Sore losers and Tempers in Chess

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."

Caliph al Walid I (668-715) who was an Umayyad caliph who ruled from 705-715, was playing chess (shatranj) with one of his courtiers, who was a much stronger player than the Caliph, but was purposely making bad moves in order for the Caliph to win.  One day, the Caliph observed this and was highly offended.  He seized one of the heaviest chess pieces and hurled it at the courtier’s head saying, ‘May evil befall thee, base sycophant!  Art thou in thy senses to play chess with me in this foolish manner?’  An Arabic manuscript says that the caliph broke his opponent’s head with a blow with his firzan (equivalent to the modern Queen).

At Vienna in 1922, Alexander Alekhine resigned in a game against Ernst Gruenfeld by throwing the king across the room.   In 1923, Alekhine smashed all the furniture in his hotel room after losing a game to Rudolf Spielmann.

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.

In 1895, Curt von Bardeleben (1861-1924) refused to witness his king captured against Steinitz (Steinitz demonstrated a mate in 10 moves) and walked out of the room to lose on time rather than resign.  A combination on the 25th move that would have led to mate was allegedly too much for Bardeleben.  He stood up and silently walked out of the room and didn’t come back.   He lost the game on time after 50 minutes.  Contemporary accounts wrote that  Bardeleben was actually disturbed by the applause during the tournament. 

In 2000, David Beaumont got in a fist fight with Alexander Gaft at the annual Doeberl Cup in Canberra.  Beaumont, still playing his chess game, became upset by the noisy comments made by Gaft, who had just finished his game.  Beaumont politely asked Gaft to keep quiet, but Gaft replied with abuse.  A violent brawl ensued, with Gaft being repeatedly punched and Beaumont thrown onto a glass door.

Louis-Charles Mahe de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840) was a sore loser and lost his temper occasionally.

In the 1940s Marlon Brando moved from Illinois to New York and was an average chess player, but poor loser.  Whenever he lost a game of chess, he would knock all the pieces off the board and say, “I’m bored.”

In 2010, a chess game between inmates at the Indian River County Jail in Florida led to a fight.  Christopher Brown was playing chess with another inmate in the cell block when Christopher O’Neal, who was watching the game, commented about the game on the other inmate’s behalf.  Brown told O’Neal to shut up, but O’Neal ignored him and continued to discuss the ongoing chess game.  The two then got into a fight.  It took several detention deputies to break up the flight.

In 1992, Robert Bryan, age 55, of England shot Matthew Hay, age 22, 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.

Canute (995-1035), king of England, Denmark, Norway, and part of Sweden, was said to have killed an earl over chess.  The story is found in The Chronicles of the Kings of Norway called the Saga of Olaf Haraldson.  In 1028, the king was playing a game of chess with his brother-in-law, Earl Godwin Ulfnadson , the husband of the king’s sister, when the king made a bad move, which led to a loss of one of the king’s pieces.  The king took his move back, replaced his knight, and told the earl to play a different move.  The earl got angry over this, overturned the chess board and started walking away.  The king said “Runnest thou away, Ulf the coward?”  The earl responded, “Thou wouldst have run farther at Helga River if thou hadst come to battle there.  Thou didst not call me Ulf the coward when I hastened to thy help while the Swedes were beating thee like a dog.”  The earl then left the king’s quarters.  The next day, the king ordered the earl to be killed.  The earl was stabbed to death at Saint Lucius’ church.  In 1035, Canute died at the Abbey in Shaftesbury, Dorset.  According to Henry Bird in Chess History and Reminiscences, the king was killed while watching a chess game.  Armed soldiers rushed into the building and slew Canute while his friend, Valdemar, who was playing chess, was severely wounded.  Valdemar escaped using the chess board as a shield.

Mikhail Chigorin (1850-1908) had a reputation of a very violent temper and sore loser.

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 and must pay $150,000 restitution.  Christian choked Steward to death after losing a game of chess.


In April 2014, inmate John Otha Dickens, Jr, age 24, lost a chess game against Antwuan Somerville in the day room of the St. Mary’s County Detention Center.  Dickens, a sore loser, then became angry and struck Somerville with his fists.  Dickens was charged with 2nd Degree Assault.


In 1954, Fedor Dus-Chotimirsky (1879-1965) took a move back that would have lost the game to David Bronstein in Moscow.  Fedor said, "Hey, I just made a bad move and now I am changing it to a good one.  To hell with the rules.  This is chess!"

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 the 1990s, Soviet Grandmaster Semen Dvoirys (1958- ) threw his shoe across a tournament hall in the Netherlands after he lost a game.  He was known to beat his head on the floor with great force when he lost.

