Strange But True

Aug 28, 2011, 11:35 PM |

Chess has its strange but true stories, just like any other subject.  It just seems stranger with the characters we run into with chess.


In the 1930s, the California School of the Blind defeated the California School of the Deaf.  Who says you need to see the chess board.

When John Quincy Adams was President of the United States, he purchased an expensive ivory chess set and board with his own money and had this set in the White House.  However, when he was running for re-election, his opponent, Andrew Jackson, claimed that Adams had wasted money and used public funds to buy gambling equipment (the chess set).  I don't know if this affected the election in 1828, but Jackson won the popular vote and the electoral vote that year (won 178 electoral votes to 83 electoral votes for Adams).

Weaver Adams, an American chess master, once wrote a book called WHITE TO PLAY AND WIN.  Right after publication of his book, he played in the 1940 US Open and did not win a single game as White.  In fact, he won every game as Black, lost three games as White and drew one game as White.

Some chess players can even play other sports. Grandmaster Simen Agdestein of Norway also played professional soccer.  Grandmaster Paul Keres played in the finals of his home town Tallinn, Estonia tennis championship and played in the Estonia tennis finals.  Sir George Thomas of Britain won the British chess championship twice.  He also won the British badminton championship seven times and was a quarter-finalist in tennis at Wimbledon.

Aladdin really did exist. He was one of the strongest chess players of the 14th century.

Alekhine was so hated in the Soviet Union that his name was frequently left out of news articles and Alekhine's Defense was renamed the Moscow Defense.

Colonel Alexander won the British championship in 1938 and 1956.  During World War II, he was a colonel in the British Intelligence and a code-breaker who helped break the German Enigma code.  He was prohibited from traveling to any country under Soviet control, which limited his over the board chess play.  He thus took up correspondence chess.

Perhaps the only modern king that played in chess tournaments was King Alfonso XIII of Spain.  He was king of Spain from 1886 to 1931 and participated in several Spanish chess tournaments in the 1920s.  His grandson, Juan Carlos, is now king of Spain.

In the 1930s, one chess tournament in the Soviet Union, the Trade Unions chess championship, had over 700,000 entries.

Chess was the first sport to have a national sports organization in the United States.  The American Chess Association was formed in 1857.  Baseball was organized as a national sports a few years later.

In 1958 International Master Frank Anderson of Canada was to play in the final round of the Munich Chess Olympiad.  But he became ill and could not play.  He had to play one more game to meet the minimum requirements of a Grandmaster.  Even if he had played and lost, he would made the final norm necessary for the GM title.  But he missed the game and the title, and never became a Grandmaster.

Atahuapa was the last Inca emperor of Peru.  He was taken prisoner by Pizarro and his men.  While in prison, he was taught how to play chess by his guards and became very good at it.

In the 1978 World Chess championship in Baguio, Philippines between Karpov and Korchnoi, the organizers forgot to get a Staunton chess set, the standard for FIDE events.  Someone had to drive back to Manila, 150 miles away, and buy a Staunton chess set.  It arrived 15 minutes before the first round.

Curt von Bardeleben was the strongest German player of the 19th century.  But in 1924, at the age of 62, he committed suicide by jumping out of an upper window of his boarding house in Berlin where he lived in poverty and had no friends.

In 1938 Jack Battell lost all 11 games of the Marshall Chess Club championship and gave up tournament chess for correspondence chess.  In a few years, he was the highest rated postal player in the United States.

The 1966 US Open was held at the Seattle World's Fair Grounds.  At the same time, the Beatles were nearby to give a concert.  As the chess tournament director drew the curtains over the playing hall windows, hundreds of Beatle fans assumed the Beatles were inside and started pounding on the windows.  Someone finally opened the curtains to reveal that it was only a chess tournament and the fans went away.

In 1982 the BELLE chess computer (a PDP 11/23) was crated and was supposed to be shipped to Moscow to participate in a computer chess tournament.  But the customs officials at Kennedy Airport confiscated it to prevent high technology items from being sent to the Soviet Union.  It took over a month and a $600 fined to get BELLE out of customs.

Dr. Ossip Bernstein was one of the strongest chess players of the Ukraine, who later became a grandmaster.  However, in 1918 he was arrested in Odessa by the Cheka and was actually line up in front of a firing squad about to be shot.  As the superior officer asked to see the list of prisoners about to be shot, he saw the name Ossip Bernstein.  He then asked if this was the famous chess player.  Bernstein said yes, that he was the famous chessplayer.  The officer then challenged Bernstein in a game of chess, and if Bernstein did not win, he would be shot.  Bernstein won and proved he was the famous chess player.  Bernstein was released and escaped on a British ship and settled in Paris.

Alfred Binet got involved in the first Intelligence Quota (IQ) tests because of his interest in understanding chess players and how were they able to play blindfold chess and have good memories.

Joseph Blackburne (1826-1888) probably played more chess games in his life than any other professional chess player.  It is estimated that Blackburne played over 100,000 chess games in his career.

During the 1932 Pasadena International Chess Congress, Isaac Kashdan and Arnold Dake played an exhibition game of chess over Pasadena in a Goodyear blimp that had been used during the Olympic games in Los Angeles.  The moves were transmitted by radio to the opening luncheon meeting, attended by Alekhine.  The game was a draw in 19 moves.

In 1993 a person was shot and killed while playing chess in Bosnia.  It was the first time someone was killed by a sniper while playing chess.

In 1885, Lord Alfred Tennyson was elected President of the British Chess Association.  Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Winston Churchill, was elected Vice-President.  In 1950, Nobel Prize winner, Sir Robert Robinson (1947 Nobel Prize in Chemistry), was elected President of the British Chess Federation.  In 1977, cosmonaut Vitaly Sevastianov was elected President of the USSR Chess Federation.  He played chess aboard Soyuz 9 in 1970.