Gregor and Jacqueline Piatigorsy

On April 17 (April 4, old style), 1903, Gregor Piatigorsky was born in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk in Ukraine).  He became a world class cellist and, later, chess patron.

On November 6, 1911, Jacqueline Rebecca Louise de Rothschild was born in Paris, France.  She was a member of the Rothschild banking family who became a strong woman chess player and chess patron.

Jacqueline learned the game of chess at the age of 6 from an English nurse, Miss Coque, who taught her when Jacqueline was recovering from peritonitis.

Jacqueline became good enough to beat her father in chess.  That irritated the baron so much that her quit playing chess.

In 1937, Jacqueline married cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.  They later fled France in the wake of the Nazi occupation during World War II.  They settled in New York and Philadelphia.

In 1940, Jacqueline started playing correspondence chess sponsored by Chess Review.

In the 1940s, she played the violinist Louis Persinger (1887-1966) several games of chess.  He had a summer home nearby and he gave her lessons and a book on chess openings.  Persinger’s USCF rating was 1924.  It was the first time in her life that she started studying chess seriously.  Other chess opponents included Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

In 1949, they moved to the Los Angeles area and lived at 400 South Bundy Drive in Brentwood.

In the 1950s, she took chess lessons from International Master Herman Steiner (1905-1955).  She played in her first tournament, directed by Steiner, and won the brilliancy prize.  Her rating in 1952 was 1840.

In 1953, Jacqueline Piatigorsky (rated 1872) played in the Hollywood Invitational, scoring 3 points out of 19, and placing 19th out of 20.  The event was won by Isaac Kashdan.

In August 1955, Jacqueline played in the 56th US Open in Long Beach, winning 3, drawing 2, losing 5, and then withdrawing. 

In 1955, Jacqueline took over the Steiner’s Hollywood Chess Group and renamed it the Herman Steiner Chess Club at 108 North Formosa Avenue, Los Angeles.  Its offshoots included the Student Club that mentored young chess players.  In the 1960s, the club moved to 8810 Cashio Street, Los Angeles.

In 1956, Jacqueline took 3d place in the California Women’s championship, behind Sonja Graf-Stevenson (1908-1965) and Lina Grumette (1908-1988).

In September 1957, she represented the United States in the first Women’s Chess Olympiad, held in Emmen, Holland.  Her teammate was Gisela Gresser (1906-2000).  Jacqueline played Board 2, scoring 7.5 out of 11 and the USA won a bronze medal for team results.  Jacqueline was invited to play after Sonja Graf-Stevenson was unable to play.

In 1957, she served as chairperson for the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, which was held in Los Angeles and sponsored by the Hollywood Chess Group and Herman Steiner.

In the 1960s, she was the highest USCF-rated female chess player in California and was ranked #2 in the United States.

In August 1961, Jacqueline Piatigorsky sponsored a match between Samuel Reshevsky and Bobby Fischer.  She also donated $2,000 of her money for the prize fund.  It was held jointly in New York and Los Angeles.  The match was abandoned after 11 of the planned 16 games because of a scheduling dispute that Fischer did not like.  Jacqueline had wanted a Sunday game to begin earlier so that she could attend a once in a lifetime joint concert of her husband and Jascha Heifetz for the same evening.  She was also trying to accommodate the travel needs of some out-of-town audience members, including her mother from Europe.  Reshevsky had no objections but Fischer declined to play at an earlier time (11 am instead of the regular 1:30 pm start time), and the game was declared a forfeit and a win for Reshevsky.  Fischer refused to play the remainder of the match.  At the time, each player had 5.5 points each.  In the wake of this event, she became a friend with Reshevsky, who became her coach.  Jacqueline said that unless Fischer changed his behavior pattern, she would do nothing in the future to support any of his chess activities.  $100 had to be refunded to the audience that was present, and another $100 was lost in gate receipts.

In 1962, she established the Piatigorsky Foundation as a non-profit organization for chess promotion.  At the time, the idea of a philanthropic chess organization was so novel that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) denied the group’s first application for not-for-profit status.  Jacqueline served as President of the Piatigorsky Foundation, Gregor and Joram Piatigorsky (their son) were Vice Presidents.  Their assets for the Foundation was over $154,000 to support chess.

In April 1963, President John F. Kennedy extended his best wishes to Jacqueline Piatigorsky in sponsoring the First Piatigorsky Cup.  Governor Edmund Brown of California also extended his best wishes for the tournament.

In July 1963, the First Piatigorsky Cup (with a $10,000 prize fund) was held in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.  There were 8 players (Keres, Petrosian, Najdorf, Olafsson, Reshevsky, Gligoric, Benko, and Panno) from 5 countries.  Paul Keres and World Champion Tigran Petrosian finished equal first.  Keres and Petrosian used their money to buy a car each.  The Piatigorsky Cup was designed by Jacqueline anc created by Tiffany & Co.  Bobby Fischer was invited, but made too many financial demands (he asked for a $2,000 appearance fee) that Jacqueline would not allow him to play, although Gregor wanted Fischer to play despite the demands.

Gregor and Jacqueline Piatigorsky appeared on the front cover of the August 1963 issue of Chess Review.

In 1965, she took 2nd place in the U.S. Women’s Championship, behind Gisela Gresser.

In 1965, the U.S. did not have an entrant in the World Junior Championship due to lack of funds and lack of qualified representatives.  Jacqueline then established the U.S. Junior Invitational Championship, now known as the U.S. Junior Closed Championship.  The Piatigorsky Foundation also sponsored the California Junior Championship and provided money to students who wanted to participate in the National High School Championship.  It also sponsored the local Tournament of Champions and the Christmas Tournament, designed to promote chess in public schools.

In November 1965, Jacqueline sent an invitation to Bobby Fischer asking him to play in the Second Piatigorsky Cup.  She had decided that if Fischer did not play, there would be no second Piatigorsky Cup.  Bobby Fischer accepted.

In July-August 1966, the Second Piatigorsky Cup (with a $15,000 prize fund) was held at the Mirimar Hotel in Santa Monica.  Boris Spassky won the event, followed by Bobby Fischer.  This time, Fischer played under the same conditions as everyone else.  The success of the Second Piatigorsky Cup prompted the Los Angeles Times to name Jacqueline its “Woman of the Year.”

In 1967, Jacqueline’s USCF rating was 1902, the highest rated woman chess player in California.

In 1968, the Piatigorsky Foundation organized the Interzonal Playoff at the Herman Steiner Chess Club.  It also provided financial support to Bobby Fischer, the U.S. Chess Championsip, and the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship.

In the 1970s, Jacqueline gave up competitive chess and switched to tennis, where she won senior tournaments while in her 70s.  She played competitive tennis into her 90s.

In 1973, Jacqueline contributed $750 to the 1973 California Junior Championship.

In the 1970s, Jacqueline contributed $1,800 each year to the Los Angeles City Schools Recreation Association to sponsor chess activities.

On August 6, 1976, Gregor died of lung cancer in Los Angeles.

In 1979, Jacqueline Piatigorsky was one of the first recipients of the Koltanowski medal for the promotion of chess.

In 1985, the Piatigorsky Foundation was dissolved.

In 1988, Jacqueline wrote her memoir, Jump in the Waves, which contained several chess references.

On July 5, 2012, Jacqueline died from complications of pneumonia.  She was 100 years old.