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Original Issue


Melvyn and Robert Kaufman are high-rolling brothers in the high-rise world of Manhattan real estate. They abide by one rule: Whenever possible, buy or build property with a lucky seven in its address. Thus, their buildings now include 77 Water St., 127 John St. and 777 Third Ave. Melvyn, who's 58, and Robert, 55, have prospered since casting their lots with their mother's favorite number. They recently erected a 40-story skyscraper at 767 Third Ave., on the corner of East 48th St. Like a brick-and-glass grandmaster, 767 Third commands what may be the largest chessboard in the world.

Before the tower went up last year, the Kaufmans faced an aesthetic problem: What to do about an adjacent nine-story apartment house whose cement side would stare baldly down at the terrace around the base of 767 Third. The brothers decided to affix a four-story-high grid of metal beams to the house's offending face, and create a vertical chessboard on which they could re-create great chess matches of the past. Blue and beige playing pieces 2½ feet in diameter fit neatly into each square, and every week play advances another step through a historic game, e.g. Frank J. Marshall vs. Amos Burn in Paris in the late spring of 1900. A flag, flying to the board's left, heralds which color moves next, or whether a match has reached checkmate.

Every Wednesday at noon a hydraulic cherry picker hoists a building employee so he can move the appropriate piece, while a permanent plaque below the board refers pedestrians to the lobby of the building where the concierge can supply a bulletin with playing tips and information on the match in progress. Those so inspired can take up a game of their own, alfresco, at one of the four wooden tables subjacent to the big board.

Why chess? Better to ask why not. The Kaufmans have garnished the top of one of their properties with a full-scale model Sopwith Camel fixed on an AstroTurf landing strip, and the bare side of another with what's touted as the world's largest digital clock.