South Side Artist Brings Street Chess to Downtown Chicago

ByZach Ben-Amots Localish logo
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
South Side Artist Brings Street Chess to Downtown Chicago
Strangers connect through street chess in downtown Chicago.

One South Side artist has spent the past 20 years bringing strangers together through outdoor chess in downtown Chicago.

With a small audience watching, Cecil Locke reached across the chess table to shake his opponent's hand. Check mate. And his opponent didn't even realize it.

Locke grinned mildly, but didn't rub it in.

"I'm just an average chess player, maybe 1700, 1800 ranking," Locke said. "But I'm making it possible with my talents to let people play each other."

Locke is the artist behind Touch & Go Chess Party, made up of 10 chess sets and two checkers sets.

Every day but Monday - from around noon to midnight - Locke sets up his colorful tables, speakers, and art just outside of the Art Institute of Chicago. For three dollars, you can play on the tables all day.

"Chess is an addictive game. So you've got folks who will come here, play 30, 40, 50, 60 games, easily," Locke said.

Fully set-up, the table is more than 20 feet long. Fully decorated with flags, signs, banners, and radio speakers, it's more than 10 feet tall.

Folded up, though, it's only 52 inches.

Locke has never weighed the table, but estimates that it weighs nearly 200 pounds. That doesn't stop him from making the hour-long trek downtown from the South Side six days a week.

"I only get maybe five, six hours sleep because I've got to break it down- takes two hours and an hour to travel home," Locke said.

The tables are set up just under a large tree and a streetlight, giving players shade in the daytime and visibility at night. The table is 21 years old, but Clark has been in his spot by the art institute since 2007.

Between the cultural institutions and the parks on either side, a cool marble bench and nearby public bathroom, Clarke has found the perfect spot.

"Come on down to the Art Institute. I guess they appreciate what I'm doing, because they ain't gotten rid of me," Locke said, laughing. "The city likes what I'm doing. It brings people together. It's a social gathering spot."