San Francisco, California – For more than 30 years, chess games have been a street institution in downtown San Francisco but earlier this month, the San Francisco Police Department confiscated the playing equipment, chairs and tables from Market and Fifth Streets where dozens of people, mostly homeless, veterans and aspiring chess masters, would gather every day to play.
Police said that regular chess players weren’t the problem but that the area had become a hotbed for illegal gambling and drug use. The displaced chess aficionados disputed the police reason for the crackdown and said that they were being used as a scapegoat for SFPD’s inability to curb illegal activity in the area.
A group of concerned freedom-loving citizens of San Francisco responded by establishing a donation drive to collect handheld electronic chess consoles to be distributed to those displaced by the police action.
“We can’t believe that of all cities in the country, San Francisco would be the one to ban, of all things – the game of chess — depriving citizens of their right of the ‘pursuit of happiness,’ ” said drive organizers Gary Torre and Nestor Kasparov.
On the first day of the drive, hundreds of new handheld electronic chess games were delivered to the makeshift collection center at the corner of Powell and Market Streets.
Kasparov said that with the handheld electronic chess games, there would be no need for the chess players to set up tables and chairs and there would be no reason for the police to drive them away from Market Street. Kasparov added: “We are aware, however, of the ‘sit and lie’ ordinance in San Francisco prohibiting individuals from sitting or lying in the sidewalks. So we have advised chess players to be always on their feet while playing the electronic chess games.”