The chess scene in Philadelphia is very word of mouth. My internet search for chess spots in Philly turned up one result – the Franklin Mercantile Chess Club. The club doesn’t have a website of its own, so I was reduced to playing detective and gathering my info piecemeal via Professor Daaim Shabazz’s Chess Drum, a Facebook page, and conversations with my good friend and fellow chess player Frank Johnson. I did manage to two addresses and four different addresses and four different telephone number for this historic Mercantile. Unfortunately, two of those numbers were out of service, one number (apparently the personal line of Jerome Works – club manager) was never answered, and the last number sent me to an official voicemail for the club. I left a polite message inquiring for information but no one ever answered. After having made two trips to the club in miserable January slosh and snow, I gave up on the Franklin Mercantile. Suffice it to say I wasn’t very impressed with America’s oldest chess club.

I made some calls and learned that the McDonalds on 52nd and Chestnut in West Philadelphia is the place to be as far as chess is concerned. Today is my third day visiting and I’m getting to know the fellas pretty well. There are usually between 8 and 12 people here, one or two boards, lots of 5 and 3 minute games, and plenty of trash talking.

I also learned that the McDonalds on 40th and Chestnut is the after-hours chess spot: between midnight and 4 am you can usually find a few players getting their midnight chess fix.