The Strongest Chess Librarian In The World
GM James Tarjan. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The Strongest Chess Librarian In The World

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Unless you live under a rock, you know that the 65-year-old librarian James Tarjan beat the former world champion Vladimir Kramnik in the recently concluded Isle of Man tournament.

Of course Grandmaster James Tarjan is not an ordinary librarian. Some 35 years ago he was one of the leading U.S. chess players, and even participated in the world championship cycle when he qualified to play in the Riga Interzonal tournament in 1979. However after Tarjan tied for third place in the 1984 U.S. championship, he abruptly decided to retire from professional chess.

GM Sosonko quotes Tarjan, saying that even a hot dog vendor in Los Angeles earns more than a chess grandmaster!


Well, James Tarjan was not the first strong chess player who quit at the peak of his chess career, preferring a regular job and a steady income. Fortunately, 30 years later he decided to return! The first three years of his comeback were not too eventful, until he played in the Isle of Main International. Not only did Tarjan achieve a tournament performance rating of 2671, but he also set two records that won't be broken any time soon. 

1. Tarjan beat a world champion and his GM coach 38 years apart!

There are numerous grandmasters who beat a world champion and his GM coach. The names of Tal, Petrosian , Spassky and Korchnoi immediately come to mind as they beat both Botvinnik and his pupil Kasparov. But I don't know anyone who beat a world champion and his coach 38 years apart like James Tarjan. First he beat GM Tseshkovsky:

Then 38 years later Tarjan made international headlines by beating GM Tseshkovsky's best pupil, Vladimir Kramnik!

Kramnik resigns to Tarjan. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

2. Tarjan beat a GM married couple at the same tournament!

I don't think there are many chess players who beat a husband and wife who are both grandmasters, and I am sure no one achieved such a feat at the same tournament!

A strong Russian grandmaster Pavel Tregubov was Tarjan's first victim:

Tregubov's wife, the former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, lost to Tarjan in the last round of the same tournament:

In my articles I like to talk about strong players who are not chess professionals. We already talked about a cab driver, a doctor and now we have an extremely strong librarian! It is fascinating to know that there are people who have a regular job and yet they can play and win against chess professionals.


Similarly, I was extremely interested in the performance of Anton Kovalyov at the recent World Cup. Anton is a full-time student and he emphasized numerous times that his studies are more important to him than chess. It was amazing to see that essentially a chess amateur managed to knock out the ex-world champion Anand! I was very curious to see how far would Anton Kovalyov would advance against the top chess professionals. Unfortunately, a notorious incident ruined the unbelievable chess show for thousands of chess fans. The most incredible part of the incident is that some people were offended when Anton Kovalyov said in his interview after beating Anand that his academic studies are more important to him than chess. Should those people also be mad that for 30 years James Tarjan's job as a librarian was more important for him than chess?

The first time I heard the name of James Tarjan was when I was just starting at chess. At that point, just like many of the kids, I was playing the Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defense. Two of Tarjan's games that were published in the Soviet chess magazines made a very strong impression on me, even if I didn't understand the whole depth of the variations there.

During his short chess career before retirement, James Tarjan played many exciting games. I hope that we'll see more fruits of his creativity after his return. Meanwhile, I present three great attacks from GM Tarjan.

Try to play like James Tarjan!

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