Kindred’s Kaleidoscope: The Fleahouse

Yeah, there was a historical chess den that boasted some of the best hustlers and game players in the country.  It’s proper name was adorned on its second floor windows namely, Chess and Checker Club of New York. It was more acknowledged by many as the New York Chess and Checker Club. Despite being located in the rather seedy part of town, it attracted a wide range of players to visit for which they were rewarded with a host of odds and ends of the chess world and more than once leaving with less coinage than they entered with.

The Fleahouse was open every day except closing from 5 a.m. when it reopened at 10 a.m to replay the day, weeks and months before with the same menu of attracting the poor and rich alike who felt brave enough to do battle in such mixed company.  No membership dues which I will venture a guess to why in a moment. It was pay by the hour, with additional fees for rental of chess clock and refreshments.  The format and success likely was due in part to this menu where for a buck or two you could play chess “go as you please”.  There was binding relationship as players in fact were individualists of the first order where the norm of club membership was total laxity. You came and went as you pleased without any commitment to the club other than to present your body in a chair on any number of occasions.

The Fleahouse (New York Chess and Checker Club) became a haven and place where a team could enter the MET LEAGUE and use the club quarters for their home matches.

In 1960 USCF introduced the Swiss-system series across America to encourage adoption of their new ELO Rating System. The Fleahouse became a part of the cycle for New York chess enthusiasts. It also housed the wonderful efforts of Milton Hanauer’s interscholastic chess league.

Did everything work smoothly with so many New York clubs involved?  It is natural, I suppose, to say it should but it did and didn’t.  Every league final was a bet between the Manhattan and the Marshall Chess Clubs to see who would grab the title and lst place. Well, in 1965, the Fleahouse team managed to win match after match.  This was SACRILEGE.  The only team that could stop them was the upcoming match with the Marshall Juniors that boasted a power group of kids. It’s captain gave a pep talk:

          “If we let this lice-ridden, flea-bitten pack of mongrels win the Met League, we might as well give up chess.”

The Fleahouse lice-ridden, flea-bitten pack of mongrels won the match with the Marshall Juniors thus axing the championship.

No one gave up chess!

                                 1964 Bobby Fischer Exhibition

GM Robert Fischer vs M. McDermott that features one of Fischer’s pet ways to handle his simultaneous play goes like this from a Vienna Game.

1.e4 e5  2.Bc4  Nf6  3.Nc3  Bc5  4.f4  d6  5.Nf3  Bg4  6.h3  Bxf3 7.Qxf3  Nd4  8.Qg3 Nxc2+ 9.Kd1  Nxa1? This was known to lose as far back as the 1870s. I think Black would do better to play back to d4 with the Knight.

11.Qxg7  Rf8  12. fxe5  dxe5  13.Rf1  Be7 14.Bg5  Nxe4? You cannot make too many mistakes against Bobby Fischer!

15.Nxe4  f5  16.Qxh7  Bxg5  17.Qg6+ Resigns.

Final result: 34 wins, 0 losses.

Chess, indeed, is filled with a rich and intriguing past.

Adios, for now!


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