Chess Anecdotes

by Bill Wall


In 1857, the $300 first place money for the first American Chess Congress played in New York was refused by Paul Morphy, the winner.  Instead, he accepted a silver pitcher, four goblets, and a silver tray.  Morphy defeated Charles Stanley in a match, giving odds of pawn and move.  Morphy gave the $100 prize money to Stanley's wife and children.  As a mark of gratitude, she named her next daughter Pauline.

In 1862, chess player Armand Edward Blackmar (1826-1888), of the Blackmar Gambit and Blackmar-Diemer fame,  was arrested by Union General Ben Butler (1818-1893) and imprisoned by Union soldiers in New Orleans for publishing “seditious” (Confederate) music, such as the Bonnie Blue Flag (Band of Brothers) and the Dixie War Song.

In 1864, George Mackenzie (1837-1891), a former Captain in the Union army, was arrested  and imprisoned for desertion from the Union army.  He was released in May, 1865, and moved to New York and started playing chess.  By 1867, he was U.S. chess champion.

Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) was one of the strongest players of his time and he was also a heavy drinker. In the 19th century, players often drank even during the course of a tournament or match game. In one of Blackburne’s many simuls, perhaps in Manchester, he grabbed his opponent's drink when he wasn't looking, and quickly downed it. After the game, which Blackburne won, he commented "My opponent left a glass of whisky en prise, and I took it en passant."  Blackburne once claimed that drinking whisky cleared his brain and improved his chess play.

Wilhelm Steinitz and Henry Blackburne would sometimes get in a scuffle.  Steinitz wrote of Blackburne “…he struck with his full fist into my eye, which he blackened and might have knocked out.  And though he is a powerful man of very nearly twice my size, who might have killed me with a few such strokes, I am proud to say that I had the courage of attempting to spit into his face, and only wish I had succeeded.” 

In 1880, going into the last round of the 5th American Chess Congress in New York, the leading scores were: James Grundy 12.5, Preston Ware 12.5, Charles Moehle 12.5 and George Henry Mackenzie 12.5.  So, the distribution of $1,000 prize money and a gold medal depended on the final games.   Mackenzie won his game and scored 13.5.  Then Moehle drew and scored 13 points.  But Grundy's game with Ware lingered on.   At one time it appeared that Ware had a certain win and the game was adjourned. Unaccountably to the onlookers, when the players resumed in the evening, Ware played what are described as 'some apparently purposeless moves', and Grundy scored a lucky point after 64 moves to tie Captain Mackenzie for first and second prizes.  A two-game play off was arranged between Mackenzie and Grundy.   But before it began, Ware made a written complaint to the congress committee. Ware wrote, "As I was walking down the Bowery with Mr Grundy, on Sunday 25 January, he remarked that he was poor and really needed the second prize."  Ware alleged that Grundy had offered him $20 to play for a draw. He admitted that he had fallen in with the plan and that, even with a won game, he merely –in his own words- “moved back and forward as agreed.  Grundy was making desperate efforts to win, and finally did so, perpetrating an infamous fraud on me.”  The committee couldn't do anything about the unsupported allegations, and conceded to Grundy the benefit of a technical doubt. Grundy lost the play-off 2-0 and took the $300 second prize.

In July 1887, Frederick Viewig, manager of the Eden Musee in New York, was arrested for having violated the Sunday law by exhibiting wax figures, permitting music to be played, and also by allowing Ajeeb, the chess automaton, to play a game of chess.  He responded, “I consider it absurd to contend that a playing a game of chess or looking at was figures was a violation of the Sunday law.”  Mr Viewig had to pay $100 for bail.

In 1894, world champion Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941) had gastric fever and a broken blood vessel while in England and almost died. His medical doctor brother, Dr. Berthold Lasker (1860-1928), traveled from Berlin to England and saved his life.

Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) died in the Manhattan State Hospital (Ward Island) and is buried in Brooklyn’s Evergreen Cemetery, Bethel Slope Section, Lot 5896.  His birth date on his grave is wrong.  He was born on May 17, 1836.  His tombstone says that he was born on May 14, 1837.  The inscriptions on his tombstone are written in German, but his first name on the tombstone reads William instead of Wilhelm.  The top of his tombstone is a chessboard.

In 1900, Frank Marshall (1877-1944) sat down to play a game against the British player Amos Burn (1848-1925) at the 1900 Paris International.  Burn was a smoker and loved to smoke his pipe while he studied the chess board.  After two moves, Burn began hunting through his pockets for his pipe and tobacco.  By move 4, Burn had his pipe out and was looking for a pipe cleaner.  By move 8, he was filling up his pipe with tobacco.  Marshall made a few fast moves, and by move 12, Burn was looking for his matches.  On move 14, he struck his first match, but was concentrating on the position.  The match burned down and burned Burn’s fingers and went out.  On move 15, Burn found another match and lit it.  On move 16, he finally lit his pipe, but it was too late.  Burn was checkmated on move 18 and his pipe went out.  He never did get to smoke his pipe.

In 1901 David Janowski (1868-1927) won an international tournament at Monte Carlo and lost all his first place money in the casino the same evening the tournament ended. The casino management had to buy his ticket home. In another event he handed his money to a friend and made him promise not to return it until after the chess tournament. However, the lure of gambling proved too strong and he begged for the return of his money. His friend refused. Janowski was so infuriated that he sued his friend.

In Vienna 1903, Jaques Mieses had been going strong in The Vienna Gambit tournament.  In the 13th round he was to play Isidor Gunsberg (1854-1930).  Not that Gunsberg wasn't a fine player, but the wide-open games resulting from gambits were not his forte, and in addition he seemed to be completely out of form. Out of the previous twelve games, Gunsberg had lost 10 and drew 2, and was in last place. Mieses had already chalked up the point mentally. But, as so often happens, the tail-ender of the tournament had one good game in him. He let loose with everything he had, and Mieses had to resign after 50 moves.  Mieses commented bitterly, "It is bad enough to get run over, but to get run over by a corpse is horrible!"  This was Gunsberg’s only win.  He lost 15 and drew 2 in the tournament.

