Unusual chess losses and losers by Bill Wall

In 1851, chess master Johann Lowenthal (1810-1876) was living in Cincinnati giving chess lessons.  His customers raised enough money for him to travel to the London International Chess Tournament of 1851.  However, he got knocked out in the first round.  Because of his early loss, he felt too embarrassed to return to the United States and stayed in Europe the rest of his life, settling in London.

In 1878, the automaton Mephisto started playing chess in England against all comers.  It beat almost every player except when it played a lady.  When playing with ladies, it would obtain a winning position and then lose the game, offering to shake hands afterwards.

In 1882, James Mason (1849-1905) became the first person to lose a game of chess on time.  It happed at Vienna where everyone played with a chess timing piece.

In 1889, James Mason lost to David Baird at a chess tournament in New York after 8 moves.  Mason had visited a barroom just before the game and was unable to play any further because he was too drunk.

In 1889, Nicholas MacLeod lost 31 games in the 6th American Chess Congress in New York.  He holds the record for the most games lost in a single tournament.

In 1895 at Hastings, Steinitz was about to checkmate Curt von Bardeleben.  Bardeleben, rather than resigning, got up from his chair and left the room.  He didn’t come back.  Tournament official found him outside the hall pacing angrily.  He would not return to the game and 50 minutes later, Steinitz won the game on time.

In 1903, Colonel Charles Moreau lost all 26 games at Monte Carlo.  He was a chess patron and arranged the Monte Carlo event.

In 1913, at Schevenigen, Gyula Breyer lost his game to Frederick Yates after failing to show up an hour after the game had started.  Someone telephoned the hotel in time to reach Breyer, but the message came back that Breyer had left the hotel and was on his way.  It turned out afterwards that the hotel person who received the message mistook Alekhine for Breyer (they looked alike), so nothing else could be done but let the clock run out.  Breyer said afterwards that he would never stay with Alekhine at the same hotel.

In 1922, Alexander Alekhine lost a game to Ernst Gruenfeld at Vienna.  In his frustration, Alekhine threw his game across the room.

In 1925, at Baden-Baden, Aron Nimzowitch lost a game to Friedrich Saemisch.  After the game was over, Nimzowitch got up on his chair or table and yelled in German, “Why must I lose to this idiot?”

In 1927, at Kecskemet, Hans Muller waited until it was time to seal a move.  Instead of sealing a move, he wrote “I resign” on his scoresheet and never showed up for his adjourned game.

In 1929, Albert Becker said that if any master should lose to Vera Menchik, a woman, he would be a member of the Vera Menchik Club.  Becker became the first member when she beat him at Carlsbad in 1929.  Later, other members included Max Euwe,  Sammy Reshevsky, Mir Sultan Khan, Sir George Thomas, C. H. O'D. Alexander, Edgar Colle, Frederick Yates, William Winter, Lajos Steiner, Frederich Saemisch, Milner-Barry, Harry Golombek, Karel Opocensky, and Jacques Mieses (who lost to her four times in a match).

In the 1930s, Tartakower once lost five games in a row.  He was asked how that could happen.   He replied, "I had a toothache during the first game. In the second game I had a headache. In the third game it was an attack of rheumatism. In the fourth game, I wasn't feeling well.  And in the fifth game? Well, must one have to win every game?"

In 1935, at the Warsaw Chess Olympiad, Isaias Pleci (1900-1980) of Argentina claimed his game on time forfeit against Miguel Najdorf.  Najdorf made his move just before time control, but before he could press the button on the chess clock, Pleci picked up the chess clock and ran away with it.  Pleci said he could not forcible stop Najdorf from making his move and writing it down on his scoresheet.  The arbiters were unable to determine who was telling the trutch, so they let the chess clock decide the issue.  Najdorf lost the game on time.

In 1938, Jack Battell (1909-1985), lost all 11 games in the 1937-38 Marshall Chess Club championship, the worst score in Marshall CC history.  He then gave up on over-the-board (OTB) chess and became the highest rated correspondence chess player in the United States in 1946.

In 1939, Weaver Adams wrote a book called White to Play and Win.  After publication of the book, he played in the U.S. Open in Dallas.  He did not win a single game as White.

In 1942, the flag of Samuel Reshevsky’s clock fell against Arnold Denker in the U.S. chess championship.  This should have resulted in his losing on time.  However, the tournament director, Walter Stephens, who was standing behind the clock, flipped it around and, looking at Reshevsky’s side of the clock, now appearing as if it was Denker’s side of the clock, announced that Denker lost on time.  He refused to correct his error explaining, “Does Kemesaw Mountain Landis reverse himself?”  The crowd demonstrated its disapproval with boos and jeers.  Denker had filed a protest as Reshevsky was not keeping his own score and the players were using a battered chess clock that had no flag indicators.  If there were no flag indicators, how did Stephens know who lost on time?  The erroneous ruling allowed Reshevsky to tie for 1st place with Isaac Kashdan.  Reshevsky then won the play-off match to become U.S. champion.

