Oscar Chajes

By Bill Wall


Oscar Chajes (pronounced KHAH-yes) was born in Brody, Austria on December 14, 1873.  Brody was in the Austrian kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, on the border with Russia, but still in Austria-Hungary (now the Western Ukraine).

In 1883, at the age of 9, he learned chess from his private teacher.

When he was old enough to attend the  Leinberg gymnasium in Galicia, he had more opportunity to play chess with fellow students.

As a young man, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna, near the home of his uncle, Rabbi Chajes.  While attending the university in Vienna, he met many strong players in the local coffee houses and soon became of the best chess players in Vienna.

In 1904, Chajes immigrated to the United States from Hamburg, Germany and moved to Chicago, then later settled in New York.

In May, 1905, Chajes defeated Dr. Emanuel Lasker in 27 moves in a 37-board simul that Lasker gave at the Chicago Chess Club. (source: Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1905)

In 1907, Chajes was the club champion of the West Side Chess Club in Chicago and he gave simultaneous exhibitions at the club. (source: Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 3, 1907)

In February, 1908, he tied for 2nd place in the Illinois State Chess Association championship, which was won by Charles Phillips.

In 1908, Chajes lost a match against Louis Uedemann, winning 4, losing 5, and drawing 3.

On January 9, 1908, Chajes tied for 1st place at a rapid transit tournament, with 15 seconds to the move, at the Chicago Chess and Checker Club.

On February 22, 1909, Chajes won the 16th Illinois State Chess Association championship, scoring a perfect 4-0. (source: Chicago Daily News, Feb 28, 1909)

On April 18, 1909, Chajes tied for 2nd in the Chicago Chess and Checker club, which was won by John Winter.

On August 25, 1909, Chajes won the 10th Western Chess Association championship (U.S. Open) in Excelsior, Minnesota, scoring 12.5 points. (source: The Winnipeg Tribune, Aug 25, 1909)

In January, 1910, Chajes defeated Louis Uedemann in a return match, scoring 5 wins and 1 loss.

On February 22, 1910, Chajes won the 17th Illinois State Chess Association championship.

In March, 1910, Chajes played a 24-board simul at the West Side Chess Club, winning 21 and losing 3. (source: Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar 27, 1910)

On August 24, 1910, Chajes took 2nd place in the 11th Western Chess Association championship (U.S. Open) in Chicago, Illinois.  The event was won by Geroge Wolbrecht.

On December 10, 1910, Chajes became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

On February 3, 1911, Chajes tied for 3rd-4th (with Charles Jaffe) with 9 points at the first National Chess Masters’ tournament in New York behind Frank Marshall (10 points), who took 1st place and $200, and José Raúl Capablanca (9.5 points), who took 2nd place and $125.  There were 13 masters in the event. Chajes drew his games with both Marshall and Capablanca.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 4, 1911 and Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb 5, 1911, with games)

In March, 1911, Chajes took 2nd place, behind Julius Eppens (1878-1954), in the Illinois State Chess Championship.

In July, 1911, Chajes was a passenger on the steamship Olympic, which sailed for England.  On the strength of his showing at the National Chess Masters’ tournament in New York, Chajes was invited to the Carlsbad Congress chess tournament, representing the Kenwood Chess Club of Chicago.  The 25-round Congress began on August 20, 1911.  Chajes will visit London before proceeding to Carlsbad.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 27, 1911)

On September 24, 1911, Chajes tied for 23-26th (last) in Carlsbad, Bohemia (Richard Teichmann won), but won brilliancy prizes for his victories over Savielly Tartakower and Julius Perlis.  Chajes, as Black, had an interesting game against Amos Burn in the final round.  The Burn-Chajes game saw 5 queens on the board during play.  Chajes lost after 115 moves.  Burn, at one time, offered a draw, knowing that he was winning, but Chajes refused.  There were 4 queens on the board at the same time from move 77 to 92 in the queen-pawn ending.  It was the last round of the tournament and both players books space on ships which left in the evening of the following day.  They would have had to take an early morning train to get to the port of embarkation in time.  The outcome of the game was of no real importance.  Chajes played on in hope of getting a better score than last place.  The game lasted 15 hours and it was now dawn.  When the game was over, the remaining spectators and other players still there game them an standing ovation.  The tournament organizers voted to create a special prize and award it to both players for their fighting spirit.  After Chajes was checkmated, both players rushed to their rooms to pack and make it to the railway station.  Both players missed their train.  Chajes had to wait a week before he could get another ship bound for New York. (source: Edward Lasker, Chess: The Complete Self-Tutor)

Chajes stayed in Czechoslovakia from August, 1911 to February, 1912.  When he returned to the United States, he moved from Chicago to New York.

