Hustling in chess is pretty much the same as any hustle whereby some form of money is involved and usually finds itself going in the direction of the hustler who has drawn someone in and beaten them in a game of chess, usually to their rules with a fair amount of distraction and, or cheating.
Chess hustling is playing chess for money and either using a concealed amount of expertise, or less honest tactics to win games against opponents. Chess hustlers will challenge for money and can often be highly skilled at the game
A chess hustler may not be as highly rated on the chessboard as expected. Generally, a chess hustler will gain victories by unobserved cheating, distraction techniques, or focusing ability on specific traps that less practiced players will fall for.
Some chess hustlers, however, are very skilled and whilst may not have an official rating, will be able to beat very good players. In Moscow, some unrated hustlers are known for beating GMs in blitz games.
There are various types of chess hustlers and hustling to be found on many different places and situations. Just be careful of coming across Magnus Carlsen in disguise, that would be the ultimate chess master hustle.
When a player uses distraction when hustling in across chess boards it is usually done in a way that will make their opponent not notice a move or pay attention to something else that is happening on the board which could include an illegal move or removal of a pawn.
This can be anything from dropping an object, unnecessary conversation, music playing nearby or a sidekick intervening in proceedings.
This particular type of distraction often leads to one of two things; either it leaves the other player too distracted by what has happened so they don’t take part in chess properly leaving them open to being beat at their own game or it makes them unsettled enough to start questioning themselves about how well they are doing in the match which ultimately distracts them until checkmate hits home.
Trash Talking Hustling
Trash-talking hustlers can be the most fun to watch, but not the most fun to play in the street chess community.
A trash-talking hustler in chess will talk to you to distract you from your game as much as possible. They will make statements, ask questions and just generally try to put you off your game, whilst also trying to mask moves they are making themselves by raising their voices.
Look out for trash talkers who will also engage with a stooge of their own who may be nearby. they may feign an argument to distracts you when even more serious tactics like trying to remove your pieces without you noticing can occur.
If possible, try to identify and avoid trash talkers if drawn into money games of speed chess.
Perceived Weakness Hustling
Perceived weakness hustling in chess is when you play a game, or two against opponents on the chess tables and attempt to come across as not a very good player, losing to a silly mistake or winning a game because of a mistake of an opponent.
Here is a scenario of a perceived weakness scenario.
Using a busy chess area in a major park, the chess hustler will have two stooges against whom he will play.
In the first game, both players will play a good game with few mistakes, but the hustler will play at a much slower pace than the stooge opponent who will eventually win on time.
The reason for this game is to catch the attention of a good chess player who is observing the various tables and looking for a game. He will note that the hustler played slowly, and may identify that as an opportunity.
Step forward hustlers opponent number two. On this occasion, the stooge will be a young player and both will play at the same pace.
The young player will have been given an opportunity to win the game at least once which he will miss, and then make a game-losing blunder, all of which will be witnessed by potential hustle victims who will now be convinced the hustler is not a good player.
The way these games have played out, shows the hustler losing the first game because he couldn’t manage time, and the second through luck and the inability of his opponent to spot the winning move.
Now it is time for the hustler to accept another challenge, and play his best chess to defeat the opponent and take the money
How good are chess Hustlers?
Some outdoor chess hustlers are actually very good players, and it is often the case that they will be able to beat IMs and GMs in blitz games, such are their blitz chess ratings and skills.
More often than not though, chess hustlers are just normal players, quite often just above average, who can take on and beat, thanks largely to the hustling tactics, players rated maybe a couple of hundred points better than them.
They often specialize in a series of moves they have perfected to confuse and trap even far better players.
In the big parks in New York, most hustlers would probably come in at the 1500-1700 range. Pretty good players all in all.
The $400 a day chess hustler – Chess for Money
Chess hustling is not just about cheating your way to winning money playing chess.
There is a player in Union Square Park in New York targeting the tourist traffic who will play you a game of chess for $3, or make a wager on the game in addition to the base price.
Another option he offers is to teach you chess in an inexpensive manner as a chess coach.
He claims to be able to make up to $400 a day, legitimately offering games of chess and coaching, and gave up his day job as a park cleaner to do so
Where to Find Chess Hustlers & Chess Culture
New York Parks are famous for their sit-and-play tables and hustlers can be found in any of them.
In fact, Chess hustlers are likely to be found anywhere there is a sit-and-play park chess scene. There used to be one in San Francisco but the city shut that down which was unfortunate.
Many cities across the world will have areas, Vancouver in Canada, small parks in London, Barcelona, Madrid, Moscow of course.
You can find out more by looking for local chess forums on the internet, and some in-depth travel guides will let you know if there is an ongoing street chess scene in a city you plan to travel to.
When Chess Hustlers Become Chess Coaches
Some chess hustlers do so for nefarious reasons and the hustling plays a smaller part of a more criminal lifestyle that eventually catches up with them and they end up in jail.
There is a program currently underway to take these former chess hustlers and try to make good and rehabilitate them using their chess skills by training them in business and finance, so they can attempt to make an honest living, using their skills and something they could potentially enjoy legitimately on the outside.
Coupled with their chess skills they could begin a legitimate chess coaching service or center.
There are a dozen formerly convicted males that congregate in Washington Square Park in Manhattan and play chess games. They’ve gotten famous for being great chess players who will accept any challenger’s wager for a small fee.
It is believed that by offering these men training in business and financial skills, they will be able to surmount a job market that stigmatizes former convicts and empower them to earn a living above the New York City poverty line.