Chess-in-the-Park 2019: We were blown away by New York’s chess event for all sorts

By Leon Watson / On / In Chess news

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What an event the 19th Chess-in-the-Park Rapid Open in New York this weekend was!

IM John Bartholomew and I attended as a duo on Saturday to do a little promo stuff and spread the word about Chessable – and we were both blown away by it.

Chess-in-the-Park is a tournament held every year at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park that heralds the start of the city’s chess season. It is casual and fun but, at the same time, it is hugely-inspiring.

John and I with Kimberley Doo, from US Chess
John and I with Kimberley Doo, from US Chess

The final count was 775 competitors playing – with a wide range of ages and backgrounds. All sorts play in Chess-in-the-Park and – as we found out – rather a lot of fellow Chessable members, many of whom who came over to say hello.

For example, John and I spent time talking to alexshirovbh3 (an Encyclopedic member with 1.8m points), who suggested some improvements to the site and got a Chessable polo shirt to say thanks. We also signed up the winner of the Open Championship (1700+), WFM Bahar Hallaeva.

As a little fun sideshow before it started, John had two blitz games with GM Maxim Dlugy – and you’ll be pleased to know he played well. Both games ended in draws but John should have won the first one.

I didn’t see the second one – he’ll have to tell you what happened!

Two of the competitors (COPYRIGHT: Neot Doron-Repa)
Two of the competitors (COPYRIGHT: Neot Doron-Repa)

As I kept saying all day there is absolutely no chance anyone would ever get this many chess players in one place for a tournament from where I’m from, London.

For a start, it was outdoors – and it just rains way too much in the UK! But the main reason is we just don’t have the people needed to put on something like this.

It’s always sunny at Chess-in-the-Park!

The Chess-in-the-Park Rapid Open has always been run by Chess in the Schools and the NYC Parks Department. Ed Feldman from the Parks Dept. came up with the idea and partnered with Chess in the Schools.

There were a total of 775 competitors (COPYRIGHT: Neot Doron-Repa)
There were a total of 775 competitors (COPYRIGHT: Neot Doron-Repa)
The tables all set out before round 1 of Chess-in-the-Park
The tables all set out before round 1 of Chess-in-the-Park

Chess-in-the-Park has now been running for 19 years and Chess in the Schools have got it down to a fine art.

Everyone who enters is given plenty of water made available by Poland Spring plus fruit to keep them going. All the boards are provided, so you don’t need to bring your own.

The setting at the heart of Central Park is, of course, stunning and despite being in mid-September the organizers say they are always blessed with good weather. If it happened in London, that wouldn’t be the case…

We spoke to the girl on the right, who I forget the name of, and she was very strong! (COPYRIGHT: Neot Doron-Repa)
We spoke to the girl on the right, who I forget the name of, and she was very strong! (COPYRIGHT: Neot Doron-Repa)

As I said, there was a fantastic mix of players (which is something I don’t always see at home) and it was especially impressive to see so many female players cheered on by Sophia Rohde and Kimberley Doo from the US Chess Women’s Committee.

WFM Hallaeva told us afterward: “I wish it was not just once a year. I never played in such an amazing place. It is really good to involve people into chess. I wish good luck to Chess in the Schools.”

And if you have any chance of getting to New York to play at Chess-in-the-Park next year, we highly recommend doing so.

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