In 1981, future grandmaster John Fedorowicz (1958- ) and grandmaster András Adorján (1950- )got into a fistfight at the Edward Lasker Memorial on New York.  Fedorowicz was upset that Adorján beat him when Adorján was drawing all his earlier games.  Most of the blows landed not on each other, but on the tournament director, Eric Schiller, who was trying to break up the fight.

Around 1213, Joan (1194-1244), Countess of Flanders and the daughter of Baldwin IX (1172-1205), count of Flanders and first emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, beat her husband, Ferdinand (1188-1233), prince of Portugal, in a game of chess.  He got so mad that he hit her.  In revenge, she left her husband in French captivity from 1214 to 1226, refusing to ransom him.

Bobby Fischer was perhaps never a sore loser in chess, but he was a sore loser at ping pong, slamming down his ping pong paddle when he lost.  (source: multiple newspaper articles, March 1972)

Benjamin Franklin, a chess player, was also known as a sore loser.  (source: Pranksters: Making Mischief in the Modern World by Kembrew McLeod, 2014 and The Turk by Tom Standage, 2003)

Billionaire Paul Allen (1953- ), co-founder of Microsoft, plays chess. So does Bill Gates (1955- ), who lost to world chess champion Magnus Carlsen in 12 seconds, getting mated in 9 moves. Paul Allen wrote that he had to stop playing chess with Bill Gates because Gates was such a bad loser, he would sweep the chess pieces to the floor in anger when he lost.

In June 1960, an American sailor, Michael George, age 34, 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.   Curtis, age 43, was a free-lance book editor from Miami, visiting his brother in New York.

In 2006, during the Turin chess Olympiad, UK grandmaster Danny Gormally (1976- ) punched Armenian grandmaster Levon Aronian (1982- ) to the ground at a nightclub.  The two got in a jealous dispute over 19-year-old chess playing beauty Arianne Caoili.  Caoili’s energetic dancing with Aronian provoked Gormally to fight.

In February 2009, a man killed a friend with a sword after he lost a chess game in Alameda, California.  An argument broke out after 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.

GM Eduard Gufeld (1936-2002) was a poor loser in chess.  When he lost, he refused to shake hands and occasionally insulted his opponents with remarks like, "He plays like a first category player," or "I will not shake the hand of a friend of a traitor to the Motherland."  Gufeld once played Tony Miles and lost after Miles opened the game with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 Na6.  The next day, Gufeld saw Miles at breakfast. Gufeld said: "I hate you, my friend. You are destroying chess with your stupid ideas." Gufeld kept shouting for two hours and later he never said a polite word to Miles. When they met at the board again, there was no handshake.

In 2005, junior champion David Howell (1990- ) of England (now a grandmaster) punched the organizer of the European Union Chess Championship when it turned out that Howell would not win a prize.  It turned out that titled players were not eligible for junior prizes.

In 1904, Frank Marshall (1877-1944) defeated David Janowski (1868-1927)  in a match in Paris.  Janowski acted like a sore loser and wrote to Marshall, “I consider the result of our match far from proving our respective abilities.  On the contrary, as in the great majority of games, I allowed the win or draw to escape me.  I am persuaded that normally I should have won very easily.  I therefore challenge you to a return match on the following conditions – The first winner of 10 games to be declared the winner, draws not to count.  I also offer you the advantage of 4 points; that is to say, my first 4 wins are not to count.  Stakes not to exceed 5,000 francs.”

Karpov is known as a very sore loser.  (source:  King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, by Paul Hoffman, 2007)

In 1997, when Gary Kasparov (1963- ) lost to IBM’s Deep blue, he stormed off like a sore loser.  In 2003, Kasparov lost to Teimour Radjabov by storming away from the board and lost on time rather than resign in a clearly lost position.  He refused to shake hands or do a post game analysis.  Later, Radjabov was awarded the brilliancy prize, but Kasparov walked up on the stage, grabbed the microphone, and launched a 10 minute tirade at the journalists, saying the award was a public insult and humiliation because Radjabov was completely lost in the game.

In 1969, Danny Kopec (1954- ), who later became an International Master, lost a game to a person he beat in his first tournament.  In a temper tantrum, he threw all his chess sets and magazines down an incinerator.

Victor Korchnoi (1931- ) lost to Irina Krush in Gibraltar in 2007 and acted like a sore loser.  He left the playing area without saying anything, but then saw her analyzing the game with a friend.  He went up to Irina and insulted her, saying, “It’s good to know theory, but you should learn how to play chess as well.”  In1977, when Korchnoi and Petrosian were due to play their Candidates match, the arbiter put a piece of board under the table so that neither player could kick each other.  In 1978, at the world chess championship in Baguio, Philippines, Korchnoi was blaming his losses on a Soviet hypnosis expert, Dr. Vladimir Zukhar, and threatened to punch him out.  Korchnoi had accused Zukhar of putting a hex on him by long-range hypnosis.

