The Darwin Awards in Chess

by Bill Wall


Chess is a dangerous game and can kill, or some chess players can be so stupid as to kill themselves.  Here are some chess players who died at the chess board (they were probably unhealthy anyway and told not to play a stressful game of chess) or through their own stupidity.   This is one way to clean the gene pool.  Here, we recognize the chess individuals who took themselves out of the gene pool by playing chess that killed them or other methods.  They made the ultimate sacrifice of sacrificing themselves by playing chess or associating with chess, or just being stupid.


On March 18, 1584 (old style), Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) died of a stroke while playing chess against his adviser, Bogdan Belsky.

On January 3, 1866, William Henry Russ (1833-1866) one of America’s leading compiler of chess problems (he wrote under the pseudonym of W.R. Henry), died in a hospital after trying to commit suicide. He adopted an 11-year old girl and proposed to her when she was 21. When he rejected him, he shot her four times in the head. He left her for dead (she survived), then tried to commit suicide by jumping into the river to drown himself. However, the tide was out and the water was not deep enough. He climbed out of the river and shot himself in the head. He died 10 days later in a hospital, lacking a will to live.  His chess book, published posthumously in 1868, was entitled American Chess Nuts.  That was an appropriate title.

On June 22, 1874, Howard Staunton (1810-1874) died of a heart attack at his home in London while working on his last chess book, Chess: Theory and Practice.

On August 20, 1874, Thomas Wilson Barnes (1825-1874) died after going on a diet and losing 130 pounds in 10 months (he originally weighed 220 pounds).  He couldn’t stop dieting.  It was more than his system could handle.  He was one of the strongest English chess players in the 1850s. He scored more wins than anyone else against Paul Morphy, defeating him 8 times. Morphy considered him the strongest player he had ever encountered.

In 1879, Carl Goering, a German professor, philosopher, and chess master, commited suicide in Eisenach, Germany.  He got sick with rheumatism in 1872 and was suffering from depression.

On July 10, 1884, Paul Morphy (1837-1884) died of a stroke while taking a cold bath at his home in New Orleans. He had taken a long walk during the afternoon and returned for a bath. He remained so long in the bathroom that his mother grew alarmed and went up, to find him dead in the bath. The cause was congestion of the brain following the shock of cold water to an overheated body. The funeral took place very quietly the next day. Only some relatives and a few friends were present.

In 1888, Johannes Zukertort died from a cerebral hemorrhage after playing a chess game in a tournament at Simpson’s Divan, which he was leading at the time.

In 1890, Walter Grimshaw, a famous chess problemist, committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.

In 1897, Norman Willem van Lennep (1872-1897), a Dutch chess master, killed himself by jumping into the North Sea from a ship at the age of 25.  His father had disowned him unless he gave up chess and found a steady job. 

Johannes von Minckwitz (1843-1901) committed suicide by stepping in front of an electric car near Biebrich, Germany. He lost both arms and died May 20, 1901. He was only 58.

On June 17, 1906, Henry Pillsbury died of syphilis, which he caught from a prostitute in Saint Petersburg about 10 years before his death. In March, 1905, he tried to jump out a 4th story window at the Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia. He was stopped by several nurses and doctors. He died at Friends Asylum in Frankford, Pennsylvania. His obituary in the New York Times stated that he died from an “illness contracted through overexertion of his memory cells.”

In August, 1909, chess master Rudolph Swiderski (1878-1909), age 31, committed suicide in Leipzig. He took some poison to kill himself.  When that didn’t work fast enough, he shot himself in the head with his revolver. He had recently been convicted of perjury in connection with a love affair and he was to face legal proceedings.  Other sources say that he had an illness extending over a period of years and was discouraged by what he deemed a hopeless flight.

On September 11, 1913, Dr. Julius Perlis (1880-1913), died in a mountain climb in the Alps. During a pleasure trip, he went astray and spent the night on a mountain. He died of extreme exposure to low temperatures during a climb in the Austrian Inntaler Alps (Hochtor-Ostgrat). He was only wearing light clothing.  He fell asleep on the ridge and froze to death.

In 1915, Sam Gonotsky was a hidden operator inside the automaton Ajeeb in Coney Island.  One player lost to it and was so angry he took out a gun and shot at the torso of the automaton.  It killed Gonotsky, the hidden operator, which was covered up.

On December 27, 1918, Carl Schlechter (1874-1918) died from pneumonia and starvation in Budapest, Hungary, during the war-imposed famine in Central Europe. He never mentioned to any of his acquaintances that he needed food or money. He was found in a room without any money, heat or food.   He was 45.