In 1907, Akiba Rubinstein (1880-1961) was playing in a chess tournament in Carlsbad and had a one point lead with one game to go he was playing against Heinrich Wolf (1875-1942).   Rubinstein just needed a draw to win the tournament. After 22 moves into the game, Wolf offered Rubinstein the draw. Rubinstein declined and played on till he had a superior position (he could have forced mate) then offered Wolf a draw on move 31, which Wolf gladly accepted. After the game Rubinstein was asked why he declined Wolf's draw offer and then played on till he was winning then offered a draw to Wolf. Rubinstein replied, “With Wolf I draw when I want to, not when he wants to!”  Sixteen years later, at Carlsbad 1923, Wolf again offered a draw in his game with Rubinstein.  Again, Rubinstein turned down the draw, but this time Rubinstein made a mistake and resigned four moves later after he made a blunder after the draw offer.

In 1913, at a chess tournament in Havana, Charles Jaffe (1879-1941) drew his game with Frank Marshall (1877-1944) in the first round, and later, lost his next game to Marshall, blundering away his queen for a rook and then promptly resigned.  Jose Capablanca (1888-1942), who lost to Marshall and Jaffe, charged that Jaffe intentionally lost his game to Marshall so that Marshall would win the tournament ahead of Capablanca.  It was alleged that Capablanca influenced tournament organizers in the USA and Cuba so that Jaffe would be unable to be invited or play in major tournaments after this, especially tournaments in which Capablanca was playing.  Jaffe never played again in a tournament where Capablanca also participated.  In 1916, Jaffe was involved in a court battle involving non-inclusion for publication of some of his chess analysis.  Jaffe brought suit to recover $750 for work alleged to have been done in analyzing the Rice Gambit that was never published for a book called “Twenty Years of the Rice Gambit.”   Jaffe lost the case, since the publisher never asked Jaffe to do any analytical work for him.

In 1915, Ajeeb, a chess automaton, was set up at Coney Island.  One player lost to it and was so angry he took out a gun and shot at the automaton.  It killed its hidden operator, which was covered up.  In another incident with Ajeeb, a Westerner emptied his six-shooter into the automaton, hitting the operator in the shoulder. One lady who lost to the Ajeeb automaton was so enraged that they stuck a hatpin into the automaton, stabbing its operator in the mouth.

In 1916, during World War I, Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934) and Jacques Mieses played a chess match in Berlin in which the prize was ½ pound of butter.  Tarrasch won the match and the butter with 7 wins, 2 losses, and 4 draws.

In 1918 Ossip Bernstein (1882-1962) was arrested in Odessa by the Cheka and ordered shot by a firing squad just because he was a legal advisor to bankers. As the firing squad lined up, a superior officer asked to see the list of prisoners’ names. Discovering the name of Ossip Bernstein, he asked whether he was the famous master. Not satisfied with Bernstein’s affirmative reply, he made him play a game with him. If Bernstein lost or drew, he would be shot. Bernstein won in short order and was released. He escaped on a British ship and settled in Paris. Bernstein’s son was President Eisenhower’s official interpreter because he spoke almost every European language.


In 1920, the first All-Russian Chess Olympiad was held in Moscow.  The competitors stopped halfway through the event, went on strike, and refused to play any more chess unless they were given more rations and prize money.  Their demands were finally met.


In Vienna 1922, Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) was playing Ernst Gruenfeld (1893-1962) where Gruenfeld played the Gruenfeld Defense for the first time.  Alekhine tried to refute the opening and failed.  Gruenfeld won the game in 54 moves after sealing the strongest move during the adjournment.  Alekhine, wearing his hat and overcoat, went to his table to see what the sealed move was.  When he saw that Gruenfeld had sealed 54…Qf3, the strongest move, he resigned by picking up his king and throwing it across the tournament room.

In 1925, at Baden-Baden, Carlos Torre (1904-1978) was playing Richard Reti (1889-1929).  On Black’s 22nd move, Reti tried to castle long (O-O-O) when Torre was walking around the tournament hall.  When Torre returned, he pointed out that castling long was illegal.  It looked legal.  However, during the earlier part of the game, Reti moved his queen rook off its original square from a8 to b8 (8th move), then moved it back a few moves later (13th move).  Reti had forgotten he had moved his rook.   The rules stated that Black had to move the first piece that he touched.  Reti could not remember whether he touched the rook or the king first, so it was ruled that he had to make a king move.  The game ended in a draw after 31 moves.  Years later, Korchnoi also made the same mistake and tried to castle after moving his rook from its original square and back to the original square.  GM Yuri Averbakh was also unclear of the rules for castling in one of his tournament games.

In 1927, Efim Bogoljubov (1889-1952) was officially excommunicated from the USSR.  Because he “exhibited the typically bourgeois vice of putting his pocket book above has principles,” Bogoljubov, who was chess champion of the Soviet Union, was excommunicated by the chess section of the All-Union Soviet of Physical Culture.  The chess section declared he was no longer chess champion.  He was also no longer a member of the Soviet chess organization.  He was expelled when he expressed the desire to give up his Soviet citizenship in order to be able to attend a tournament in Merano, Italy.  He was unable to go because the Italian authorities refused to recognize his Soviet passport.  Bogoljubov wrote to the Soviet chess organization declaring that in view of the difficulties of moving about Europe with a Soviet passport, he was thinking of assuming the citizenship of another country.

In 1927, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1978) married his first wife, Lydie, and went on their honeymoon.  One night, she glued all of his chess pieces to the chess board because he spent his honeymoon week studying chess.  They were divorced 3 months later.

In the late 1920s, Jose  Capablanca (1888-1942), world chess champion from 1921 to 1927, spent his spare time hanging out in a specific cafe in Paris. Friends, acquaintances, and others would often drop by, participating in games and libations with the former world champion. One day, while Capablanca was having coffee and reading a newspaper, a stranger stopped at his table, motioned at the chess set and indicated he would like to play if Capablanca was interested. Capablanca folded the newspaper away, reached for the board and proceeded to take his own queen off the board and play a queen down. The opponent (who apparently had no idea who Capablanca was) reacted with slight anger. "Hey! You don't know me! I might beat you!" he said.   Capablanca, smiling gently, said quietly, "Sir, if you could beat me, I would know you."


