Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Chess: Players were pawns for overzealous cops

Shelby Lyman

Peaceful play can be hazardous - at least at the chess tables of Inwood Hill Park in New York.

Several weeks ago, seven men were levied with $50 tickets for playing chess in a park area restricted to adults accompanied by kids. Nearby was a playground - empty of children at the time.

A police spokesman offered an explanation:

"It's the broken-windows theory: Small things can turn into bigger things."

Aggressive action to protect children from predation is commendable, but residents in the neighborhood remain divided over the logic of the raid. Couldn't kinder, gentler means have been used? The modus operandi of the New York police - they swooped down on their targets wearing bulletproof vests - has provoked at least a few comments.

Perhaps the police had been advised that chess players wield a few weapons of their own.

In 1972, during the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky matches, the public learned of the use of the dreaded "poison pawns."

The officers might have also heard of the fire-breathing dragon variation of the Sicilian opening, not to mention the sometimes lethal hippopotamus defense or the rarely used orangutan.

Shelby Lyman is a Basic Chess Features columnist.

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