In the 1950s, Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) played a chess game against is friend Mike Romanoff (1890-1972) at Romanoff’s restaurant and lost.  He then went home, phoned Romanoff and bet some money on a new game played over the phone.  Bogart won the game, but then admitted he cheated.  At the time, U.S. Champion Herman Steiner (1905-1955) was visiting Bogart at his house, who helped Bogart with the moves. 

In 1957, Donald Byrne was playing Samuel Reshevsky in a match.  The referee, Hans Kmoch, was watching the game.  In the first game, both players got in time trouble, and Byrne’s flag fell.  All the spectators, as well as Hans Kmoch, saw the flag fell but no one said anything.  Reshevsky, who was not paying attention to the clock, then offered Byrne a draw, which Byrne accepted right away (he knew his flag fell).  After the agreed draw, Kmoch then told Reshevsky that he could have claimed a win on time forfeit.  Resheveky then replied, “I claim it.”  But it was too late.  In the second game, Byrne’s flag fell first, then Reshevsky’s flag fell.  Neither player had noticed that the other ‘s flag had fallen.  Seated in the front row was Mrs. Reshevsky who suddenly rose to her feet and shouted, “I claim the game on behalf of my husband.”  Samuel Reshevsky, who heard this and now noticed the fallen flags, made a claim of his own.  Then Byrne, seeing Reshevsky’s flag down, made his own claim.  The matter was referred to a committee for a ruling, which Byrne protested and temporarily resigned the match.  Reshevsky’s claims to both the first and second games and Byrne’s claim to the second game were all disallowed.  Play eventually resumed and Reshevsky won the match.

In 1959, Grandmaster Freidrich Saemisch (1896-1975) lost all 13 games on time at a tournament in Linkopping Sweden. 

In 1964, Grandmaster Klaus Darga resigned his game to Levente Lengyal at the Amsterdam Interzonal, overlooking he had a won game.  He overlooked an escape move for his king in which he would have been an exchange up.  Instead, he thought he was losing a rook, so he extended his hand in resignation.  A moment later, he struck his forehead and exclaimed, “My God, I have a winning position!”  However, he had just resigned his game.

In 1969, at the World Student Team Championship in Dresden, the Yugoslavian player Momcilo Despotovic was playing the American player Gregory DeFotis, who had white.  DeFotis got in time trouble and was depending on Despotivic’s score sheet to determine when 40 moves were made before time control at 5 hours.  Despotovic relaxed, made his next move, wrote it as move 41, and walked away from the board.  DeFotis had 25 seconds left and thought he made time control since his opponent had turned over the score sheet after recording what was seemingly his 41st move.  When DeFotis saw his flag fall, he thought he had made time control.  But Despotovic swooped back to the board and immediately claimed a win on time, stating that his own score “accidently” contained a duplication of one move and hence only 40 white moves had been played.  Despotovic was awarded the point.  It was alleged that Despotovic pretended to make 41 moves in order to mislead his opponent.   Despotovic pulled the same trick on another opponent during the tournament.

In 1970, Oscar Panno lost his game with Bobby Fischer because Panno refused to show up and play at the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal.  Fischer played 1.c4 and waited an hour before winning on time.  Panno refused to play in protest to the organizers’ rescheduling of the game to accommodate Fischer’s desire not to play on his religions’s (Worldwide Church of God) Sabbath.

In 1970, at the chess Olympiad in Skopje, Yugoslavia, Viktor Korchnoi overslept and missed his round against Spain, losing be default.  The round started at 3 pm and Korchnoi showed up after 4 pm.

Also at Skopje, Albania decided to forfeit their match against South Africa as a protest against racial segregation.  The lost their match 4-0.

In the 1970s Kavalek forfeited the last round of a tournament by not showing up.  He had a chance to win the event.  His excuse was that his hotel failed to give him a wake-up call.  He wanted the forfeit annulled because it was the hotel’s fault, not his.

In 1972, Bobby Fischer forfeited game 2 of his world championship game.

In 1972, Robert Heubner lost a game for not apologizing to the tournament arbiters after he played a game with Kenneth Rogoff.  In the World Student Championship, Huebner played one move and offered a draw.  Rogoff accepted.  However, the arbiters insisted that some moves be played.  So after 11 moves, another draw was agreed.  The arbiters ruled that both players must apologize and play an actual game later in the evening.  Rogoff appeared and apologized.  Huebner did not appear and did not apologize, so was given a loss after an hour’s time when Heubner’s clock was started.  Rogoff was declared the winner.  Heubner did not want to play the round so that he could rest and he still had several adjourned games to play.

