Bogart and Chess
by Bill Wall


Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on December 25, 1899 (some sources say January 23, 1900) in New York City. He was the son of a noted Manhattan surgeon, Dr. Belmont Bogart (1867-1934), who was secretly addicted to opium. His mother, Maud Humphrey (1865-1940) was a popular magazine illustrator.  

Humphrey probably learned chess in 1912. His father taught him chess during their stay at their summer home in Canandaigua Lake, near Rochester, New York.

He played chess with other chess players in 1913 when he visited the chess clubs in New York City. Humphrey Bogart attended Phillips Academy in preparation for medical school. He was later expelled from school

In 1918 he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He is called to active service, but World War I is nearly over.

After his discharge from the Navy in 1919 he returned to New York City and continued to play chess. He was expert strength. He finally approached a friend of the family for employment and got a job as an office boy at a theater.

In 1920 he switched to acting and appeared in a play called Swiftly in 1922. He had minor roles on Broadway during this time.

He married his first wife, Helen Menken, in 1926, but divorced her after less than a year.

In 1928 Bogart married his second wife, Mary Philips. They were divorced in 1937.

In 1929, after the stock market crashed, Bogart hustled chess players for quarters in New York City parks and for dimes against all comers at Coney Island.   Bogart said he preferred to play chess rather than poker, because no one could cheat.

In 1930 Bogart travelled to Hollywood, but only had minor parts. He played chess and got involved in California chess organization during that time.

He returned to New York in 1931 and couldn't find a job. He earned money by hustling chess in an arcade window, taking on all challengers.   Bogart earned money for his meals by hustling chess at the numerous “sportslands” on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.  For a bet of 50 cents a game, he played all comers.  If he won, he got one dollar.  He won more than he lost.  At an arcade, he would sit in a window playing chess for a dollar a game.  He usually played about 40 people a day.

He was known to have played chess in Times Square in 1933.

In 1935 Bogart was cast as a gangster in The Petrified Forest and it became a big hit in 1936. This role lifted him out of poverty and he no longer had to hustle at playing chess.

In 1938 he married his 3rd wife, Mayo Methot.

In 1942 Bogart was the star (Rick Blaine) of CASABLANCA (a role that Ronaled Reagan and George Raft turned down). It had several chess playing scenes. CASABLANCA was rated as the second best movie ever made by the American Film Institute. CASABLANCA won the Best Picture of 1943. It became one of the biggest money-maker movies ever. All the chess playing scenes in CASABLANCA were Bogart's idea. He wanted a character that was a chess player that drank too much. There were some chess scenes of Bogart studying a chess game while Peter Lorre looked on that did not make the film. The character Rick Blaine always beat police officer Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) at chess.   

A blooper in the movie is that a knight disappears in the opening chess game.   Bogart, at the time, was analyzing a position in the French Defense from one of his correspondence games.  One story is that somebody knocked over some pieces between filming and the stage hands set them up again, overlooking a knight.  There were four different shots of the chessboard with different positions.

During the filming of CASABLANCA, Bogart mostly played chess with Paul Henreid (1908-1922), who beat Bogart in all of their games.  In the film, Henreid played Victor Laszlo, the Czech Resistance leader and the husband of Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).   Bogart also played several games with crew members and cast (including Claude Rains) off the set or during takes. 

After CASABLANCA Bogart was playing a lot of correspondence chess with GIs overseas or in veterans’ hospitals in 1942. In 1943 he was visited by the FBI who prevented him from playing any more correspondence chess. The FBI was reading his mail and thought that the chess notation he was sending to Europe were secret codes.

In 1944, Bogart appeared in Passage to Marseille.  Between takes, he was photographed playing chess with the film crew and cast members.

In May, 1945 Bogart divorced Mayo Methot and married 20 year old Lauren Bacall 11 days later (he was 45). She was also a chess player.

In 1945 Bogart and his new wife, Lauren Bacall, appeared on the cover of the June-July, 1945 issue of Chess Review magazine. He was playing Charles Boyer in Boyer’s dressing room as Lauren Bacall looked on. The game was played between takes of “The Confident Agent.”  Another picture of Bogart, Boyer, and Herman Steiner (1948 US chess champion) appeared in the magazine. Bogart was a tournament director for the United States Chess Federation and the California State Chess Association. He helped sponsor the August 1945 Pan American Chess Congress in Los Angeles and was selected as the Master of Ceremonies.

In June 1945, Bogart was interviewed by Silver Screen magazine. When asked what things mattered most to him, he replied that chess was one of those things that mattered most to him. He said he played chess every day between takes when he made movies.

In 1946 Bogart lost a match and $100 to the restaurateur, Mike Romanoff (1890-1972). That evening Bogart went home, and then phoned Romanoff to play one more game over the phone for another $100. Romanoff agreed, and then lost in 20 moves. Bogart just happened to have former US chess champion Herman Steiner over his house, and Bogart's moves were really Steiner's moves.

The Romanoff's restaurant on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was Bogart's main hangout. Bogart owned the second booth from the left corner as you entered the restaurant. No one else could sit there. If Mike Romanoff was there, he and Bogart would always play chess at that table. Romanoff liked to call himself "Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitri Romanoff."

In 1947 Bogart was the highest paid actor in the world (making $500,000 a year). He started his own production company, Santana Pictures. One of Bogart's biographers said that Bogart rated his friends on their ability to play chess.

