Police Take Chess Move Back, Tear Up Tickets
It was checkmate Friday in the match between chess players and police in the Mid-Wilshire area.
Los Angeles Police Department vice officers who raided a nightly chess tournament that draws dozens of players to Dad’s Donuts were ordered to retrieve and tear up gambling citations issued earlier this week in an undercover operation.
Three men were cited for gambling Tuesday night after officers infiltrated a match and found $1.50 on the table next to rows of white and black knights and queens.
Angry chess enthusiasts were quick to complain that they were being made pawns by officers. They said chess is a game of skill, not chance.
Anyway, they added, doughnut stands such as Dad’s, at the corner of 6th Street and Normandie Avenue, are more of a hangout for police than for gamblers.
“They have better things to do than bust chess players,” said Carl Williams, a Los Angeles appliance salesman who regularly plays at Dad’s. “They should be down at MacArthur Park making real arrests.”
Police officials apparently agreed.
The vice squad’s gambit was overruled Thursday by Capt. Keith Bushey, commander of Wilshire-area police. He said he doubts that officers who went to the doughnut shop to investigate a complaint “even know how to play” chess.
“We’re not going to clog the system with a little thing like this,” Bushey said, adding that officers would issue informal warnings in such cases in the future.
Bushey’s move was similar to action taken three months ago when five bowlers were nabbed by vice officers for betting on a league game in Granada Hills. Those citations also were rescinded and the bowlers received an informal warning.
However, chess players said there was nothing informal about the way three plainclothes detectives staged the raid after a fourth tried unsuccessfully to join a game.
“The officer asked if he could play and they said ‘no, we’re in the middle of a match,’ ” said raid witness Isam Arar, a taxi driver from Los Angeles.
Witness Felipe Perez said the detective “pulled out his badge and said, ‘You’re under arrest’ ” and the other undercover officers swooped in.
“It disappointed me. Right outside around here they have real murders and purse snatchings. Why bother people here who are developing their minds, not doing crimes?” asked Perez, a Wilshire-district nutritionist.
The two players were cited for misdemeanor gambling. Doughnut shop night manager Sovan Kuoy received a citation for allowing the alleged gaming to occur.
Chess players were welcomed Thursday night back to the 32-seat shop after being temporarily banned on Wednesday. The two alleged gamblers, unnamed by police but identified as “Joe” and “Rambo” by other chess players, remained absent, however.
Kuoy posted a hastily hand-written “No Gambling” sign on the shop window as players Blaine Steele, a Wilshire-area junior high school teacher, and Ben Gazad, a Los Angeles auditor, settled in for the night’s first match.
Kuoy said he was happy about the chess players’ return. He said their presence scares real criminals--such as nighttime robbers--away from his doughnut counter.
Steele and Gazad were careful not to wager so much as a cruller over who would be rooked next.