An Incidental Champion

     Some men and women are clearly champions and reach the pinnacle of their field in an almost predictable manner. Some are champion material, but the fates have conspired against them, keeping them from reaching the very top.  Still others become champions in spite of what appears to be great odds because they are in the right place at the right time with the all-important will to win.
      Nancy Roos, whose claim-to-fame was sharing the 1955 U.S. Women's Chess Championship with the polyglot Gisela Gresser, has always a bit of an enigma to me and seems to have been in the last group.  Paradoxically, Nancy, or Nanny, Roos, a seemingly outgoing, energetic and social individual who worked as a portrait photographer, travel extensively in Europe where she studied art as well as played chess (she was an amateur painter), exposed herself to the public rather meagerly.  Much of what has been written about her is contradictory and difficult to substantiate. In the unlikely event that a biography about her appears, it would probably be safe to predict that much of her life will remain clouded behind the curtain of time.
     Wikipedia mentions "Born Nancy Krotoschin in Belgium."  While it's true that her maiden name was Krotoschin, she was born in Germany.  She married a Martin Roos in Europe and emigrated to New York in the 1939. She is often said to have been the former Women's Chess Champion of Belgium, but I had difficulty finding anything solid to support that.
     Wikipedia also mentions that "she was active at the Cercle l'Echiquier in Brussels without explaining or referencing that cryptic remark.  There were several what seems like branches  of this chess group throughout Belgium. Cercle l'Echiquier of Bruxelles, located at 158 Boulevard Adolphe Max, Brussels, was founded on March 25 1933.  I couldn't determine how long it existed but it seemed to be a strong chess club that hosted several strong tournaments.
     Roos entered the second U.S. Women's Championship in 1939 (see the explanation why 1939 was the second here).  In an article written by Edith Weart for the NY "Sun" on July 25, 1939, Roos is noted to have Dutch citizenship and to be the current Belgian Women's Chess Champion. I can only guess that the Dutch citizenship might have been convenient, or even necessary, to leave that area of Europe in those years.

     "Chess Life" in Nov. 1951 tells us about Roos' profession but adds that she was the lady champion of Berlin in 1930 and the 1938 Belgian Woman's Chess Champion.

     The NY Post 1942 again tells us that Nanny Roos was the former Belgian lady champion:

     I tried to research the Belgian Women's Chess Championship.  Every source agreed that 1938 was the first recognized such championship and all but one credited C. Waegemans (Marianne) Stoffels the winner.  However one source did credit "Roos" as the 1938 champion.  The championship was held in the city of Namur, a little south of Bruxelles, which only a couple years later would host a different battle, that of Ardennes and later the Battle of the Bulge. A tournament book from that contest would settle the matter.  It's very possible that Stoffels, who won the Belgian championship in 1939, 1940, 1942 and 1944 has simply been credited with the 1938 championship by default (even the single source that did credit Roos, didn't list her first name).

     Nancy Roos was born in Germany in 1905.  Since her mother was a Cohn, it's possible Nancy was Jewish or at least classified as Jewish by the Nazis.  This might convolutedly explain her Dutch citizenship and emigration in 1938-9.  Although the Krystallnacht pomgroms took place in Nov. 1938, Belgium was a reasonably safe place, but, if someone, living in Belgium, were Jewish with German citizenship and saw the writing on the wall, Dutch citizenship might had been a strategic option, particularly if Holland had an easier emigration policy since it offered ship transport to England (such as with the Kindertransport) where he/she could catch a ship to the U.S.   But, since I don't even know Nancy Roos' or her husband, Martin's religious or cultural affiliations, all this is just thinking-out-loud.

     At any rate, the Rooses arrived in New York sometime in 1939. The first mention I found was in the above article by Weart, published in July 1939, claiming Roos was here for a visit.  The "visit" lasted the rest of her life.

     In 1939 she participated in the second U.S. Women's chess championship.  The fact that she didn't need to qualify strongly suggests that she was indeed the Belgian champion. Although not since 1925 as the following newspaper obit blurb maintains:

     She placed fifth out of eight (3/7), behind the winner Mary Bain, Mona May Karff, Dr. Weissenstein (who fled Vienna in 1938) and Mrs. Raphael McCready.  Her 3 wins were against the three lowest scoring players: Miss Adele Raettig, Mrs. Llewellyn Walter Stephens and Miss Elizabeth Wray.

