Off the Wall Oddities and Trivia in Chess

In the 19th century, Cardinal Constantino Patrizi (1798-1876) challenged five other nobles to a pistol duel because they denied him membership in the Noble Chess Circle of Rome.  (Chess Review, February 1951, p. 50)

In 1916, during World War I, Siegbert Tarrasch and Jacques Mieses played a chess match in Berlin in which the prize was ˝ pound of butter.  Tarrasch won the match and the butter with 7 wins, 2 losses, and 4 draws.  At a New York chess tournament during the Depression, the first prize was a keg of schmaltz herring.  (Chess Review, December 1947, p. 16)

Grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky (1911-1992) was a child prodigy in chess.  He made his debut on radio singing a love song.  His original name was Szmul Rzeszewski, but nobody could pronounce it.  He was an accountant by profession.  (Chess Review, October 1951, p. 288)

During the Bled 1931 International Chess Tournament, Geza Maroczy challenged Aron Nimzowitsch to a pistol duel at dawn after the two got in an argument.  Nimzowitsch refused.  Nimzowitsch took 3rd place (won by Alekhine).   Maroczy took 11th place.  (Chess Life, March 1988, p. 11)

World champion Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) once was concentrating so hard on his game that he absent mindedly stirred his coffee with a pawn , then dropped a white pawn in his coffee, thinking it was a sugar cube. (Chess Review, March 1949, p. 74)

In 1939, Hollywood had an anti-Nazi chess league, mostly made up of Jewish players (Chess Review, May 1939, p. 104)

Benjamin Blumenfeld (1884-1947) was one of the best chess players in Moscow between the First and Second World Wars.  He studied law at Moscow and Berlin Universities, then gave up law to devote himself to chess.  He received a PhD in chess psychology from Moscow University.  His dissertation was on the nature of blunders in chess.  (Chess Review, May 1947, p. 8)

During World War II, it was reported that grandmaster Paul Keres (1916-1975) of Estonia was bombed by the Germans and had to have his leg amputated.  Keres saved the lives of several radio operators after warning them that the NKVD (the Russian People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) were looking for them.  (Chess Review, February 1945, p. 9)

During World War II, postal chess was not allowed between civilians and servicemen because censors thought it might be secret code.  (Chess Review, June 1946, p. 6)

During one of the later rounds of the U.S. chess championship, a room that was normally used for the tournament was reserved for a wedding.  Someone posted on the door the following note for the chess players: “You will have to have your fun somewhere else tonight as the Bishop is mating…” (Chess Review, May 1955, p. 146)

In the 1950s, a Louisiana law barred blacks from chess playing rooms in New Orleans.  This prevented blacks from playing in the U.S. Open in 1954, which was held in New Orleans.  (Chess Life, July 20, 1954)

In 1954, the Argentine Chess Federation called off the national tournament after a chess player punched a referee.  (Chess Review, December 1954, p. 358)

The Rosenwald Trophy for the U.S. championship in the 1950s was engraved incorrectly.  The engraving says Lavore Praetium Honoris (washing is the price of honor) instead of Labore Praetium Honoris (labor is the price of honor).  Some chess players thought the prize might be a bar of soap.  (Chess Life, January 5, 1955, p. 2)

Arkadijs Strazdins won the New Britain, Connecticut Chess Championship 23 years in a row.  He also had been president of the chess club for over 25 years.  He was a member of the club for over 50 years.  His son, Andris, was the club treasurer for over 34 years.  (Chess Life, June 1975, p. 379

The wife of grandmaster Isaac Kashdan (1905-1985) was asked to join a harem for 150 English pounds by Umar Khan during one of the chess Olympiads.  (Chess Life, May 1985, p. 12)  Kashdan appeared on You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx and partnered with the mother of Tony Curtis, but lost.  Groucho kept calling him Mr. Ash Can.

The 1980 Italian Chess Championship was postponed until 1981 because of an earthquake.  The 1980 Irpinia earthquake took place in the Irpina region in southern Italy on November 23, 1980, measuring 6.89 on the Richter Scale.  (Chess Life, September 1981, p. 13)

In 1982, the Belle chess computer (PDP-11/23) was confiscated by the U.S. State Department while on a plane at Kennedy Airport going to the USSR to compete in a computer chess tournament.  It was considered too high tech for the Soviets to see.  It took over a month and a $600 fine to get Belle out of customs.  (Chess Life, September 1982, p. 12)

In 1986, Alex Chang took 1st place in the National Elementary Championship.  His older sister, Angela, took 2nd place.  (Chess Life, August 1986, p. 24)

In 1988, Jesse Tuggle (1928-1991) of Houston, played 771 USCF-rated games, the most rated games ever in on year.  He was the most active chess player in the U.S. from 1985 to 1990.

John Penquite (1935-2007) had the highest chess rating ever recorded by the United States Chess Federation.  In the 1990s his correspondence rating was 2939 with a perfect 58-0-0 score from correspondence play.  He won the Iowa State Chess Championship 8 times between 1951 and 1973.  (Chess Life, April 1993, p. 36)

44% of all chess grandmasters speak four or more languages.  (Chess Life, March 1988, p. 10)

Perhaps the oldest person to finally make master (rated over 2200) was Bernard Friend  of New Jersey.  In 1991, at the age of 71, he became a master for the first time.  (Chess Life, September 1991, p. 37)