On November 9, 1921, Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) died of a heart attack in Bratislava at the age of 28.

In 1923, a spectator watching the Ed Lasker - Frank Marshall chess match died of a heart attack.  The excitement was too much for him.

On January 31, 1924, Curt von Bardeleben (1861-1924) threw himself out of the second floor window of his boarding home in Berlin and died of his injuries.  Other sources say he fell out by accident.  Seeking some fresh air, he opened a low silled window and fell out.

In May, 1931, Andors Wachs of Hungary had just checkmated his opponent at a chess club in Hungary. He then dropped his head on the table and died of a heart attack.

On April 20, 1932, Edgard Colle (1897-1932) died in Gand, Belgium, after an operation for a gastric ulcer. He survived three operations for a gastric ulcer, but died after a 4th operation.  He was 34.

On December 14, 1934, Paul Leonhardt (1877-1934) died of a heart attack while playing chess at a chess club.

In August 1935, Mrs. R.H. (Agnes) Stevenson, age 52, one of the top women chess players in the world, was killed after she walked into the propeller of the plane she had been flying on. She was on her way to Warsaw to take part in the Women’s World Chess Championship when the plane made a refueling stop at Poznan. She left the plane to have her passport inspected. On returning to the plane, she forgot the propeller was rotating, stepped in front of the plane, instead of approaching the aircraft from the rear,and the rotating propeller hit her and killed her instantly, cutting her head in two.  (source: Singapore Free Press, Aug 23, 1935)

In 1941, Josef Cukierman, a chess master who won tournaments in Moscow, Poland, and France, committed suicide in France.

In 1944, Al Horowitz's opponent died of a heart attack in Kansas City just after Horowitz made a spectacular move.

On June 26, 1944, world woman chess champion Vera Menchik-Stevenson (1906-1944) died in a German bombing of London. She died along with her sister, her sister’s husband, and her mother. She died after a German V-1 rocket hit her home.  The family failed to go to the bomb shelter in the garden, which remained intact.

On April 17, 1945, Klaus Junge (1924-1945), a German officer, was killed in action at Welle, Germany. As a lieutenant, he refused to surrender, tried to fight back, and was killed by Allied troops in the battle of Welle on the Luneburg Heath, close to Hamburg, three weeks before World War II ended.

On March 24, 1946, Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) choked to death on a piece of meat. He was found dead in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal on the morning of March 24.

On June 18, 1952, Efim Bogoljubov (1889-1952) suffered a heart attack and died after concluding a simultaneous chess exhibition in Triberg, Germany.

In 1952, Juan Quesada, Cuban chess champion, died of a heart attack during an international tournament in Havana.

On November 25, 1955, Herman Steiner died of a heart attack after a California State Championship game in Los Angeles. He was defending his state championship title and finished his 5th round game (a 62-move draw against William Addison). He then said he felt unwell, so his afternoon game was postponed. About two hours later, around 9:30 pm, Steiner had a heart attack while being attended by a physician.

In 1959, a Soviet scientist killed another Soviet scientist at a Soviet research station in Vostok, Antarctica after a chess game argument. The losing player got so mad that he killed his opponent with an axe. After the incident, the Soviets banned chess at their Antarctic stations.

In June 1960, an American sailor, Michael George, got into a fight at a Greenwich Village bar, Chumley’s, when a spectator criticized the sailor’s chess game after he lost. The sailor struck the spectator (Clinton Curtis) with a broken beer bottle, which cut his jugular vein. The sailor was eventually acquitted of murder and charged with accidental death instead. 

On November 3, 1963, Boris Kostic (1887-1963) died of blood poisoning from a scratch in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

On July 31, 1965, E. Forry Laucks (1897-1965), founder of the Log Cabin Chess Club, collapsed of a heart attack and died after the 6th round of the U.S. Open in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On May 26, 1967, Gideon Stahlberg (1908-1967) died of a heart attack during the 1967 Leningrad International chess tournament.

On September 25, 1968, Russian grandmaster Vladimir Simagin (1919-1968) died of a heart attack while playing in a chess tournament in Kislovodsk, Russia.

In 1970, Charles Khachiyan, President of the New Jersey Chess Association, died of a heart attack while playing chess at the Montclair Chess Club in New Jersey.

On October 31, 1971, Alexander Zaitsev died of thrombosis (blood clot) as a consequence of a leg operation to have one of his legs lengthened.

