At least for an afternoon, the chess players were back at the usual spot they've occupied for years along downtown San Francisco's busy Market Street. But instead of hustling a dollar here and there with deft openings and clever traps, the mostly homeless players and their supporters were playing yesterday in protest of a recent police crackdown and ban. And they were backed by a brass band and several homeless advocates who helped organize the three-hour "chess-in" under bright, blue skies on a hot San Francisco afternoon.
Earlier this month, police confiscated chess gear, tables, and chairs at the site. Police said the games had begun to attract illegal gambling and drug sales. "We don't mind the chess players and would like to have them back," says the manager of a nearby store. "But lately, the games have attracted loud dice games and open drug deals, and nobody needs that." The chess players argue that the police response was heavy-handed and indiscriminate. "Have the drug deals stopped because chess has been banned?" says an occasional player. "It was an excuse to move homeless people away from here."