Wells Tower on Tom Murphy, outdoor chess champion
For a mere $5, I learned from Murphy that the entire tortuous body of the game’s strategy is neatly reducible to three clean principles.
“Number one, king safety” — above all else protect your king. “Number two, control the center” — i.e., maintain influence over the board’s four center squares. “Number three, free the people and give everyone a healthy job” — that is, don’t oppress your powerful rear echelon behind a torpid row of pawns; stagger your pawn platoon so that your ranking pieces can go to work attacking or defending.
True to his third law of chess strategy, Murphy is himself one of the least encumbered people you are likely to meet. He has no telephone, no bank account, and, at the time I caught up with him, he was spending most nights on a bench in the park and passing his days at his chosen employment: offering lessons at $15 to $20 per and hustling speed chess for $2 to $5 a game. Yet as a player, Murphy’s fame extends far beyond the park. In past years, he’d racked up major tournament wins, routing some of the best chess players in the country and cementing a widespread reputation as a player who might have risen to international prominence had his life taken a different turn.