In the late 1920s, Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) visited Israel and went to a local chess club anonymously.  He naturally crushed everyone else, and eventually one of the old kibitzers there told him: "You're a pretty good player, your style reminds me of Nimzowitsch..."

In 1928, before the start of the 2nd official Chess Olympiad at The Hague, FIDE decided that only amateurs could take part.  The British and Yugoslavia suspected that the USA team included chess professionals, so they withdrew in protest.  Just before the start of the Olympiad, FIDE canceled the ban on professionals, but it was too late for most of the 17 teams to send their best players.  Isaac Kashdan won the gold medal with the score of 13 out of 15.

In 1931, Geza Maroczy (1870-1951) challenged Aron Nimzowitch (1886-1935) to a pistol duel at dawn during a chess tournament in Bled.  Earlier, the two got in an argument and when Maroczy challenged Nimzowitch to a duel, Nimzowitsch rightly refused.  Alekhine won the event.  Nimzowitsch took 3rd place.  Maroczy took llth place.  (source: Chess Life, March 1988, p. 11)

In the early 1930s, an amateur approached Frank Marshall, who was the US champ at the time, and asked for help in a postal chess game. Marshall obliged and played a few opening moves.  A few days later, another amateur dropped in at the Marshall Chess Club to also seek help in a postal game from Marshall.  Marshall realized the game of the second player was with the opponent who had come in a few days earlier. Marshall helped the second player and then ended up playing himself for several months as the two amateurs marveled at how their opponent was able to play on for so long against the great Frank Marshall!

In the 1930s, the Mexican government offered all foreign chess masters officer appointments as chess instructors in the Mexican Army. Borislav Kostich was made a Colonel. Reuben Fine and Isaac Kashdan were made Lieutenants. Alexander Alekhine and Jose Capablanca were also chess instructors in Mexico, but did not accept their rank. This status and honorary title facilitated their travels to chess tournaments throughout Mexico.

In the 1930s, former world champion Max Euwe (1901-1981) was in the train analyzing chess on his pocket set.  A stranger approached him and asked if they could play a couple of games. Euwe agreed and they played a couple of games which he of course all won. His opponent was quite baffled by this and exclaimed: "I have never lost so many games in a row before. At the club they even call me 'Little Euwe'."

In 1931-1932, Dutch Master Daniel Noteboom (1910-1932) attended the Hastings Chess Congress, held in December-January.  The weather was so cold that he caught pneumonia at Hastings and then died on January 12, 1932.  He was only 21.

In 1933 Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, wanted an “All-German Chess League.” He barred all Jewish chessmaster from official tournaments of the German Chess League. Goebbels sought out players who were of strong National Socialist persuasion.  Otto Zander, President of the new league, said all Jews would be excluded unless they proved themselves at the front line of a war.


At a New York chess tournament during the Depression, the first prize was a keg of schmaltz herring.

In 1935 at Margate, a small boy handed up his autograph to Sir George Thomas (1881-1972), who promptly signed it.  Then the boy handed the book to Heinrich Fraenkel (1897-1996), who was reporting on the tournament, and when he told the boy that surely there could be no point in getting his autograph, the boy disagreed. “Oh yes, sir,” the boy said, “I must have your autograph too.” Fraenkel responded, “But why on earth? It’s no good in your collection.”  “Oh yes, sir”, said the boy, his face beaming, “I saw you talk to Capablanca!”’

In 1936, at a chess tournament in England, Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995) was walking with Max Euwe and remarked, “We don't have such dogs in the Soviet Union,” upon seeing a rare breed.  Euwe responded, “No, I suppose your people have eaten them all.”  This caused a rift with Botvinnik that lasted for years, but was eventually healed.

In 1937, Polish chess master Achilles Frydman (1905-1940s) had just left a mental asylum and was warned not to play chess. However, he played in the 1937 Polish chess championship and suffered a nervous breakdown. He could not finish the tournament after 15 rounds of a 21 round event. Reuben Fine, in his book, The Psychology of the Chess Player, stated that Frydman had run through the hotel without any clothes, shouting “Fire!” George Koltanowski, in one of his columns, wrote that Frydman insisted in walking around in the lobby naked. A Polish newspaper column reported that A. Frydman had caused many difficulties for the tournament management and for the players. Gideon Stahlberg had the room next to Frydman and could not sleep because Frydman would yell “check” and “checkmate” all night long. Najdorf blamed two losses on Frydman’s interruptions (Frydman would run to the phone after every move and make a long distance phone call). In 1938, during a tournament in Lodz, Achilles Frydman showed up naked to play Tartakower. Frydman was later put in a mental asylum in Kocborowo. In 1940, he was arrested by the Nazis in Warsaw and died in a concentration camp.

In 1938 at Margate, Alexander Alekhine was playing Eero Book (1910-1990).  During the game, Alekhine had sacrificed his rook and got up and started to walk around a bit.  Seeing Miguel Najdorf (1910-1997),  Alekhine said to him "I  have sacrificed a rook; what do you think?" When Najdorf looked at the position, he didn’t understand the move and couldn't see a thing in the position, but still he replied that it was very interesting.  After Alekhine won the game spectacularly, Najdorf, in awe of the game later asked Alekhine "Doctor, to tell you the truth when you made the sacrifice I did not see anything"  Alekhine replied "Neither did I."  Shocked by the reply,  Najdorf asked him "then why did you sacrifice?" to which Alekhine's answer was " I have a big nose"!  (He was referring to himself as Pinocchio and was lying)

In 1939, US master Weaver Adams (1901-1963) wrote a book called White to Play and Win.  After publication of the book, he played in the US Open chess tournament in Dallas in 1940.  He did not win a single game with White, and won all four of his games as Black!  Adams then played a match with IA Horowitz.  Adams had White every game and Horowitz had Black every game.  Adams lost the match.  Weaver Adams’s mother’s side was been traced back to the founding fathers of America.  Arnold Denker related of Weaver Adams that he was "a master who inherited a chicken farm and who was – so to speak – a White man clear through. He wrote a book, White to Play and Win, lived in a White house on White Street, chewed antacid pills that left the inside of his mouth perpetually White, and raised only white chickens that laid white eggs.”  Harry Golombek wrote in 1977 that Adams, whom he described as "author of White to Play and Win and a sodium bicarbonate addict", was on Golombek's "reserves" list for "the ten most interesting personages" from the past 100 years.

