Heath Ledger's Passion for Chess

01/26/2008 at 12:00 PM EST

Heath Ledger's Passion for Chess
Heath Ledger
Jeff Vespa/WireImage
No stranger to the New York Washington Square Park chess world, Heath Ledger found joy by screaming the occasional 'checkmate!' But an observer who watched the actor's matches said Ledger played for the enjoyment, even though he lost some of his chessboard battles.

"I saw him a few times, mostly last summer. He seemed like a nice guy," says Earl Biggs, 63, who was a spectator at Ledger's early-morning games. "He'd usually lose. We played for a couple of dollars and he'd lose a few dollars. He just had fun, he loved it."

Ledger, who died on Tuesday, played chess since he was a youngster, telling MTV.com, "I've played since I was a kid. I play at least one game a day."

The actor, 28, was also a trash-talker, playfully getting into verbal duels with his rivals.

"We'd talk trash talk at the chess table ... Oh, you don't want to know what we'd say!" Biggs remembers. "We'd say things to him like, 'How can you make that move! How can you make a move like that!!!' And he'd just laugh."

Biggs says park visitors didn't notice the Oscar-nominated Brokeback Mountain star.

"Heath would just come around and jump into a game. People walking by didn't bother him," Biggs says. "We didn't talk about anything personal except, "Hey, you owe me five dollars!"

There was, however, one opponent Ledger could beat: his father. In one of several heartfelt messages printed in the West Australian on Friday, Ledger's father, Kim, remembers the his chess-loving son.

The elder Ledger wrote: "My beautiful boy, so loving, so talented, so independent, so caring, so young ... no more chess games mate ... this is it, couldn't beat you anyway!"

Reporting by NATASHA STOYNOFF

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