Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
“I’m Thomas Daniel Murphy. The luck of the Irish, I like to say. My Dad taught me how to play chess when I was a kid in Burgaw, North Carolina. He insisted that I do better than he did in everything. That is a blessing because had he listened to me, I would have gone to a local high school full of gangs where I likely would have been shot. Instead, he insisted that I go to a magnet school far away from home. Turned out that I had the best time of my life. Go figure.
“In school, I studied mathematics and science, but being a rebel, I joined the Air Force and became a jet mechanic. Had I known what I know now, I would have stayed in the military. But I wanted to do things my way and left. See, unfortunately, I have a knack for fucking up. Most chess players, as much as we understand mathematics and all that good stuff, have a Ph.D. in fuckupitis when it comes to everyday life. The game forces you to become self-centered. You become less objective and more subjective. You want things to always be your way. If you can solve things intellectually, you ought to be able to solve everything that way. But life doesn’t work like that.
“After the military, I went to work for the water company in Philadelphia. It was the dream job, but unfortunately, it did not end well. I found other jobs, but nothing like that first one. At the time, I started leaning on chess more and eventually got addicted. I used to play in this park in Center City, Philadelphia. I remember one of my first games, a guy gave me a history of the French Revolution while he took $200 from me. True story. He was a professor of history and a top-rated player. See, I had a 895 rating and thought that I knew something. Turns out that I was just a novice and got schooled. At the end of the session, the master gave me my first chess book and told me liked my fighting spirit. I joined their chess group, ‘Made by Force,’ and we traveled the country playing tournaments and meeting everyone who was anyone in chess.
“I moved to D.C. for a woman in 1995, but like I said, I have a Ph.D. in fuckupitis. But I am happy to be here because I love the chess in this city. What separates Washington D.C. chess from any place in the country is the people who come here to sit down and play. Dupont Circle is the intellectual melting pot. We get diplomats, professors, doctors, lawyers, government workers, millionaires and the homeless. It doesn’t matter who you are as long as you can play. Washington is such a high pressure city, but when people are here in Dupont, D.C.’s chess Mecca, they put their hair down and relax. Not all of the games here are for money, but the majority are.
“This is one of the few things in life where you are in full control of your situation. If you lose, you can’t blame nobody but yourself. You feel me? Every person wants to control his or her own destiny. In life you can’t do that, but on the board it is different. Chess will never die. It is a game that you can never solve, no matter what progress they make with supercomputers.
“I used to want to be a grandmaster, but now I just want to pass on what I know to the chess community here. Chess allows our younger generation to get a grasp on problem solving skills, which is essential. We call America a first world country, but China and India are way past us in terms of education. We are falling behind and should use tools like chess to help kids become better students. The game teaches you to think ahead and about the consequences of your actions. We, as older Americans, need to respect and nurture our young. We try and do it here in Dupont with chess and I wish it would happen more often around the city.
“Of all the cities I have played chess in, I enjoy Washington the most. Maybe it is the ambiance of sitting in the circle and watching the congo players or the women going to work in the summer and wearing what they wear. One of the things that I take from the Bible, if nothing, is the joy of living. Life can be cruel, but it is fair. Our job is to find as much joy as we can while we are alive.”
See a short video about Thomas, filmed and edited by Heidi Inman, below.