What Happens When a Chess Player Mistakes a Grandmaster for a Rookie: Pretty Fun
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What Happens When a Chess Player Mistakes a Grandmaster for a Rookie: Pretty Fun

On vacation in New York City last summer, Anna Cramling, an International Chess Federation master stopped by Washington Square Park, to see about scoring a pickup game with one of the regulars.

His opponent, Jonny O’Leary, a New York native who learned the rules of the game from another Washington Square custom while doing maintenance work on nearby buildings in the mid-’80s, was a fastidious man, sharing his philosophy of life as a result of the game.

Fortunately he believes that human interaction and the opportunity to learn make even a losing game a winning proposition as Cramling beats him so easily.

Flash forward a few seasons.

Crawling, swaddled in a warm jacket and hat, headed back to Washington Square with his mother in tow.

O’Leary would like to introduce Ms. The older Cramling, now 60 years old, to Game of Kings. He loved teaching beginners, even if they had no money to put down. He wanted to show her the ropes so badly that he dictated four of her first five moves.

His extroversion might be his downfall here.

In our experience, people who call middle-aged women they’ve just met “Mom” tend to belittle them and talk about them.

Shock! Pia Cramling is a Grandmaster of Chess who once held the title of the best female player in the world.

“Mom” humbly followed directions, moving her knight and bishop as instructed and probably holding her tongue as O’Leary learned her initial strategy and piece names.

To his credit, he seems quite pleased when Cramlings’ ruse is exposed, eagerly calling for another play even when he voluntarily says he is by no means a good player.

(“Get the old man,” his friend Doc happily interjects.)

Their love for chess is burning bright.

The Cramlings praise O’Leary for his generosity as a teacher, no doubt recognizing that his involvement in the game looks different from theirs. (Anna’s father is Grandmaster Juan Manuel Bellón Lopez and he has accompanied her mother to tournaments since she was a baby.)

O’Leary may have looked a little blank when Pia Cramling mentioned World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov, but he hung out with grandmasters Maxim Dlugy and John Fedorowicz at the Washington Square Park chess simulcast, and he was particularly intrigued by his Elo rating, the US Chess Federation’s system for scoring player skills.

“He has brains that don’t come from here!” he cried in awe to anyone within earshot.

After witnessing the overly arrogant, unsportsmanlike and violent behavior of some of the other players in street fights other Anna films, we can definitely agree that Jonny O’Leary is a “social Grandmaster”.

Watch more videos related to Anna Cramling’s chess, including her mother meeting other Washington Square Park regulars here.

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Come on Halliday is Chief Primatologist of Inky East Village zines and authors, latest, from Creative, Unknown: The Little Potato Manifesto And Creative Activity Book, Not Famous. Follow him @AyunHalliday.

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