In September 1939, the British chess team at the Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires had just qualified for the finals.  However, World War II broke out and the entire team was recalled back to England on the next ship out.  During one watchkeeping at night, Stuart Milner-Barry (1906-1995) sent out an alarm to the rest of the ship when he thought he had spotted a U-boat.  It turned out to be a porpoise following the ship.  Most of the British chess masters from the Olympiad went to work as code breakers.

In 1942, Arnold Denker (1914-2005) beat Samuel Reshevsky (1911-1992) on time in the US chess championship.  While spectators watch, the tournament director, Walter Stephens (1883-1948), mistakenly declared that Denker’s time had expired.  Stephens was looking at the clock backwards and refused to change his decision, which ultimately gave Reshevsky the title.

In 1943, the FBI prevented Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) from playing postal chess, thinking that the chess notation were secret codes.  He and his wife, Lauren Bacall, appeared on the cover of Chess Review in 1945, playing chess with Charles Boyer.  George Koltanowski (1903-2000) was also barred from playing postal chess or give chess lessons to students overseas or in South America.  Wartime mail regulations prevented mailing abroad any abbreviations, nicknames, and codes.

During World War II, it was reported that grandmaster Paul Keres (1916-1975) of Estonia was bombed by the Germans and had to have his leg amputated.  Keres saved the lives of several radio operators after warning them that the NKVD (the Russian People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) was looking for them.

After World War II, Cold War spies in Germany sent postcards back to MI5 in England containing coded messages written in cryptic text base around a series of postal chess games.  Gordon Thomas, historian for MI5 and MI6, said that chess moves were a common way of communicating during the Cold War.  He also said the Russians in particular favored using chess as a method of communicating.  It was their great national pastime and information would often be disguised as chess moves.

In 1948 at Saltsjobaden, David Bronstein (1924-2006) survived an assassination attack during the Interzonal tournament.  On the last day Bronstein was playing Savielly Tartakover.  Suddenly, a Lithuanian made a lunge at Bronstein to kill him. Several spectators grabbed him. He wanted to murder all Russians because he claimed the Russians were responsible for sending his sister to Siberia and murdering her. Bronstein won the game and the Interzonal with a 13.5-5.5 score


In 1948, Kit Crittenden won the North Carolina State Chess Championship at the age of 13, becoming the nation’s youngest state champion.  The year before, he finished in last place in the NC championship.  He won the NC championship 5 times.


In 1949, when Zsa Zsa Gabor (born in 1917) married the actor George Sanders (1906-1972), her third husband, they played chess “incessantly” on their honeymoon. George wrote in his autobiography that the two played chess nearly every night on their honeymoon.


In 1949, in a match between Reuben Fine and Miguel Najdorf, one of the games was adjourned after 45 moves.  At the adjournment, there was an ending with a knight and three pawns for Najdorf and a knight and two pawns for Fine, all pieces in the same side, but with Najdorf’s pawns connected, and Fine’s pawns isolated.  Fine, who had just written his famous Basic Chess Endings, said to Najdorf, “We are wasting our time. Look at my book, and you’ll see this is a theoretical draw.”  Najdorf replied, “I think I’m a little better, and would like to play on a bit more.”  Fine then said, “I bet you a thousand dollars that this is a draw.”  Najdorf replied, “That is too much money for me! I’ll bet you two hundred.”  Fine responded, “Look, I don’t want to steal your money. Let’s follow without bets if that makes you happy.”  It turned out that Najdorf was right and he won the game.  Fine had to change the conclusion from his own endgame book.  Fine said it only took 3 months to write Basic Chess Endings.


In 1952, there was an international tournament in Havana.  During the event, there was a revolution in Cuba.  The President who sponsored the tournament was deposed.  The Mexican entrants were recalled by their government.  The Cuban chess champion, Juan Quesada, died of a heart attack during the event.  His funeral was attended by all the masters participating in the tournament.


In the 1950s, a Louisiana law barred blacks from chess playing rooms in New Orleans.  This prevented blacks from playing in the U.S. Open chess tournament in 1954, which was held in New Orleans.  Several Blacks tried to enter the event, but were refused.


In 1954, the Argentine Chess Federation called off the national chess tournament after a chess player punched a tournament director.


Moonraker, the third James Bond novel by Ian Fleming (1908-1964), written in 1954, contains references to Paul Morphy.  “Morphy, the great chess player, had a terrible habit. He would never raise his eyes from the game until he knew his opponent could not escape defeat. Then he would slowly lift his great head and gaze curiously at the man across the board. His opponent would feel the gaze and would slowly, humbly raise his eyes to meet Morphy's. At that moment he would know that it was no good continuing the game. The eyes of Morphy said so. There was nothing left but surrender. Now, like Morphy, Bond lifted his head and looked straight into Drax's eyes. Then he slowly drew out the queen of diamonds and placed it on the table. Without waiting for Meyer to play he followed it, deliberately, with the 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and the two winning clubs.”  It was a battle over a game of bridge.  Moonracker was Britain’s first nuclear missile project.   In 1957, Fleming wrote From Russia, With Love with several references to chess.


In 1955, Fridrik Olafsson (born in 1935) of Iceland arrived late to participate in the annual Christmas Hastings tournament in England. No rooms could be found for him, so he spent his first night in a jail cell at the Hastings police station as a guest to the local police. Olafsson went on to tie for 1st place with Vicktor Korchnoi in this event. Olafsson became Iceland’s first chess grandmaster in 1958.