On October 4, 1972, USCF business manager Kenneth Harkness (1898-1972) died of a heart attack on a train in Yugoslavia on his way to a FIDE meeting in Skopje, Yugoslavia, where the chess Olympiad was to take place.

On June 5, 1975, Paul Keres (1916-1975) died of a heart attack in Helsinki, Finland, while returning home to Estonia from the World Class Championship in Vancouver, B.C.  He had just won the event (on May 25th) despite a doctor’s orders not to play in the event due to the stress.  His airplane had taken off from Helsinki to Tallinn when Keres had his heart attack.  The aircraft turned around and landed back at Helsinki and Keres was rushed to the hospital and died.

Isaac Boleslavsky (1919-1976) died after an operation. He had slipped on an icy sidewalk, fracturing his hip. He contracted a fatal infection while in the hospital. He was only 57.

In 1979, Patrick McKenna, a prisoner in Nevada, strangled his Las Vegas cellmate, Jack J. Robles, after an argument over a chess game. At age 63, he has been on death row for over 30 years. He was denied the latest in a long line of appeals.

On November 6, 1979, Cecil Purdy (1906-1979) died of a heart attack while playing chess in the Sydney, Australia chess championship. His opponent was Ian Parsonage. His last words were, “I have a win, but it will take some time.”

On October 21, 1982, Ed Edmondson (1920-1982), former president of the USCF, died of a heart attack while playing chess on a beach in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1986, Grandmaster Georgy Agzamov (1954-1986) fell between some rocks at a beach and died. He had just finished a chess tournament in Sevastopol and was taking a shortcut to go swimming. He fell off a cliff and got stuck between two rocks. Several people heard him yell for help, but he was too deep down in the rocks and died before a rescue team could get to him

In 1989, grandmaster Karen Grigorian (1947-1989) committed suicide by jumping from the highest bridge in Yerevan.

In 1992, Robert Bryan of England shot Matthew Hay over a chess game. Bryan had ‘had enough’ after losing to Hay and was jailed for 10 years after admitting attempting to murder Mr. Hay by shooting him in the neck with a shotgun.

In 1993, two chess players decided to play chess outdoors in war-torn Bosnia.  It was fun until one of the players was shot and killed by a sniper.

In 1994, Martin Wirth of Fort Collins, Colorado, shot to death Vernie Cox after the two argued over a chess game. Cox died of two gunshot wounds to the chest. Witnesses said that Wirth had lost a chess game with Cox, knocked over the chess board and some furniture, then began to argue with his opponent. Wirth went across the street to his home and returned with a gun and shot Cox to death.

In 1995, International Master Gilles Andruet, a former French champion, was murdered in Paris over gambling debts. He was found dead in a plastic bag.

Alvis Vitolins (1946-1997), Latvian International Master, committed suicide by jumping onto the frozen ice of the Gauja river from a railway bridge. He was only 50.

On May 17, 1999, Lembit Oll (1966-1999) committed suicide by jumping out of the window of his apartment on the 5th floor.  At the time, he was ranked number 42 in the world in chess.  He suffered severe depression after his divorce.

On August 20, 1999, Ken Horne, a Las Vegas chess organizer, flying home in his own airplane from the US Open Chess Championship in Reno, died after his aircraft crashed.

In 2000, GM Vladimir Bagirov (1936-2000) died of a heart attack when in a winning position in a tournament game in Finland. He had just finished a move while in time pressure and his flag fell. As both players moved to a separate board to reconstruct the game, he collapsed and died.

In 2000, Latvian grandmaster Aivars Gipslis (1937-2000) died of a stroke while playing chess in Berlin. He was playing for a local Berlin chess club when he collapsed from a stroke during the chess game. He died in a German hospital after being in a coma for several weeks.

In 2000, Laurence Douglas stabbed Craig Williams to death over a chess game in Poughkeepsie, New York. Williams beat Douglas in a chess game that had a $5 wager. Williams took a $5 bill from Douglas after the game and Douglas then stabbed Williams 16 times.

In 2001, Alexei Suetin (1926-2001) died of a heart attack after returning home from the Russian Seniors Chess Championship.

In 2001, Christopher Newton murdered his cellmate, Jason Brewer, over a game of chess. Brewer would resign his chess game against Newton every time a pawn was lost or the position looked bad. Newton tried to tell him not to give up and play the game out, but Brewer refused. After a month of playing chess and Brewer always resigning early without playing out the game, Newton finally had enough and strangled Brewer.

