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Meet Old Street's Resident Chess Player

Picture of Lizzie Thomson
Updated: 4 December 2017

Old Street is home to many colourful characters, including 67-year-old Tony Richards, a loveable homeless man with a unique talent for chess. Tony has been homeless for 28 years and loves nothing better than tempting passersby with a game on his chessboard and a friendly chat. It’s not often you get to play a game of chess on the roadside and Tony makes it his aim to put a smile on strangers’ faces.

Tony developed a skill for chess back when he worked on a fishing trawler, operating in minus 30-degree weather. Due to the arctic conditions outside, he played with his crew every day and developed an incredible knack for the game. Back then, Tony confesses, he would often play against his boat’s Captain and lose. One day, he finally beat him at a game; he’s improved more and more each day since then.

This unique chess player has been homeless for nearly two decades. Twenty-eight years ago, Tony’s uncle was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, and he gave up his flat to care for him during his final months. Shortly after his uncle passed away, Tony was unable to secure social housing and ended up living on the streets.  

Tony loves Old Street’s kind community spirit and says the locals look after him extremely well. Many cafés offer him free coffee and sandwiches, and shops provide him with showering facilities. Old Street locals are familiar with Tony’s talent for the game; his friendly personality and cheeky laugh have resulted in him becoming a hit with East London folk.

“I’ve never met a bad person in Old Street. Mind you … I am 6-foot-3. I’m a big lad,” Tony chuckles.

Tony says his passion for chess stems from the strategy involved in the game, the need to anticipate your opponent’s moves as well as your own moves. He loves how chess is a game of the mind and enjoys being challenged by strangers every day on the street.

If you’re in the Shoreditch area and fancy stretching your mind with a tactical game, look out for Tony, the most charismatic chess player in the whole of East London.