The Rosenwald Trophy for the U.S. chess championship in the 1950s was engraved incorrectly.  The engraving says Lavore Praetium Honoris (washing is the price of honor) instead of Labore Praetium Honoris (labor is the price of honor).  Some chess players thought the prize might be a bar of soap.


In 1955, an African-American chess player, William A. Scott, was refused to be allowed to play in the Georgia Open chess championship.


In 1956, Isaac Kashdan (1905-1985) appeared on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life.  The episode aired February 9, 1956. Groucho called him “Mr. Ash Kan” throughout the show. Kashdan’s partner was Helen Schwartz, the mother of Tony Curtis.  Kashdan told Groucho that it was pretty hard to cheat in chess. Groucho responded, “If I can’t cheat, forget it. The only fun I have in any game is cheating.” They failed to win any money and did not say the secret word.


In the late 1950s, Bobby Fischer was playing blitz in a Moscow chess club during his visit, and absolutely beating everyone in sight until Petrosian, who was then in his prime, came along and gave Bobby his first losses. At the time young Bobby had the habit of adjusting his opponent’s pieces during the game if they weren't in the middle of the square. Also, while his opponent was pondering a move, he would now and then brush imaginary specks of dust off the board.  Nobody had said anything, but when Fischer touched one of Petrosian's pieces to adjust it, he got a lesson he never forgot. The Armenian champion was a strong man despite his short stature.  Petrosian quickly stretched out his big hand and gave young Bobby an incredibly hard rap on the knuckles. This no-nonsense punishment worked absolute wonders!   Fischer never ever again touched an opponent's pieces after that rather painful experience.

On October 8, 1958 at the 13th Chess Olympiad in Munich, Germany, Spain vs. USA were matched. On third board Roman Toran and Arthur Bisguier were playing.  When Bisguier resigned, Toran said with a smile, “I am so happy, it is the best present for my birthday!” Bisguier replied, “It’s all right, today happens to be my birthday too.”

In the 1958 Chess Olympiad, Frank Anderson (1928-1980) scored 84% before his final round.  In the final round, he became ill and was unable to play the final round for Canada.  He missed the Grandmaster title because of this missed game.  Even if he had played and lost, he would have made the final norm necessary for the GM title.

In 1959, the US Junior chess champion was allowed to play in the US championship.  In 1959, Robin Ault (1941-1994) was allowed to play in the 1959-1960 US championship, but lost all 11 games.  After that, the US junior champion was not allowed to automatically play in the US championship.  Robin Ault was the first person to win the US Junior championship three times (1959-1961).

In 1960, Walter Harris of Harlem became the first African-American chess master, at the age of 18. On May 11, 1958, he drew a game against Bobby Fischer in a live TV simul in New York. In 1959, he played in the U.S. Open in Omaha, Nebraska and defeated several other masters (he took 27th out of 135 players). He won the top ‘Class A’ prize. He was unable to get a hotel room where the tournament was held because he was Black. In 1959, he played in the U.S. Junior championship, taking 5th place out of 40 players. He later gave up chess and became a physicist. He was a physicist at the U.S. Naval Observatory for several years.

In 1961, US chess champion Larry Evans (1932-2010) was giving a simultaneous exhibition in a mental institution in New York. He made pretty good result but one opponent was playing absolutely brilliant and defeated GM Evans.   Evans won 39 games and lost one game.  As he was leaving the facility, Larry congratulated the winner once again and the patient said: “Mister Evans. For one it’s not indispensable to be crazy so he could play good, but it really helps a lot.”

In 1961, Ernst Grünfeld, age 67, was playing in a chess tournament at Beverwijk in the Netherlands.  Grünfeld had lost a leg when in his early childhood and had an artificial leg. Despite his age, and this handicap, he spurned the organizers’ offer of a car, and insisted on walking the mile or so from where he was staying to the chess tournament hall each afternoon. On one particular day, he set off, but fell down in the road, and his wooden leg came off and fell into a ditch!  A distressed Grünfeld managed to get to a phone booth and ring the organizers.   The organizers contacted Max Euwe, who came on the line. Hearing of Grünfeld’s plight, he jumped into a car, and a few minutes later, he managed to rescue  Grünfeld and his wooden leg and take him back to the house he was staying at.  After a refreshing cup of coffee and a few minutes’ rest, Grünfeld was re-united with his artificial leg and driven to the tournament hall. Unfortunately, he faced the East German GM Wolfgang Uhlmann that day, and despite having White, the trauma took its toll on him. He lost in just 21 moves!

In 1961, Marcel Duchamp persuaded several eminent painters and artists to donate their work to help raise money for sending an American chess team abroad.  He visited the set of “Paris Blues” to teach Duke Ellington to play chess.  Ellington watched Duchamp demonstrate the fundamental moves, then made his sole comment, “Crazy, man, crazy.”

In 1961-62, Lisa Lane (1938- ) played four games in the Hastings Reserve tournament, then withdrew after one draw, two losses, and an adjourned game.  She said she could not concentrate on her chess because she was “homesick and in love.”  In 1960 she appeared on “What’s My Line” and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  Only she and Bobby Fischer has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

In 1963, Mrs. Edvige Ruinstein, the wife of a chessplayer in Milan, Italy was granted a divorce from her husband on the grounds that he was so obsessed with chess that he refused to work and support their two children.

In 1965, Ray Charles (1930-2004) learned chess after being busted and hospitalized for heroin addiction. He learned chess in the hospital where he went cold turkey.

In 1966, the US Open chess tournament was held at the Seattle World’s Fair grounds.  The Beatles were on the grounds to give a concert.  At the chess playing site, the tournament director drew the curtains over the playing hall.  Hundreds of Beatle fans, seeing the hall shrouded by the drapes, assumed the Beatles were inside.  They began pounding on the windows to see the Beatles until someone opened the drapes to reveal a chess tournament was taking place.