In 2003, Simon Andrews of Falls Township, Pennsylvania, stabbed to death Jerry Kowalski during a chess game. Authorities said that Andrews was disturbed by Kowalski’s constant talking during their chess games. Andrews then pulled a knife from under a sofa-bed mattress and stabbed Kowalski in the neck. Andrews was sentenced from 15 to 30 years in state prison.

On October 27, 2003, Essam Ahmed Ali (1964-2003), an International Master and Egypt’s top chess player, died of malaria after returning home from the All Africa Games chess tournament in 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 that gave them malaria.

In 2004, at the Canadian Open, Donal Hervieux collapsed and died over the chess board while playing a FIDE master during round 8.

On July 26, 2006, Jessie Gilbert, a rising British female chess star, fell through a window in her room at the Hotel Labe in Pardubice in the Czech Republic. She won the Women’s World Amateur Championship when she was 11. Police believe she may have been sleepwalking; other sources say it was suicide.

In July 2007, Bernard Papet, age 73, died right after completing his 10th round game in the Veteran’s French championship.

In January 2008, Zachary Lucov was playing chess with Dennis Klien in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, when a scuffle broke out after a game. Lucov, a sore loser, pulled out a gun and Klein was shot in the elbow. Lucov was arrested for aggravated assault and reckless endangerment

On January 17, 2008, Bobby Fischer died from degenerative renal failure in a Reykjavik hospital.  He was 64.  He had a blocked urinary tract and refused surgery or medications that would have prevented an early death.

On June 9, 2008, Grandmaster Karen Asrian had a heart attack and died.  He was only 28.

In October 2008, David Christian of Iowa City got in a fight with Michael Steward while playing a game of chess at the rooming house where they both lived. He was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Christian choked Steward to death after losing a game of chess.

In December 2008, a man was so upset in losing a chess match, that he threw his opponent out the window. It happened in Gloazov, Russian Republic of Udmurtia. 43-year-old Aleksey Valentikhin lost several games to a 60-year-old pensioner neighbor. He got so mad that Aleksey threw his opponent from his second floor window. The pensioner broke several bones and later died. Valentikham was arrested and sentenced to 6 years in prison.

In February 2009, a man killed a friend with a sword after a chess game in Alameda, California. An argument broke out during their game, and the two started wrestling. Joseph Groom retreated to his bedroom and returned with a sword, which he used to stab Kelly Kjersem once. Kjersem later died.

In October 2009, David Christian of Iowa City, Iowa, was arrested after killing his neighbor, Michael Steward, after the two got into a fight over a chess game. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

On January 17, 2010, Dale S. Lyons of Milton, Vermont, died of a heart attack while attending a chess tournament in New Hampshire. He suffered a fatal heart attack between the 3rd and 4th rounds of the Portsmouth Open. He was 60 years old.

On August 11, 2011, two people were stabbed at a Chuy’s Restaurant in Phoenix after police say a person got mad over a game of chess. Officers at the scene said two people were playing a game, but when one person won the game the other person, a sore loser, got mad and stabbed the winner twice. The victim’s friend jumped in and tried to help, but he was also stabbed.

In November 2011, Quinton Smith, age 17, was competing in the K-12 Nationals in Dallas. During the tournament, he climbed to the roof of the Hilton Anatole (27 stories) and fell (or jumped) to his death. He laid on the ground for several hours while being attended by bystanders and police. He had lost his first four games and was given a bye in the 5th round.

In May, 2012, International Master Shanker Roy, age 36, one of Bengal’s leading chess players, committed suicide. He hung himself at his residence from a ceiling fan using his wife’s long scarf.

In January, 2013, Mike Anders, a chess equipment/book seller and popular area chess player, died when the plane he was piloting crashed into a house in Florida.

On August 8, 2013, Russian Grandmaster Igor Kurnosov, age 28, was hit by a car as he was crossing the street in Chelyabinsk and died at the scene of the accident.  He was one of the top 20 GMs in Russia, rated 2680 at his peak.

In January 2014, an Italian man, Saverio Bellante, who had been living in a rented home in Dublin, killed his landlord over a game of chess. He was arrested for the killing after stabbing his landlord, Tom O’Gorman, multiple times. O’Gorman was a minister. Bellante told police that they were fighting over a chess game. Bellante was then asked by O’Gormon to leave the house following an argument over a chess move. Instead, Bellante found a kitchen knife and stabbed O’Gormon, then beat him over the head with a dumbbell. Bellante was also accused of eating the heart of his victim.

