Just up a hill off Center Drive overlooking the historic Central Park Carousel is the Chess and Checkers House. This octagonal shaped brick building ringed with benches and stone tables was built in 1952.
Modern park goers know the Chess and Checkers house as charming place to relax and enjoy a spirited yet peaceful game under the vine covered pergola on a summer afternoon. But old time players remember a much darker time: when chess was a blood sport and death was just a wrong move away.
While most know this game as a leisurely test of wits and strategy, at the turn of the 20th century Chess was completely different. A combination of bare knuckled fighting, gladiator inspired combat, and moving little pieces on a board, chess had killed more people in New York City by the 1930’s than all other board games combined.
Hoping to stem the bloodshed, the newly formed United States Chess Federation radically altered the rules for chess play in America in 1940, removing all the violent combat that had been associated with chess for centuries. Chess enthusiasts across the country gladly accepted the rule changes put forth by the USCF and happily took to playing a less casualty filled game, but the European chess community and continued to play chess the way they felt it should be played: to the death.
In 1952 the Chess and Checkers House was built by the USCF in the hopes of reuniting the world chess community to play their peaceful style of chess, but world champion Mikhail “The Mutilator” Botvinnik, was having none of that. He challenged American chess masters to battle him at the newly completed Chess and Checkers House for control over the future of the game.
On the weekend of October 11, Botvinnik engaged several opponents at the Chess and Checkers House in the most violent chess combat the world had ever seen, dispatching his challengers easily with brilliant opening moves and devastating offensive blows with a heavy iron mace. When it looked like Botvinnik was going to emerge the victor, a young American player named Larry “The Reaper” Evans defeated Botvinnik with a brutal combination of ninjitsu, marine knife fighting, and Petrov’s Defence.
Evans officially eliminated the deadly combat aspects of chess forever, and at long last the world chess community was at peace.
Until all that Spassky vs. Bobby Fischer crap.