Chess Player Speaks on the Game of Life

In the latest installment of Heard on the Street, hear from chess player Tom Murphy. Murphy, a former environmental fundraiser, was left jobless by his troubles with alcohol. He now spends his days in Washington's Dupont Circle challenging folks to a unique form of chess.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And we want to end the day with our segment Heard on the Street. We go out and find people, making music, making sound, being heard out in public. This week, we're collaborating with our friends at the Washington Post Sunday magazine for a look at chess player Tom Murphy.

Tom is a former environmental fundraiser. But troubles with alcohol have left him jobless. He now spends his days in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle, challenging folks to what's known as blitz chess, where each player has only five minutes to complete their game. Tom also earns some money teaching others the secrets of chess.

Mr. TOM MURPHY (Chess Player): You give me a check again. I must walk up because it's about the battle of the active king.

MARTIN: Apart from playing chess, Tom likes to tell a good story, and he recently told us a little bit about his personal history.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MURPHY: What really, really got me hooked when I got out the military, I was going back to Philadelphia. They have a place called Love Park down in Central Philly. Well, I saw two guys playing. They played for a while. I said, man, I could beat you both. So the big guy said, why don't you sit down and show me. And he proceeded to give me the history of the French Revolution while he took 200 bucks from me. That got my attention.

Now the moral of the story is the guy he was playing, who was a master at the time, gave me my first chess book. And he said, read this over the winter. Get back to me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MURPHY: I hung with that - that same two guys I was telling you, they were members of chess team called Mate By Force. I became their unofficial mascot and, for a number of years, as the lowly player - and at that time, I was rated 895 - thought I knew something.

They took me around the chess tournaments all up and down the East Coast, gave me plenty of chess books and a lot of instruction. And that's when my game took off.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MURPHY: One of my most satisfying wins - there were many - but the first one was in 1989. I'm playing at the World Open. At the time, this was the biggest chess tournament in the world. There were 170 grandmasters, plus. At the end of the chess tournament, there was a blitz tournament. So it was five-minutes for the whole game. There was 70 grandmasters in the blitz tournament. What happened was I come to the board, I'm playing an international master who had a chess column for the Los Angeles Times, a gentleman by the name of Anthony Saidy.

I get to the board and he says, well, you're sure you want to go through with this young man? I look at him. Now, in the next board, a buddy of mine is sitting there. He heard the comment. I looked at my buddy. I looked to him. I said, well, I'm going to let you go on it and give me the lesson. And I proceeded to take him apart like a dollar watch. That was one of my most satisfying victories.

MARTIN: And that was chess player Tom Murphy talking to us from Dupont Circle. We met him on the street. Our thanks to the Washington Post for introducing us. And that's our show for today.

I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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