In March, 1912, Chajes lost a match against Charles Jaffe, winning 1 game and losing 2 games.  The match was played at the Manhattan Chess Club.

In October, 1912, Capablanca defeated Chajes in a match held in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

In January, 1913, Chajes won the championship of the Progressive Chess Club of Manhattan. (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 23, 1913)

On February 5, 1913, Chajes tied for 5-6th in the 2nd American National Chess Masters’ tournament, held at the Manhattan CC in New York, won by Capablanca. (source: The Wilke-Barre Record, Feb 6, 1913)

In March 1913, Chajes tied for 4th-5th in Havana, won by Frank Marshall.  Chajes drew his game with Capablanca.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mar 7, 1913)

On April 9, 1913, Chajes lost a match against David Janowski, played at the Progressive Club in Manhatan.  He lost 2, drew 1, and won no games. (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr 10, 1913)

In 1913, Chajes was the financial secretary of the Progressive Chess Club (later the Isaac I. Rice Progressive Chess Club) at the Café Monopol, 145 Second Avenue in Manhattan. (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 22, 1913)  It was later moved to 219 Second Avenue.

In August, 1913, Chajes took 4th-5th in the Rice Chess Club Masters’ tournament, won by Capablanca.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug 18, 1913)

On September13, 1913, Chajes took 3rd in a quadrangular masters’ tournament held in Newark, NJ.  Oldrich Duras took 1st, followed by Frank Marshall.   Charles Jaffe took 4th.  (source: The Cincinnati Enquirer, Sep 14, 1913)

In February, 1914, Chajes took 4th place in the New York State Chess Association championship, won by Roy T. Black.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 25, 1914)

In March, 1914, Chajes won the Rice Chess Club championship.

On May 10, 1915, Chajes tied for 3rd-4th at the National Chess Masters’ tournament, behind Jose Capablanca (12 wins a 2 draws – both to Marshall) and Frank Marshall.  He scored 6 wins, 6 losses, and 2 draws. (source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 11, 1915)

In May, 1915, Chajes tied for 2nd-3rd in New York Metropolitan Chess League, won by Eduard (Edward) Lasker.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 18, 1915)

On May 31, 1915, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described Chajes as the “Lion of Second Avenue,” referring to the location of the Progressive Chess Club in Manhattan.

On February 11, 1916, Chajes took 3rd in the Rice Memorial Masters’ Tournament, behind José Capablanca and David Janowski.  He defeated Capablanca in the second round of the finals, winning in 66 moves against Capa’s French Defense.  Chajes was the last person to defeat Capablanca prior to Capablanca's eight-year undefeated stretch from 1916 to 1924.  Chajes was not supposed to be in the finals, as he took 5th place in the first part of the main tournament.  Only the top four players, Capablanca (who scored 11 wins and 2 draws) in the main tournament), Janowski, Kostic, and Kupchik, were supposed to play in the finals, but all the players agreed to allow Chajes to play.  In the 2nd round of the finals, on Feb 10, 1916, after an adjournment, Chajes defeated Capablanca (don’t mess with Chajes).  The game was played at the Manhattan Chess Club.  (source: The New York Times, Feb 11, 1916)

In 1916, Chajes challenged Frank Marshall to a match, but they could not agree terms.