In 1966, during the Chess Olympiad in Havana, Mikhail Tal (1936-1992) went out one evening to a local bar in the city. Apparently, he was caught flirting with a local woman, whose husband or boyfriend took exception. Tal ended up being struck over the head with a beer bottle. As a result, he missed the first four rounds of the event, and when he did appear in the tournament hall, it was with his head heavily bandaged.


In 1966, chess was banned in China as part of the Cultural Revolution.  By 1974, there was an easing of the ban.  China began to participate in international events in 1976 and have now become a world power in chess.


In 1967, a famous incident occurred in a game between Milan Matulović and István Bilek at the Sousse Interzonal in Tunisia.   Matulović played a losing move but then took it back after saying "J'adoube" ("I adjust" – which should be announced before adjusting pieces on their square). His opponent complained to the arbiter but the modified move was allowed to stand. This incident earned Matulović the nickname "J'adoubovic."


On June 9, 1970, cosmonauts Vitaly Sevastyanov (1935-2010) and Andrian Nikolayev played chess against their ground control while on board Soyuz 9.  It was the first time chess was played in space.  The mission, and the chess game, was commemorated in a stamp issued shortly after the mission was completed.  Sevastyanov later became head of the Soviet Chess Federation.


In 1971, Trevor Stowe, an antiques dealer in London was arrested and fined for indecent exhibition of a chess set while on display in the window of his shop.  Each of the 32 pieces showed couples in sexual positions.  The dealer had to pay $132 in fines and court costs.  Stowe specialized in newly manufactured chess sets at his “Galeries d’Echec” in Harcourt Street, London.


In 1971, Mark Taimanov lost to Fischer 6-0 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and returned to the USSR in disgrace. Normally grandmasters are not searched when crossing the border to the Soviet Union, but Taimanov was asked to open his luggage for examination. They found one of Solzhenitsin’s banned books which Taimanov brought from Canada. He was stripped of his title ‘Honored Master of Sport’ and deprived of his monthly earnings for holding the grandmaster title. Both were returned to him when Fischer also beat Larsen 6-0.


In 1972, during the World Youth Team championship in Graz, Switzerland, Robert Huebner of Germany was scheduled to play Ken Rogoff of the USA.  Both were tired from previous long games and Huebner offered a draw to Rogoff without making any moves.  However, the arbiters did not like this and refused the game.  So the two players put together a scoresheet of a game that looked like this: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.Ng1 Ng8 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Ng1 Ng8 and so on ... Draw.  The arbiters were not amused.   They insisted that the two play some real moves.  So the next game went 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nf1 Bg7 4.Qa4 O-O 5.Qxd7 Qxd7 6.g4 Qxd2+ 7.Kxd2 Nxg4 8.b4 a5 9.a4 Bxa1 10.Bb2 Nc6 11.Bh8 Bg7 12.h4 axb4 draw.  The arbiters were not amused.  They insisted that the two play a valid game.  Rogoff agreed but Huebner did not, so Rogoff was given a win and Huebner was given a loss.  The Russian team pressed for a double forfeit, but Huebner insisted that he alone bore responsibility.  Years later, the main arbiter, Sajtar, admitted he was wrong in ordering a rematch of the games.


In 1972, at the world chess championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland, Bobby Fischer, arbiter Lothar Schmid, and reporter Brad Darrach were in a hotel room working out some details in the arrangement of the match.  At one point, Schmidt stood up abruptly and hit his head on a low-hanging overhead light. Bobby said, "Wow, are you OK, Lothar?" Afterwards, Schmidt often defended Fischer in discussions about all the difficulties of the match.  Lothar would say, "Say what you will about Bobby, but he really cares about people!" However, after Fischer and Darrach left the room, Bobby broke up and laughed hysterically about Schmidt's mishap: "Did you see Lothar whack his head!  Pretty funny.  Ha-Ha-Ha!"  Fischer wasn’t really concerned about Lothar Schmid and hitting his head on a light.

In 1972, Larry Evans was playing Anthony Saidy in the final round of the Church’s San Antonio tournament.  The game was adjourned and Saidy had a winning position. Evans, after staying up all night studying the lost position, decided the adjourned position was hopeless and booked an early flight home.  The next day, Saidy blundered on move 46. At move 60 when there was still time to catch the plane, Evans said "It's a book draw."   "Show me the book" replied Saidy.  Evans responded, "I have a schedule to meet."  Saidy replied, "Show me the schedule."  With each move the draw became more obvious.   Finally, Saidy said "You know it's against the rules to talk to your opponent."   "Show me the rules!" said Evans .  The game was finally drawn after 106 moves.  After the game, Saidy told Evans "You know we have played 12 games and it was the first time I was up a pawn against you. I was enjoying it too much.  Sorry."  The tournament director later told Evans that he should not have told Saidy that he had a plane to catch.   When Saidy finally signed the score sheets, Evans rushed off to the San Antonio airport, but he missed his flight and had to stay another day.

In 1973, during the Anglo-Dutch match, chain smoker Jan Donner (1927-1988) was filling up a large Bakelite ashtray with all of his discarded cigarettes.  Cigarette after cigarette and all the ashes were making a big pile in the ashtray, much of which was still emitting smoke.  Eventually, after several hours of play and several packs of cigarettes, the mountain of ash and discarded cigarettes burst into flames, causing the Bakelite ashtray to crack completely in half.  The players were still transfixed on the position of their game as the chess table started to burn, with neither player seemingly about to take any action to control the fire.  At this point, Ray Keene picked up Donner’s coffee cup and threw the contents over the fire.  With the chess table now covered in a mess, the players looked at one another and offered a draw, shook hands, and left the table.

In October 1973, the Israel Open was cancelled after a few rounds due to the Yom Kippur war.  In 1982, the Israel Chess Championship was stopped in the middle of the tournament as several of its participants were called up for army service in Lebanon. It was later won by Yehuda Gruenfeld.

