New York Man Makes $400 a Day Hustling Chess

Posted on: October 30, 2017, 06:30h. 

Last updated on: October 30, 2017, 06:35h.

Many people are familiar with the image of chess hustlers taking on all comers in New York City parks. But it’s a lot harder to imagine that someone could make a living solely on the income made from playing the board game against anyone willing to put down a few dollars and start pushing pawns.

new york chess hustler Ambakisye Osayaba
Ambakisye Osayaba makes his living hustling and teaching chess at a table he sets up in Union Square Park. (Image: Angel Chevrestt/New York Post)

But that’s exactly the story of Ambakisye Osayaba. According to a story run by the New York Post, Osayaba once held a job cleaning up Central Park. But he quit that gig six years ago to take up chess as a full-time profession, and he now makes as much as $400 a day playing the game in Union Square Park.

Osayaba situates himself in the southwest strip of the park, where he goes by T.C., or “teaches chess.” He offers several options to those who visit him: a $3 game just for fun, a $5 bet on a match, or a 30-minute lesson for $20.

“People walk by all the time wanting to learn,” Osayaba told the Post. “I tell them, ‘Take a seat’ and before they know it, they’re coming back every day.

Teaching Proves More Lucrative Than Hustling

Nowadays, Osayaba says he’s nearly fully booked with chess fans who want to take lessons from him. However, he doesn’t take reservations. If you want to get an appointment, you’ll have to sit down at the board across from him once a seat opens up.

According to his clients, it’s worth waiting for the opportunity.

“When I first came out, I knew the rules but nothing about strategy,” said Victor Raso, who says he has been taking lessons from Osayaba five days a week over the past two years. “I stuck with T.C. because he taught me rather than hustled me.”

Like many park hustlers, Osayaba doesn’t have much formal tournament experience. A check of the US Chess Federation’s member database failed to turn up a rating for the 59-year-old, suggesting that he had likely never played in an official tournament.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t developed some connections to luminaries in the chess world.

Skills Passed Down from a Chess Legend

According to Osayaba, he learned the game from William Lombardy, the grandmaster turned Catholic priest who was best known for coaching Bobby Fischer through the 1972 World Chess Championship. Lombardy died earlier this month of a suspected heart attack.

Osayaba says his highest-profile victim was Maria De Rosa, girlfriend of American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura and a strong player in her own right. The match took place while the 2016 World Chess Championship was being held at South Street Seaport, and Osayaba gives credit to his mentor for the win.

“He was singing the moves at me while I played her,” he said. “So technically, Lombardy beat her.”

Chess hustlers have long been a part of New York City culture, taking up residence in locations such as Washington Square Park and Bryant Park.

Sometimes, even the strongest hustlers might bite off more than they can chew, though. Popular YouTube videos have depicted trips to Washington Square Park by world champion Magnus Carlsen and grandmaster Maurice Ashley, both of whom surprised their unsuspecting opponents with their chess prowess.