In February, 1917, Chajes tookd 2nd place, behind A. Kupchik, in the New York State Chess Association masters tournament, held at the Manhattan CC. (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 26, 1917)

On August 18, 1917, Chajes won the New York State Chess Association championship, held in Rochester. He had 7 wins and 1 draw.  (source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Aug 17, 1917)

In 1917, Chajes gave chess exhibitions throughout New York State to raise funds to supply American soldiers with chessmen and boards.  (source: The New York Sun, Dec 9, 1917, and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Dec 14, 1917)

In February, 1918, Chajes took 1st place in the Manhattan Chess Club championship, scoring 6-1.

On February 22, 1918, Chajes tied with A. Kupchik in the New York States Chess Association’s masters tournament.  Each scored 5-0.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mar 3, 1918)

In May, 1918, Chajes defeated David Janowski in a match held at the Manhattan CC in New York.  He won 7, lost 5, and drew 10.

On July 28, 1918, Chajes took 2nd, behind Abraham Kupchik, in the New York State championship held in Rye Beach, N.Y. (source: The Pittsburgh Press, Aug 11, 1918)

On November 9, 1918, Chajes took 4th in the masters’ tournament of the Manhattan Chess Club.  Capablanca won with 9 wins and 2 draws (both to Kostic), followed by Kostic and Marshall. Chajes won the brilliancy prize for his game against Janowski.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 10, 1918)

In July, 1919, Chajes won a three-cornered masters chess tournament in New York, defeating Charles Jaffe (1879-1941) and drawing Boris Kostic. (source: New York Times, July 209, 1919)

In August, 1919, Chajes took 3rd in the New York State championship, held in Troy, N.Y.  1st place went to A. Kupchik, followed by Jacob Bernstein. (source: The Washington Post, Aug 17, 1919)

In December, 1919, Chajes won the I. L. Rice Progressive Chess Club championship.

In January, 1920, Chajes took 3rd-4th place in the Manhattan Chess Club championship.  A. Kupchik and Roy Black tied for 1st place.  (source: New York Tribune, Jan 5, 1920)

In February, 1923, Chajes lost a match to Morris Schapiro, losing 5, winning 3, and drawing 5.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 8, 1923)

On May 22, 1923, he tied for 17-18th (last) in Carlsbad, Czecho-Slovakia.  He played at the last tournament there in 1911.

On July 21, 1923, the New York Times wrote, "Oscar Chajes of the Rice-Progressive Chess Club of this city and former State champion, arrived yesterday from Bremen on board the George Washington. He at once declared his intention to enter the masters' tournament in connection with the Ninth American Chess Congress at the Hotel Alamac, Lake Hopatcong, August 6-20.  Chajes had a wonderful experience at the international tournament at Carlsbad. His only complaint was that he was too well treated to be at his best and therefore did not carry off a prize. However, he defeated such famous players as Reti, Nimzowitsch, Spielmann and Wolf. He also drew his game with Rubinstein."

In August, 1923, he tied for 7-8th at the 9th American Chess Congress at Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. Frank Marshall and A. Kupchik tied for 1st. (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep 6, 1923)

In December, 1923, he won the Manhattan Chess Club championship.

On January 21, 1925, Chajes won the championship of the I. L. Rice Progressive Chess Club.  (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 22, 1925)

In 1926, he took 11th in Chicago (Marshall won).

In 1926, he took 4th in New York.

On February 28, 1928, Chajes died at Bellevue Hospital in New York City at the age of 54.  At the time of his death, he lived at 15 East 21st Street in Manhattan.

His obituary appeared in the March 1, 1928 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

His historical Elo rating was 2440.

Hans Kmoch, in his manuscript Grandmasters I Have Known, told the story that Marshall liked to drink. On one such occasion, at his own Marshall Chess Club in New York City, he gave a speech at a meeting to honor Oscar Chajes, who had died in 1928. Chajes was a member of the Marshall club and had one of the most often mispronounced names in chess history. It is correctly pronounced KHAH-yes (a form of the Hebrew word for "life"). Richard Réti reported how amusing it was at the Carlsbad tournament of 1923 to hear the wild variety of attempts to get the name right. It seemed to be especially difficult for English- speakers. On that day at the Marshall club, an inebriated Marshall concluded his speech by saying: "I think it is good that the man died, because we couldn't pronounce his name anyway."