WaPo: The Days and Knights of Tom Murphy

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Norowitz volunteered one of his students for a game. The new client was a thin, pale boy with a baseball hat and a cranky, studious mien. He looked Murphy over, his stained shirt and unclean fingernails, and it was hard not to notice the brittle contemptuousness with which he regarded the older man. In the first game, he made a brash, arrogant attack and was soon moving his queen toward Murphy’s king.

“Now what is this?” Murphy asked in an amiable voice. “Didn’t anybody tell you I do not like termites? No, sir, I cannot have termites in my house. I need pest control from terminix now!”

Murphy’s opponent snatched one of his stray pawns. In return, Murphy collected one of the boy’s knights. “You take a cat,” he said, “I gotta take a dog.”

“He’s trying to annoy me,” the young man whined to his teacher.

“Fine, fine, I’ll be quiet,” Murphy said. “But come on, whatever happened to the sporting spirit?”

Then he put the young man in checkmate, set up a new game and lit a cigarette.

The boy gave Murphy a sour look. “I’m asthmatic,” he said.

“I’ll stop the clock, and you can analyze your position,” Murphy told the young man, who gazed back at him with a mixture of loathing and barely suppressed loser’s hysteria.

After Murphy had unburdened the boy of $25, the game broke up with no parting pleasantries.

Leaving the park, Murphy reflected on the session. “I know what he was thinking. ‘This guy looks like a bum. He can’t play, so why’s he beating me?’ He refused to look at the content of my character. He’ll cool down. After a day or two, he’ll realize it wasn’t me, it was him, and he’ll want to play again. There’s no need to stress out like he was doing. It’s my philosophy that you should enjoy the art of the game, even when you lose,” said Murphy, who had not lost a game all day.

“I’ll stop the clock, and you can analyze your position.” What a great way to set straight those Bobby Fischer types. Supposedly, this gentleman is still at DuPont Circle, and over the next week or so will make tons of money off of people who want to play (but don’t worry — seems as if you can make the money back playing poker).

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