      Roos didn't participate in another Women's championship until 1942.  She fared a bit better, seizing 3rd place behind N. May Karff (Mona May Karff) and Adele (Rivero) Belcher (also from Belgium) and ahead of Gisela Gresser, Mary Bain, Mathilda Harmath, Elizabeth Wray, Adele Raettig and Celia Fawns.


     Below is an excerpt from an article about a match between the West Side Chess Club and the Queens County Chess Club.  Roos played for Queens. West Side won 7-2.

     Martin and Nancy Roos moved to Los Angeles in 1944.  Below is a photo of Roos playing Herman Steiner at his Hollywood Chess Club at 108 N. Formosa Ave. Roos was a member of the Los Feliz Chess Club.

     She participated in the 1944 Women's championship ending in a three-way tie for  4th 5th and 6th place with Wally Henschel and Adele Raettig.  Kate Henschel (Wally's twin- Wally actually the better player of the two) took third,  N. May Karff second and Gisela Gresser first.  7th place went to Elizabeth Wray with last place shared between Mrs. Stephens and Mildred Peters.

The following game is her win against the usually invincible Adele (Rivero) Belcher:

     The next year Roos played in the Pan-Am games organized by Steiner.  Mary Bain and N. May Karff shared first and second followed by Nanny Roos in third.

     Besides running her portrait studio in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles, Roos was the official photographer for several California chess magazines. Below is a photo taken by Roos at the Pan-Am Congress:



     Roos was an expert at Go and a noted rapid-transit chess player who won the speed championship of Hollywood in 1945. She also loved the Polish Opening.  George E. Croy, who was sort of a prodigy, the Los Angeles champion in 1943, the 1949 California State champion and fellow Los Feliz Chess Club member,  gave the following game played between Roos and Harry Borochow, a former California Champion:

     Below is an article Willa White Owens wrote for "Chess Life" after Nancy Roos co-won the Women's championship in 1955:

     Owens then gave the following 2 games, one against Karff, one against Gresser. They were both the Polish Opening (or the Orangutan).


Nancy Roos standing on right.

     Nancy Roos had battled cancer since 1948.  After a very pain-ridden final year, she  resigned on April 6, 1957, bequeathing her body to science, at the age of 52.


  • 23 months ago


    Batgirl, your articles are treasures. Thank you.

  • 4 years ago


    gmtravis, getting more sleep will help improve your attention span.

  • 4 years ago



    Nanny Roos' husband is a total mystery to me. I know they were married in Europe and moved to New York, then to California together, but that's all.  I dodn't even know if he was a chess player. He might as easily been French as anything.  I found the name Roos in Belgian and even Romanian geneologies. 

  • 4 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    Very interesting article batgirl, especially considering that most sources concentrate on professionnal high-level players most of whom were and still are men, something about an unknown amateur woman player is very refreshing.

    Nothing in the article indicates whether or not her husband was a chess player himself, but there is a famous family of french chess players called Roos, based in Strasbourg, capital of Alsace, near Germany, a family that produced several strong international level players (though not GMs, but IMs or FMs), some of them still active today. I suppose they are unrelated but who knows...

  • 4 years ago


    MLPH, Willa White Owens, in the article directly above the game, called move 31...Qc6 an "unprecedented oversight" for Ms. Karff, one that stunned the spectators and caused Roos to ask that the game not even be published.  Karff had an easy win until that move.  31...Qd7, as you noted, was the correct move that would have sealed the win.

    Kiwi, I like the game vs Gresser too. Roos made the kind of attack I sometimes try, but seldom can make work for me, usually missing some subtle but necessary move.  This was an important game too. Gresser seldom lost so to anyone, but losing this game took away her sole claim to the title and gave Roos her partial claim. Not too long after this event Roos will have become too ill for competitive chess, so this was also her last chance for the title.

  • 4 years ago


    in the Nancy Roos vs. Mona May Karff, why not 31 ... Qd7 instead? If Qxb6 then Qc6 forces exchange of queens (due to threat of mate) and should yield an endgame which very strongly favours black.

  • 4 years ago


    Roos certainly utilized the Polish opening to great effect, Roos vs Gresser, great example of being "deceptive", white creates a blockade as such on blacks queen side, and mounts an impressive attack using its king side :)


    The last picture is my favourite, a room full of smiles.


    Great blog batgirl.  

  • 4 years ago


    Nice article!

  • 4 years ago


    I definitely like her playing style. 

  • 4 years ago


    Ponder away!

  • 4 years ago


    This article makes me ponder about a different time.

  • 4 years ago


    Very nice!

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