Chess men warned off playground

Last updated 11:49 05/01/2011

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Two men facing a trial for playing chess in a public park have had their case dismissed but police said the players risk getting in trouble again if they return to the tables for another game.

Police stopped Yacahudah Harrison, Christopher Peralta, and four other men who were playing at built-in stone chess tables in a Manhattan playground on October 20 and ordered them to appear in court for violating a park rule that prohibits adults from the playground "except in the company of children."

"I've been playing there for the last two years," Harrison said in court on Monday (local time). "We were welcomed there. Parents thought we were a positive influence. I think all around the world chess is considered good culture."

Judge Marc Whiten dismissed the charges in New York Criminal Court on a technicality - the officer issuing the summons mistakenly referred to an irrelevant section of the rules while writing up the paperwork.

New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said in a telephone interview that nothing was changed by the dismissal, and that adults hoping to use the chess tables without children in tow would still run the risk of being summoned to court.

He said police enforced the rules at the request of nearby residents who had made complaints about drinking in the park, although he said the six men in question were not cause for any such complaints.

Four of the men accepted a deal in which the charges are dropped after six months so long as they avoid arrest during that time.

Harrison, an itinerant preacher, and Peralta, who works in retail management, rejected such an arrangement, risking a trial in criminal court and a 90-day prison sentence or a US$1000 (NZ$1305) fine if found guilty.

Norman Siegel, a civil liberties attorney, took on the players' case after several users of the playground rallied behind the men, including parents who said their children had learned chess from Harrison and other regulars.

Siegel noted the case could have been avoided if park designers had thought about who would use the chess tables.

"Four-year-olds don't play chess," he said. "If anyone would have thought this through, they would have configured it so that the chess tables were outside the playground."

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- AP

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