In 1974, Claude Bloodgood (1937-2001) escaped from a chess tournament after he and another fellow inmate chessplayer, Lewis Carpenter, overpowered a guard watching over him.  They had received a furlough to play in a local Virginia chess tournament.  He was captured a few days later.  He had been sentenced to death for killing his mother.  While on death row, he played over 1,200 postal chess games.  He was scheduled for execution 6 times, but received a reprieve on all occasions.

In 1974 in a tournament in Poland, Mikhail Tal (1936-1992) was playing Jan Adamski (1943- ) with both players in time trouble. Adamski’s flag fell but Tal lost a piece and resigned. At that moment Tal’s wife, who had been counting the moves, said “Black has not yet made 40 moves.” The flag had fallen before Tal resigned.  The arbiter intervened and awarded the win to Tal, who went on to win the tournament.  Tal’s wife scored this point!  Later, it was shown that Adamski quit writing his moves down after move 25 because of time trouble, and then he added two fake moves while reconstructing his scoresheet to make it seem he made more than 40 moves.

In 1976, during a chess tournament in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Mikhail Tal became the first Soviet grandmaster to oppose a bull in a bull-fighting arena.  Years later, Larry Christiansen also opposed a bull in a bull-fighting areana.

In 1982, Ken Thompson (1943- ) traveled to Moscow for a computer chess tournament and thought his computer, BELLE, was traveling with him on the airplane in a crate.  However, the U.S. Customs Service confiscated the chess computer at Kennedy Airport as part of Operation Exodus, a program to prevent illegal export of high technology items to the Soviets.  It took over a month and a $600 fine to retrieve BELLE from customs.  Thompson later said that the only way the BELLE would be a military threat if it was dropped from an airplane on the head of some government official.

In 1982, the Ugandan chess team showed up at Lugano, Switzerland to play in the Chess Olympiad.  But the 1982 Chess Olympiad was held in Lucerne, Switzerland.  The 1968 Chess Olympiad was held in Lugano. 

In 1983, Anna Akhsharumova was playing the final round of the Soviet Women’s Chess championship against her main competitor, Nana Ioseliani.  Anna won the game on time forfeit and should have won the title.  But the next day, Ioseliani filed a protest alleging a malfunction in the chess clock.  Ioseliani demanded a new game be played.  Anna refused to play, so the result of her game with Ioseliani was reversed by the All-Union Board of Referees in Moscow (the tournament itself was being played in Tallinn), thereby forfeiting her title.  Anna went from 1st place to 3rd place over this decision.

Dr. Timothy Leary (1920-1996) used chess sets as visual props for preparing classes at Harvard in his lectures on LSD. He said, “Life is a chess game of experiences we play.” He also said, “There are three side effects of acid: enhanced long-term memory decreased short-term memory, and I forgot the third.” He once wrote, “Foreign policy is the game of mad monsters playing chess blindfolded with mammalian-gene-pools as pawns.”

In 1985, Nick Down, a former British Junior Correspondence chess champion and Cambridge graduate, entered the British Ladies Correspondence Chess Championship as Miss Leigh Strange.  He (she) won the event (he won all the games but one) and 15 British pounds.  He was later caught (a friend turned him in) and admitted his deception was a prank that got out of hand.  He also signed up for the Ladies Postal Olympiad and started to play before being caught.  He was later banned from the British Correspondence Chess Association for two years.  The title went to the runner-up, Doreen Helbig.

In 1986, the world championship match between Kasparov and Karpov was played in London and in Leningrad.  The purse for the match was $900,000 and it was all donated to the victims of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl.

In 1986, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Joint (HJ) Resolution 545 by unanimous consent which stated that the United States government recognizes Bobby Fischer (the resolution spelled his name Fisher) as the official World Chess Champion. The resolution was sent to the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. The resolution then went to the Senate and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary where it was objected by Senator Howard Metzenbaum (1917-2008), Democrat from Ohio. The resolution died in the Senate’s Judiciary Committee a week later. The resolution was drafted by Representative Charles (Chip) Pashayan, Republican from California. Congressional resolutions are non-binding and has no force of law within or outside the United States. Pashayan later served as Fischer pro bono lawyer.

In 1987, Viktor Korchnoi was playing Anatoly Karpov in a tournament in Brussels. In a drawn position, Korchnoi accidently touched his king on his 48th move, which would have led to a loss of his knight and loss of the endgame. Instead of resigning normally, he took his hand and swept all the chess pieces off the chessboard and onto the floor before storming out.

The first and only rated public celebrity chess tournament was held in Hollywood in 1988.  The eight celebrities that participated were Lew Ayres, Erik Estrada, Gene Scherer, William Smithers, William Windom, Gerry Goffin, Jimmy Komack, and Hiram Strait.  The event was won by Hiram Strait.

In 1988, Guillermo Garcia (1954-1990), three-time chess champion of Cuba, took 2nd place in the New York Open.  His $10,000 prize was confiscated by the Department of Treasury, invoking the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917, because he was Cuban.  The money is still in escrow.

In May 1990, top Russian Grandmaster Artur Yusupov returned to Moscow after taking second equal prize at the SKA tournament in Munich. Hence he was carrying quite a lot of money on the homeward trip. Shortly after he had arrived home, armed thieves came to his apartment and proceeded to rob him of money and other valuables. Although Yusupov put up no resistance, one of the thieves panicked and discharged a shotgun into his stomach.  For some time Yusupov was critically ill, but his energy levels were never quite the same after this traumatic experience, and he gradually fell back from his position as one of the top half-dozen players in the world.

In 1990 Bogdan Szetela noticed a car drive by that looked like his that had been stolen 11 days earlier. But this car had a taxi light on top and “Crescent Cab Co.” painted on the side. Spotting a police officer, he told the cop that the cab was his stolen car. Police weren’t convinced until he told them that he left a chess set in the trunk before it was stolen. The police popped the trunk and found the chess set.

In 1991, International Master Ricardo Calvo (1943-2002) was censured by FIDE and declared persona non grata for writing a letter that was interpreted by many Latin American readers as racist.  He wrote of an unnamed South American journalist who “corrupted” young people.

