Assuming the species still exists, has anyone researched this enough to provide insight into their approximate rating class/skill level (exclusively at blitz time controls)?

How do they typically get into the business or for that matter, demonstrate an above-average strength level (enough to make and not lose money!), given their difficult life situation. Is there a top dog / ringer type who trains the rest and personally deals with some of the stronger "ordinary folk" challengers?

I've been lucky enough to play a few dollar-games in San Francisco but not enjoyed their company enough to gauge if they are all A/B players or even Experts.

Curious ... and I am positive that Hollywood paints a fairly distorted picture of the archetype, such as the Disney-like Searching for Bobby Fischer or even the more gritty + over-the-top Fresh.

  • Most of these players are "experts" at speed chess. They might not be that strong at officially-timed games, but they seem to excel (and beat players with equivalent ratings) with five minutes each on the clock.
    – Tom Au
    Dec 26, 2013 at 20:26
  • The ones that I know were 'tested' played at master level at speed chess. How they learned is a mystery. Why is not - they need the money and easier than working 9-5. And most of their opponents are true patzers.
    – yobamamama
    Jan 1, 2020 at 0:53

3 Answers 3


Movies like to present "chess hustlers" as playing chess for a living.

In reality, most of these people are playing chess for fun. The "hustlers" are often just down on their luck financially and like to make some money while still having fun.

There's certainly no J.J. Peachum-type figure who trains chess players to go into parks and make money from innocent passersby.

As for their strength, it's entirely dependent on the city or area you're looking. They're just a collection of chess players, there's no strength range you have to be in. In New York, master-strength players have been known to hang out on the street playing chess. In New Orleans you could catch a world-class player like Jude Acers sitting around in his red beret taking all comers. Where I am, in Cleveland, it seems like the strength level is in the 1000-1800 range, but hey I'm 2050 and I play around there fairly often, and I've known masters and even an IM to join in at various times. The guys who are into gambling are usually among the stronger players in their setting, which is again entirely dependent on where you look. At any rate, gambling isn't as common as the movies like to make it out to be. Having played all over I've only encountered it a few times and usually not from secret masters but rather guys who had learned enough tricks over the years to be able to beat most clueless people and were pretty confident.

It's not a business operation, it's an informal chess club where gambling is a part of the culture.

  • 3
    Acers isn't a GM. He's a USCF National Master I guess. Dec 24, 2013 at 18:18
  • My bad, I thought I remembered him getting the title at some senior championship but that would be Larry Kaufman. Dec 26, 2013 at 5:33
  • Larry senior or Larry junior his son?
    – yobamamama
    Jan 1, 2020 at 0:54

About ten years ago I had the occasion to play the guys in the business district in SF. I was rated 1654 at the time. There was only one person there who was clearly a better player than I. After losing a few games to opening tricks and on time, I adjusted to the speed and did quite well. I may have even won a few dollars. As for the top dog, thank goodness I was accompanied by my friend, who, at the time was class A state champion with a rating of about 2120. He too adjusted to the quick pace, and quickly got the upper hand. The top player got frustrated and exclaimed, "If you want a good game, come back at such and such a time..." We left and came back to encounter a new player there. My friend and I proceeded to lose back all of the money we won, learning later that they had rolled out the local GM on us.


It really depends on where you live, and who is there. Some can be very good.

For years, in Boston, well Cambridge really, there was a player, who was a regular at the "Square", Harvard Square to be precise. It is right across from the famed university, and IMs have been known to congregate there at times.

Murray Turnbull was about 2350 USCF when I would play him, so obviously, he would beat most comers. I would stop by when down there, mostly to show off to a girlfriend, or later, my daughter, what it was like for me to play blitz.

Here is a link to a story about him.

Here is an article about the Square.

  • 1
    P.S. I also played a guy in a Washington D.C. park this summer, who was probably about 2000. Jan 1, 2020 at 0:07

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