Chess Hustling In New York City
Six years ago, Ambakisye Osayaba made his big move — he quit his part-time city job cleaning Central Park and began playing chess full-time.
Now he earns up to $400 a day, taking on all comers from a 2-by-2-foot fold-out table, chairs and chess board he rolls in a metal shopping granny cart every morning to the southwest strip of Union Square Park.
“It’s the best living I’ve ever made,” said Osayaba, 59, known by the initials T.C., which stand for “teaches chess.”
Osayaba may be the top earner of the dozen players in the park, who have migrated there from Washington Square Park over the last few years because they realized Union Square gets more tourist traffic.
“There’s a reason why he’s called the Bobby Fischer of Union Square,” said one of his regular opponents, Mayer Lasry, 20.
Osayaba charges $3 for a no-wager game. If you want to bet, the winner gets $5. He offers 30-minute lessons for $20. He plays at the park year round, rain or shine.
“People walk by all the time wanting to learn,” said Osayaba. “I tell them, ‘Take a seat’ and before they know it, they’re coming back every day.”
Victor Raso, 28, has been taking lessons from Osayaba five days a week for two years.
“When I first came out I knew the rules but nothing about strategy,” said Raso, a facilities coordinator at the clothing store Express who spends his lunch hour in the park. “I stuck with T.C. because he taught me rather than hustled me.”
The only way to get an appointment with T.C. is to show up at his table. “I threw my phone off the Brooklyn Bridge,” Osayaba said. “You need to give the game your full attention.”