In 1993, a person was shot and killed by a sniper while playing chess in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the first to die from sniper fire while playing chess.

At the 1993 World Open in Philadelphia, an unrated Black newcomer wearing headphones used the name "John von Neumann" and scored 4½/9 in the Open Section, including a draw with a grandmaster and a win over a 2350-rated player. This player seemed to have a suspicious bulge in one of his pockets, which appeared to make a soft humming or buzzing sound at important points in the game. When he was quizzed by the tournament director, he was unable to demonstrate even a rudimentary knowledge of some simple chess concepts, and he was disqualified

In 1994, during the Chess Olympiad in Moscow, the captain of the Irish chess team was mugged in the street by a gang of gypsy children and was only saved by an old lady, who waded into them with an umbrella, to such effect that one boy later required hospital treatment!  Another team captain unwisely visited the local bank to change several thousands of dollars in foreign currency, only for the bank, “coincidentally”, to be robbed at that very moment.

In 1994, Garry Kasparov made a move and changed his move against Judit Polgár after momentarily letting go of a piece. Kasparov went on to win the game. The tournament officials had videotape proving that his hand left the piece, but refused to release the video evidence. A factor counting against Polgár was that she waited a whole day before complaining, and such claims must be made during the game. The videotape revealed that Kasparov did let go of the piece for one quarter second.

In 1995, Alexander Ivanov (1956- ) was playing in the U.S. chess championship in Modesto, California when he lost his first round on time.  After the first round, he wife, Woman International Master (WIM) Esther Epstein (1954- ), arrived to play in the Women’s championship.  She told her husband, “I don’t care how you lose, just don’t lose on time!”  It worked.  He won 6 games, lost one (not on time) and tied for 1st place in the U.S. chess championship.  Esther finished 3rd place in the women’s championship (she won it in 1991 and 1997).  She also refrained from telling her husband that a fire had damaged their apartment in Massachusetts until after the tournament was over.

In 1996, Yoko Ono (1933- ) donated $2,500 to enable the Edward R. Murrow High School chess team in Brooklyn, New York, to attend the state and national championships.  The school had been national champions in 1992, 1993, and 1994, but had no funds in 1995 and 1996.  The school won the national championship in 2013, their 8th time winning it (1992, 1993, 1994, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2013).  They have also won 15 state titles and 16 city championships.  Yoko says she plays chess almost every day.

In 1996, Essam Ahmed Ali (1964-2003) won the Arab Chess Championship. In 2003, he won the Egyptian championship. He was an Egyptian International Master and Egypt’s top player, who died on October 27, 2003, of cerebral malaria after returning from the All Africa Games tournament in Abuja, Nigeria. The 60-year-old head of the Egyptian chess delegation, Mohammed Labib, died of the same disease the next day. Both were incorrectly diagnosed in Egypt after becoming ill. Both were bitten by an infected mosquito.

In 1997, English Grandmaster Tony Miles (1955-2001) was playing the Croatian grandmaster Davorin Komljenovic in a Benasque tournament.  Miles as usual, put his wrist watch aside on the chess table.  Komljenovic then brought his big alarm clock and put it also beside his board.  Miles protested, but Komljenovic said that if Miles has the right to put the watch, he can put his big alarm clock.  Everyone was laughing, the game went on, and later in a drawn rook and pawn endgame Miles lost the game.

In 1997, a Swedish tournament was being held where the lots (position number at the start of a tournament) were on the bottoms of gold bars.  The chess players were warned that the gold bars were too heavy to be picked up by one hand.  Despite the warning, Gary Kasparov began flexing his right arm, obviously determined to draw his lot one-handed.  He tried, but failed and had to use both hands.  However, when it came to 60-year-old strong man Lajos Portisch, he picked up his gold bar one handed with no apparent strain.

In 2007, GM Farhad Tahirov played in the 2006-2007 Hastings Chess Congress.  After the last round, having a couple of hours to kill before the prize-giving, he decided to take a walk along the Hastings seafront. Unfortunately, he passed by a particularly dodgy pub, frequented by various skinheads and other charmers, several of whom attacked and robbed him. He lost almost £1,000 in cash, plus a mobile phone and camera, as well as ending up in hospital for treatment to his injuries.

In late 2008, at the Chess Olympiad, Vassily Ivanchuk (1969- ) refused to take a drug test after losing a game and then reportedly stormed out of the room in the conference center, kicked a concrete  pillar in the lobby, pounded a countertop in the cafeteria with his  fists and then vanished into the coatroom.

In 2009, the 2nd Gedeon Barcza Memorial was supposed to take place in Budapest.  Although the first round was actually played with 5 International Masters and 7 Grandmasters, it soon became clear that the main organizer did not have the money to play with the hotel or the players.  The Ramada Resort Hotel, where the players were staying and where the tournament was held, never received any money from the organizer.  On the second day, the hotel decided to close the playing hall.  The hotel manager said, “no money, no business.”  All 12 chess players were financially harmed and the top GMs were still waiting for their appearance fees.  The organizer blamed the situation on lost potential sponsors.

World chess champion Vishy Anand was in Switzerland with his wife and she told him “I put some  of your stuff in the hotel room safe – the code is very easy to remember, it’s  2706, so you can take whatever you need.”  Anand thought to himself and said, “Well, 2706 is not really a good Elo chess rating. Normally it’s rounded off to the nearest 5 or 10.”  So he told his wife that he couldn’t see how he could remember that. She looked a bit shocked and then she explained to him that the 27th of June (27/06) was their anniversary.

In 2013, the World Junior Championship was supposed to have been played in Hatay, Turkey, only 12 miles away from the Syrian border.  But the Turkish Chess Federation decided to move the event from Hatay to Kocaeli, Turkey to move it as far away from Syria as possible due to the Syrian civil war.   Many federations had already decided not to send their players.

Magnus Carlsen was considered for a role in a recent Star Trek movie (Star Trek 2), but couldn’t get a U.S. work permit in time.  JJ Abrams, the producer, wanted Carlsen to play a role of a chess player in the future.