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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chess At Dupont Circle: Circles of Life

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“Want to play a game (of chess),” said my friend AJ from Fairfax, Va.
“Where are you?”
“You know the games we played at the Dupont Circle?”
“Where are you going with this yara?”
“Look up Wells Tower in the (Washington) Post Magazine today,” AJ said.


Our first summer in the US, we stayed at Hatnett Hall off Dupont Circle in the NW for a few weeks. In the evenings we would walk past the circle and would stop by the chess tables scanning moves.

On the odd occasion when a seat was available I would sit down for a game, or just sit down on a bench and watch the world pass by. One day, immersed in thoughts, I heard “Aap ka is’m e shareef kiya hay” (what is your good name?) I looked around and saw an old man feeding birds talking to himself, one sprawled on the grass, a few in a cluster holding brown bags and a couple in mid twenties. I ran a mental check list of what I had eaten or drunk earlier, and decided to ignore the query, thinking it a figment of my imagination.

Then I heard it again, “Aap ka is’m e shareef kiya hay?”

I looked around again and saw the same couple smiling at me. I replied this time and learned they were peace corps volunteers who had served in India.


Another evening, we were sitting on the bench when I suddenly got up and excused myself. AJ was used to me and said nothing, just nodded. I had spotted this old lady try to cross the Avenue but there was no let up in the traffic. I struck up a conversation with her and offered to help cross the Avenue. We exchanged small talk as I scanned the traffic for the right moment. She asked me from where I was, how long had I been in the US (two weeks). After I helped her cross the Avenue, she turned to thank me and made a point of mentioning that she was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I had learned the language.

Miss Val from my school would have shaken her head and smiled that dimpled smile if she had heard this lady.


Dupont Circle was not a smoke free zone those days. Mary Jane mingled freely with auto emission.

(AJ please reassure CJ that was not the reason why we frequented the Circle)

From the cover story by Wells Tower in the Washington Post Magazine, The Days and Knights of Tom Murphy I learned that the portion of Dupont Circle where they play chess has been christened Chess University of Dupont Circle.

I learned from Murphy that the entire tortuous body of the game's strategy is neatly reducible to three clean principles.
"Number one, king safety" -- above all else protect your king. "Number two, control the center" -- i.e., maintain influence over the board's four center squares. "Number three, free the people and give everyone a healthy job" -- that is, don't oppress your powerful rear echelon behind a torpid row of pawns; stagger your pawn platoon so that your ranking pieces can go to work attacking or defending.

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Tom Murphy: Circles of Life
e4 –c5
................. sirens blare

Nc3 –Nc6
................. Philly unsettles
f4 – g6
................. stints stab
Nf3 – Bg7
................. passions bloom

Bb5 –Nd4
................. obsession ferments

Nxd4 –cxd4
................. on the wall of palms
................. graffiti masquerades

Ne2 – e6
................. clouds fog

d3 – Qa5+
................. chess black and white
................. life all gray
................. living red


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