In 2014, two chess players died at the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway.  One was a journalist covering the event at the Tromso Chess Olympiad.  He  was asleep and woke up  after a fire alarm (false alarm) went off in the hotel and was forced to leave the hotel.  He became disoriented, suffered a heart attack, fell into a coma and died.  On the final day, Kurt Meier of the Seychelles team died of a heart attack while playing his final round match.

In 2014, a man strangled another man, and then committed suicide, leaving a suicide note.  The suicide not indicated that he was lonely and wanted to have someone to play chess with in the afterlife.

In March 2015, Stephen Dillard, a chess master, chess organizer (Vice President of the Kentucky Chess Association) and chess teacher, was stabbed by Ronshal Jenefor more than 140 times. Jenefor claimed that Dillard had molested him.

In 2015, a New Jersey boy, age 10,  jumped to his death after losing a game of chess.


Here are a few non-chess-related Darwin Awards, just to show that chess players are not the only stupid people around.

In 1974, Basil Brown of Croydon, England, drank himself to death by consuming 10 gallons of carrot juice in 10 days.  He overdosed on vitamin A and suffered severe liver damage that killed him.

In 1982, a man in Arizona fired several shots into a 26 food cactus from extremely close range.  A 4 ft limb on the cactus detached and fell on him, crushing him to death.

In 1993, a man was attempting to prove to a group of visitors that the glass in his 24 floor apartment was “unbreakable.”  He pounded on the glass.  The glass did not break, but popped out of the window frame, and he fell 24 stories to his death.  No pane, no gain.

In 1995, James Burns of Michigan died while attempting to repair his truck from underneath while it was still in motion.  He asked his friend to drive the truck on a highway while he clung to its undercarriage to look for the source of a funny noise it kept making. 

In 1996, two Canadian men spent a weekend drinking booze when they stole an airplane.  They ran it into power lines after take-off and died.

In 1997, two men had their heads out of the window singing in the wind, when the bus they were riding in entered a narrow viaduct.  The driver of the bus in Holland did not lock the windows because he did not think adult passengers would be stupid enough to stick their heads out of the window.

In 1998, a 23 year old man swallowed a 5-inch live fish on a dare and choked to death.  The fish was still flapping its tail in his mouth when the paramedics arrived, but it was too late.

In 1999, a group of Palestinians attempted to synchronize the detonation of two car bombs, but the timers were set on Palestinian time while the drivers were running on Israeli time.  The bomb exploded an hour early, killing both.

In 2000, a Houston man tried to play Russian roulette with a semi-automatic pistol instead of a revolver.  He had a 6 out 6 chance of losing.

In 2000, an Iraqi terrorist decided to send out a letter bomb.  He forgot to put enough stamps on the letter.  It was sent back to him with the ‘return to sender’ address.  He opened it up, forgetting it was a letter bomb, and it blew up, killing himself.

In 2001, an Oregon man lost control of his truck and crashed it into a utility pole carrying high voltage power lines.  He took a pair of pruning shears and tried to clip the sparking cable lying across his truck.  That came as a big shock to him.  He was found face-down beside his truck fried.

In 2004, an Italian man produced his latest invention at a pub with friends.  It was a single-shot pistol cleverly concealed as a pen.  To prove it worked, he pointed it at his head and clicked the button.  It worked.  That’s all he wrote.

In 2004, a man bought a lava lamp in Washington DC.  He plugged it in, but it was taking too long to get going, so he put it on the stove and heated the stove to speed up the process.  The lava lamp exploded and embedded a shard of glass in his chest.  He bled to death.

In 2005, a South African mugger tried to escape the authorities by climbing a cage.  The mugging took place in a zoo and he scrambled over a fence that happened to be a tiger case.  He was mauled to death.

In 2009, a South Carolina man spray-painted his face gold to disguise himself during a robbery.  Some time after the robbery, he stopped breathing because of the paint fumes.

In 2012, a man accidently drank from a jar containing gasoline and then smoked a cigarette.  He mistook a salsa jar for a drink, but it was filled with gasoline.  He quickly spit it out, but he didn’t realize the gasoline had gotten on his clothes.  He lit up a cigarette and burst into flames.

In 2012, a man in West Palm Beach, Florida died after winning a cockroach eating contest.  The cause of death was determined to be accidental choking due to “arthropod body parts.”  He should have smoked his roach instead.

In 2013, a Belarus man was killed by a beaver while attempting to grab the animal to have his picture taken with it.  The beaver bit the man, severing a large artery in his leg.

In 2015, you had one man in Maine light off a firecracker on top of his head, and another one lit off a firecracker on his chest.  Both died when the firecracker went off.  Their last words were probably, “hold my beer and watch this.”