Across from the Apollo Theater on 125th Street, a group of chess players regularly hosts a sidewalk match.
Vincent Holland, 49, is a substance abuse counselor, spending one of his two days off playing chess.
Holland learned the game in the Tombs in lower Manhattan, where inmates are held before they go to court. He was 28; the inmate who taught him was much older. After six weeks of playing chess, the game’s reflective nature and his positive interaction with an older man helped Holland focus. He soon got out of jail, now works full-time and hopes to replicate his chess rehabilitation process for young people he meets here on 125th Street.
“We get a lot of youth that are in trouble,” says Holland. “And they’ll stop and check the game out, and we get to say a lot of good things to them.”
Tehuti, 44, frequents the chess table too, and often lectures young men passing by. He, too, learned to play chess in prison, and says it helped him to acquire a cool head and to process his feelings in a healthy way.
“Playing chess teaches you patience, and you have to be a thinker,” Tehuti says. “Chess is about strategizing and thinking ahead. If you try to play with emotion, nine times out of 10 you’ll keep losing the game. You have to use the equation of I over E, you have to put your intelligence over your emotions. You have to calm yourself down and look at that board.
“And don’t be so close up on the board, either. Back up and be able to see the board, so you can see all the angles. Because if you look at the game esoterically or allegorically, chess is like the moves we make in life.”