but I have yet to find it.

Torontonians or travelers - has anyone heard of this place or where it is?

Chess in Elk Grove California.
Every Tuesday nites @7:30pm
Casual Play for everybody.

Laguna and Franklin Blvd. (Starbuck)
5060 Laguna Blvd.
Elk Grove Ca.

The newly formed Elk Grove - Laguna Chess Club, sponsored by the Friends of Franklin Community Library, is a United States Chess Federation affiliate. Our simple goal is to provide a free, fun, and safe environment where children and adults can come together to learn, play and compete in chess while making new friends. We hold our meetings in the community room of the Franklin Community library of Elk Grove located at 10055 Franklin High Road Elk Grove, California. Our club meets every last Tuesday of every month from 4:45 to 7:30 PM. Participants are encouraged to bring their own chess sets.

Blogger Michael Goeller at The Kenilworthian has this guide to chess in the Big Apple:


A Chess Tourist in New York City

I am in Toronto and would like to learn how to play chess. What are the best places for adult beginners?

I wrote something last year about playing chess in Harvard Square. Weather permitting, it is THE place to play if you find yourself in the Boston area.


About fifteen years ago, I took a summer road trip to Boston, wound up in Harvard Square and stumbled upon chessplayer's heaven! At least one GM was there whom I recognized: Patrick Wolff. Besides him, so many strong players (who were anonymous to me, but probably well known in the local and even national scene) were playing speed chess.

It felt more like a real chess club, somehow, than the much smaller and more louche gatherings at Washington Square Park in NY or Dupont Circle in DC.

Has online chess (ICC, PlayChess, etc.) diminished the face-to-face action in Harvard Square?

I am the founder of 2 chess clubs in my local area which is South Windsor, Connecticut, USA.

Formerly from 1995 to 2006 we used to meet up at Borders Books & Music in Manchester, CT.

Now we meet in the South Windsor Public Library on Wednesday evenings starting at 6 PM to 9 PM.

We are a relaxed, casual chess club. Some people are experienced tournament players while others are beginners. Some players use clock.

I really like the comments posted on this website and I love the fact that people are promoting chess world wide.

I look forward to my upcoming visit to Chicago, the Windy city and hope to visit the Renassance Chess Club in Northbrook.


Re Chicago:

As noted upthread, the North Avenue Chess Pavilion is *the* place to play chess in Chicago this time of year. Not the Village, but close, and the atmosphere is much nicer.

In season on the east (lake) side of Michigan Avenue, usually immediately south of the Art Institute (though police sometimes move the site even further south), a gentleman sets up a portable table with six boards. You can play all day (standing up) for $2. Fun venue.

Far North side: for serious play in the evenings, try IM Angelo Young's Touch Move Chess Center, 5639 N. Ashland, Chicago. Please call first 773-627-2759. Casual play is sometimes preempted by Sevan Muradian's FIDE events.


For far North Side skittles play in the evenings, try Ennui Cafe, 6981 N Sheridan

Chessdad64 were you able to locate club in Palm Desert area? My adult son has been looking for club that meets in the evenings. He is a beginner.
If anyone knows of a club that matches, please let me know. thanks

I'd like to start something like this in Amarillo. There's not one place that comes up for Chess... I know people here play like anywhere else!

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This is a thread about places to play chess

any recommendaion for a place chess in miami? my son (ratıng 2005) will be visiting for a few days and chess is the way to make him happy...

sorry, ı meant a place to play chess in miami..

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