In 1972, Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984) lost a game on time against Robert Huebner in the 1972 Skopje Olympiad, his first loss on time in his whole career.  When he was later told that the incident was shown on television, re responded, “If I had known that, I would definitely have smashed the clock.”

In 1973, Henrique Mecking lost his match with Petrosian and made a formal protest. He accused Petrosian of kicking the table, shaking the chessboard, stirring the coffee too loudly, and rolling a coin on the table. He went to the referee twice to complain that Petrosian was breathing too loudly. Mecking kicked back at the table and started making noises of his own. Petrosian responded by turning his hearing aid off.

In 1981, at the Lone Pine, California, Sammy Reshevsky offered a draw to John Fedorowicz.  After letting his time tick down, Fedorowicz accepted.  Reshevsky then denied he made the offer.  There were several witnesses to Reshevsky’s offers, but the tournament director, Isaac Kashdan, eliminated all the witnesses, saying they were all Fedorowicz’s friends, and upheld Reshevsky’s fabrication.  However, the game was resumed with Fedorowicz almost out of time and Reshevsky lost!

In 1982, the Ugandian team forfeited their first round match at the 1982 chess Olympiad in Lucerne, Switzerland because they showed up late.  They went to the wrong city, thinking the chess Olympiad was at Lugano, Switzerland instead of Lucerne, Switzerland.  Lugano was the home of the 1968 chess Olympiad.

In 1986, at the New York Open, U.S. GrandmasterPal Benko was playing Hungarian Grandmaster Gyula Sax in the final round.  If Benko won, he would have earned $12,000.  If Benko drew, he would only get $3,000.  Sax offered Benko a draw at a critical position.  Benko turned it down, blundered in time pressure, and lost.  He got nothing for his efforts.

In 1986, David Straus became the first International Master to lose to a computer in tournament competition.  He lost to a Fidelity computer at the U.S. Open in Somerset, New jersey.

In 1988, Bent Larsen became the first Grandmaster to lose to a computer in tournament competition.

In 2003, former world chess champion Ruslan Ponomariov became the first chess player to lose a game of chess because his mobile telephone rand during a game.  He was playing in a match representing the Ukraine against Sweden at the European Team Championship in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.  He lost in his game against Swedish Grandmaster Evgeny Agrest.  Ponomariov protested and refused to sign the scoresheets indicating his loss.

In 2004, Evgeny Agrest lost when his cell phone rang.  Was it Ponomariov calling?

In 2004, top seed Christine Castellano was playing in the Philippine Women’s National Chess Championship when her cell phone rang.  She was disqualified from the event.

In 2005, Zoltan Almasi became the first grandmaster to lose to a computer program in Chess960 format (random chess).

In 2006, Kramnik defaulted on his 5th world championship game with Topalov.

In August 2008, a chess player in Malaysia lost a chess game because his phone rang due to a birthday reminder.

In September 2008, Nigel Short lost a chess game in the second round of the European Union Individual Open after his cell phone beeped (it did not ring) because it was low on battery power.  He lost his game to Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant from Scotland.  The Nokia cell phone had been a gift from a sponsor at a previous chess tournament and Short had only started using it.  He was unaware that the cell phone beeped when it was low on battery power.

In 2009 at a Chinese tournament, Wang chen and Lu Shanglei both lost a game in which they played no moves, but agreed to a draw with each other.  The chief arbiter declared both players to have lost the game.

In 2009, Hou Yifan lost a game for arriving 5 seconds late for the beginning of the round.  He went out for a smoke break and was late getting back. 

In 2009, Aleksander Delchev of Bulgaria lost against Stuart Conquest of England when Delchev’s cell phone rang at the 2009 European Team Championship.

In September 2009, Grandmaster Vladiislav Tkachiev appeared for his round 3 game at Kolkata in an intoxicated state.  He could hardly sit in his char.  He fell asleep during the game a number of times, resting his head on the table, Attempts to wake him up appeared futile.  He was ultimately declared the loser after 15 moves.  He had to be carried off.  He lost his game to Praveen Kumar.

In 2011, Grandmaster Eshan Ghaem Maghami was disqualified from a tournament in Corisca after he refused to play against his 4th round opponent, Israeli FIDE master Ehud Shachar.

In 2012, seven players lost on time for failing to show up at the 13th European Individual Championship.  All of these players forgot about daylight saving time and were not staying in the main tournament hotel.