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) was a chess player, but gave it up because he was a sore loser.  Maxim Gorky wrote that Lenin “grew angry when he lost, even sulking rather childishly.”

In January 2008, Zachary Lucov, age 23, 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. The bullet also narrowly missed Zachary’s 9-month-old son who was nearby.  Lucov was arrested for aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.


Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a chess player, but a sore loser.  His wife, Jenny, had to make him stop playing chess to cool his temper.


In 1979, Patrick McKenna, a prisoner in Nevada, strangled his Las Vegas cellmate, Jack J. Nobles, after an argument over a chess game in which he lost.  He has been on death row for over 30 years.  He was denied the latest in a long line of appeals.  He has been called the most dangerous inmate in Nevada.

In 1974, the candidates match between Henrique Mecking (1952- ) and Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984) was played in Augusta, Georgia. During the match, Mecking made a formal protest. He accused the former world champion of kicking the table, shaking the chessboard, stirring the coffee too loudly, and rolling a coin on the table. Mecking went to the arbiter twice to complain that Petrosian was breathing too loudly. Mecking kicked back at the table and made noises of his own. Petrosian responded by turning his hearing aid off.

In 1927 at Kecskemet, Hans Mueller (1896-1971), a poor loser, waited until it was time to seal a move.  Instead of sealing a move, he wrote, 'aufgegeben' (I resign) and never showed up for the adjournment.

At the Amsterdam tournament in 1950, Samuel Reshevsky and Miguel Najdorf got into a scuffle after a game.

Jan Nepomniachtchi (1990- ), a Russian grandmaster, was expelled from a chess school for throwing a shoe at his trainer.

In 2001, Christopher Newton murdered his cellmate, Jason Brewer, over a game of chess in a Ohio prison.  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.  Newton was executed by lethal injection in 2007.

In 1918, Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) lost a blitz game in Berlin, and allegedly leapt on the table and shouted, “Gegen diesen Idioten muss ich verlieren!" (Why must I lose to this idiot!).  Nimzowitsch lost his temper at the end of the Marienbad tournament in 1925, which he would have won had he defeated Rudolph Spielmann in the last round. But that game ended in a draw, and Nimzowitsch had to share first and second prizes with Rubinstein. He was so disappointed that he openly accused Spielmann of dishonor.

In 1971, when Tigran Petrosian lost his match with Bobby Fischer, Petrosian’s wife, Rona, put the blame on his trainer, Alexey Suetin, and slapped him.

General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) was a chess player, but a sore loser.  In 1846, when he lost a chess game to eight-year-old Paul Morphy in New Orleans, he did not take his defeat gracefully.

In 1989, during the French championship, IM Gilles Andruet (1958-1995) and IM Jean-Luc Seret (1951- ) got into a violent fight over an argument whether Andruet resigned before Seret checkmated him. After the fight, Andruet needed 8 stitches and had to withdraw from the tournament, despite the fact that he was in the lead after 10 of 14 rounds.

In 1997, Joshua Simms, age 15, got into a fight with John Slack, age 13, over a chess game.  Simms hit Slack in the head so hard that  Slack was rushed to a hospital in critical condition to have brain surgery and lapsed into a coma.

The Reverend Arthur Skipworth (1830-1898) was a poor loser.  He had the habit of suddenly getting "ill" when he lost a few games, then would petition the tournament committee to return his entry fee due to his poor health.  He dropped out of the BCA London tournament in 1868 after a few losses.  In 1883, he lost his second game to Mortimer in the BCA tournament in London, then said he was in ill-health and wanted his deposit money back, which they returned to him.  In 1886, he dropped out of a Nottingham tournament after losing his first 2 games (his first game was adjourned in a lost position, but he would not resign), claiming ill health and asked for his entry fee back.  In 1888, he dropped out of a Bradford tournament after a few losses, claiming illness.  He did that throughout his chess career.

In 1867, Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) got in a dispute with Henry Blackburne at a City of London Chess Club game.  Blackburne made an insulting remark and Steinitz spat towards Blackburne.  Blackburne, who was over 6 feet and 250 pounds, then smashed the diminutive Steinitz in the face with his fist.  Steinitz wrote,

…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.

Later, at a tournament in Paris in 1878, Blackburne returned to the hotel drunk and got in a quarrel with Steinitz.  Steinitz wrote,

…and after a few words he pounced upon me and hammered at my face and eyes with fullest force about a dozen blows…But at last I had the good fortune to release myself from his drunken grip, and I broke the window pane with his head, which sobered him down a little.

