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Chess and Checkers House, A Place that Matters

chess checkers house central park players

The Chess and Checkers House at Central Park has provided a free and public site where New Yorkers of every age and ability have met, for over half a century, in the ultimate bloodless battle – matching wits with a game of chess. Built in 1952, the popular playing area consists of 24 outdoor tables that are shaded by a leafy canopy, above a rustic pergola, which wraps around a one-story brick building.

Perched on a large rock outcropping, once known as the Kinderberg – or “Children’s Mountain” – the Chess and Checkers House is located just west of the Dairy, near 65th Street, in what was originally the park’s Children’s District. The masonry building is decorated with alternating rows of cream and terra cotta-colored brick, creating a series of animated stripes. The complex was added to the park during the reign of Robert Moses, who was fond of organized recreation, and the funding was secured by a donation from the financier and philanthropist Barnard Baruch.

The most dedicated players bring a set from home, but chess pieces can be rented in the building, along with other recreational equipment. Rental games like jacks, pickup sticks, puzzles and dominoes are popular with visitors, as are more active gear including soccer balls, Frisbees and badminton sets, all of which may be borrowed between 10 and 5, Tuesday through Sunday. However, despite all of the other available games, chess rules here.

Unlike other chess hotspots in New York where games are very competitive, this oasis in Central Park stands out for its congenial atmosphere and lack of hustling. The site is also host to an annual Youth Chess Tournament and acts as a learning environment, where free chess lectures and tutorials are offered each Saturday to players looking to improve their game. The Chess and Checkers House has always attracted a socially diverse and very tight community, many of whom are everyday regulars. As the nominator to the Census of Places that Matter described this community, “Some spend decades playing together, but chess continues to be the force which holds the group together.”