In 1895, Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934) was a sore loser by blaming the "lassitude from the effects of the sea air" on his losses.  He blamed the climate when he lost in Duesseldorf in 1908.

In 1993, Tim Trogdon got so mad at a tournament director for poor pairings and bad tournament conditions at a hotel in San Antonio that he tore down and ripped up all the pairing sheets that were posted for the next day.  The police were called and he was arrested.

In 1990, Boris Ustinov, a sore loser, couldn’t tolerate defeat.  In a chess game with Leonid Nikanov in Moscow, when Leonid checkmated Ustinov with his queen, Ustinov got red in the face and his veins in his neck bulged out.  Them Ustinov snatched the queen off the board and popped it in his mouth.  He soon clutched his throat as he accidently swallowed the chess piece.  He fell off the side of the chair and choked to death.  (source: Weekly World News, March 6, 1990)

In December 2008, a man was so upset in losing a chess match, that he threw his opponent out the window.  It happened in Glazov, 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 sentenced to 6 years in prison.


John Wayne played chess but was not a very good loser.  Wayne once played William Windom (a higher rated player but lesser known actor) and lost 6 games in a row.  Wayne finally had enough and knocked all the pieces to the floor, blaming the chess board and chess pieces.


Around 1060, William the Conqueror (1027-1087), was playing chess with the Prince of France and got checkmated.  The king then took the chessboard and hit the prince over the head with it.


In 1994, Martin Wirth of Fort Collins, Colorado, shot to death Vernie Cox, age 24, 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 1975, International Master Bernard Zuckerman (1943- ) was playing in the Cleveland international tournament in Ohio when he asked a noisy spectator to shut up. When the spectator continued to make noise, Zuckerman picked up a captured bishop and threw it at the spectator who wouldn’t shut up.

In 1251, the first known court case involving chess and violence appeared.  It dealt with a chess player who stabbed his opponent to death.  A quarrel arose between two players of Essex over a chess match.  One of the players who lost was so angered that he stabbed his opponent in the stomach with a knife, from which he died.

In 1264, another court case was opened when a man stabbed a woman to death with his sword after a quarrel over a chess game.

In 1950, Walter Bjornson of Vancouver was cut with a knife by his opponent during a chess game, leaving a 4 inch gash in his forearm.  His opponent, a sore loser, attacked Walter after losing a game.

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

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, he killed his opponent with an axe.  After the incident, the Soviets banned chess at their Antarctic stations.

In one of the US Opens of the early 1970s, a chess player had just lost his game and, by himself, set up the pieces to analyze his game.  A player sitting next to him told him to leave the playing area, that this was not a skittles room.  Ignoring the player, the other person quietly replayed his lost game.  The player again told him to leave.  The lone kibitzer replied, “Who died and made you king?”  The player then swept all the pieces off the other guy’s board with his hand.  The kibitzer responded with a right hook that knocked the player off his seat.  A fight then started, which had to be broken up by the tournament director.

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union banned cosmonauts from playing chess in space with each other (they can play against ground control personnel) after a fist fight once broke out between cosmonauts after one of the cosmonauts lost his game to the other cosmonaut.

In 1993, chess was banned from American River College in California because of disruptive behavior on people playing in the cafeteria and library. Campus police ordered some chess players to stop playing chess. The players refused and the campus police confiscated the chess board and pieces.

In 1994, chess was banned in Afghanistan by Taliban edicts. Players caught playing chess were beaten or imprisoned.

In 2002, two players got into a fight at the World Open in Philadelphia when one of the players threw a basketball at another player between rounds.

In 2007, two players got into an argument at the Village Chess Shop in New York during a chess game.  One player was using his piece to knock off the other player’s piece rather than using the hands to remove a captured piece.  One player than picked up the wooden board and hit the other player in the mouth, which drew blood.  The police were called.  The player that was hit was pressing criminal charges and vowed to sue.

In January 2009, a heated argument erupted at a Dubai chess tournament between an Iranian chess master and his Asian opponent.  The two then got into a fight after the Asian opponent said he was good in karate.

In January 2009, a Bridgeport, Connecticut man was stabbed with a plastic snow shovel after a dispute arose over a chess game.

 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. .

On the Internet, many losers blame it on a mouse slip or complain that the winner made some strange moves and must have gotten help.

A few years ago at one of the Nationals Scholastic tournaments, a couple of dads got to shaking fists and threatening each other over a chess game their kids were playing.  An arbiter came over and ended it before a fist fight broke out.

In a blitz tournament, one of the players slammed the chess clock on the chess board when he lost.  The chess clock broke (it was his check clock).

My worst sore loser was a player I beat at the National Open in Las Vegas some years ago in the final round.  After he was checkmated (he would not resign after being a queen down), he threw a glass of ice water on my chess board and stormed out.