In 1949 Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall had a son, Stephen. In 1952 they had a daughter, Leslie Howard.

In March, 1952 Bogart was in San Francisco and played a game with George Koltanowski. Koltanowski played blindfolded and defeated Bogart in 41 moves. Bogart had earlier played Sammy Reshevsky when Reshevsky was giving a simultaneous exhibition, and drew him at Romanoff's Restaurant in Hollywood.

In 1952 Bogart won the Best Actor Oscar for his character in The African Queen. He and Katherine Hepburn played chess while making The African Queen in Stanleyville. Bogart claimed to be the strongest chess player among the Hollywood stars. He did lose to Art Buchwald, columnist for the New York Herald, when they played.

Bogart got Frank Sinatra interested in chess.

Art Buchwald once wrote that he beat Bogart in a game of chess.

Grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric once met Bogart and said that Bogart was a very capable player.  They didn’t play, but they both analyzed together some of Gligoric’s games from the 1953 Candidates Tournament.

Bogart died in his sleep on January 14, 1957 at the age of 57. He had cancer of the esophagus. When he died, he had a chessboard next to his bed.  He would play friends when they came by or analyzed chess games.  Lauren Bacall said he was always an avid chess player to the very end.

Bogart appeared in over 75 films in 26 years. His chess playing buddy, Mike Romanoff, was his pallbearer.

Bogart - NN, Hollywood 1933 1.d4 Nf6 2.g4 Nxg4 3.f3 Nf6 4.e4 d6 5.Be3 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Qd2 Nc6 8.O-O-O O-O 9.Bd3 e5 10.d5 Nb4 11.Bc4 a5 12.a3 Na6 13.h4 Nh5 14.Nge2 f5 15.Bg5 Bf6 16.f4 exf4 17.Nxf4 Nxf4 18.Qxf4 fxe4 19.Bh6 Re8 20.Nxe4 Bg7 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 22.h5 Bf5 23.hxg6 Bxg6 24.Qh6+ Kg8 25.Rdg1 Qe7 26.Rxg6+ hxg6 27.Qh8+ Kf7 28.Rh7 mate 1-0

Bogart - Sydney Greenstreet, Hollywood 1942 result: 1-0 in favor of Bogart during the filming of "Casablanca."

Bogart - Charles Boyer, Hollywood 1945 result: 1-0 in favor of Bogart during the filming of "The Confidential Agent."

Bogart - Bacall, Hollywood 1951 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb6 g6 4.d3 d5 5.exd5 Qxd5 6.c4 Bb4 7.Nc3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 Qd6 9.a4 Bd7 10.Ba3 Qf6 11.Qe2 Nge7 12.Bxe7 Qxe7 13.Bxc6 Bxc6 14.Nxe5 Bxg2 15.Rg1 Bh3 16.Rg3 Be6 17.d4 c6 18.d5 cxd5 19.cxd5 Bxd5 20.c4 Be6 21.Re3 f6 22.Nd3 Kf7 23.Nf4 Rae8 24.Nxe6 Qb4+ 25.Kf1 Re7 26.Re1 Rhe8 27.Nd8+ Kf8 28.Rxe7 Rxe7 29.Qxe7+ Qxe7 30.Rxe7 Kxe7 31.Nxb7 1-0

Paul Limbos - Bogart, Stanleyville, Congo 1951 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.Nge2 O-O 7.O-O c6 8.Bg5 Nbd7 9.Ng3 Qc7 10.Nh5 Nxh5 11.Qxh5 g6 12.Qh6 f5 13.Rfe1 Nb6 14.Re2 Bd7 15.Be7 Bxe7 16.Rxe7 Rf7 17.Rxf7 Kxf7 18.Qxh7+ Kf6 19.Re1 Qd6 20.g4 Rd8 21.f4 g5 22.h4 1-0

Koltanowski - Bogart, San Francisco 1952 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Ne2 Bg4 6.O-O Bd6 7.f3 Be6 8.Bf4 O-O 9.Nd2 Nc6 10.c3 Ne7 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.f4 c5 13.Nf3 Nf5 14.Qd2 Ne4 15.Qc1 Rac8 16.dxc5 Qxc5+ 17.Ned4 Nxd4 18.Nxd4 Rc7 19.f5 Bd7 20.Bxe4 dxe4 21.Qf4 Re8 22.Rae1 Re5 23.Rxe4 Rxe4 24.Qxe4 Bc6 25.Qe3 Re7 26.Qg3 Re8 27.f6 g6 28.Qh4 h5 29.Re1 Rxe1+ 30.Qxe1 Qd6 31.Nxc6 Qxc6 32.Qe7 Qc8 33.h3 Qc6 34.b4 Qxc3 35.Qe8+ Kh7 36.Qxf7+ Kh6 37.Qe7 Qc1+ 38.Kf2 Qf4+ 39.Ke2 Qc4+ 40.Kf3 Kg5 41.f7+ 1-0

Sammy Reshevsky - Bogart, Hollywood 1955 A drawn game in a 70-board simultaneous exhibition (the game appeared in Chess Life magazine, March 5, 1956)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.d4 f6 7.dxe5 fxg5 8.Qxd5 Qxd5 9.Bxd5 Be7 10.O-O Bf5 11.c3 Nxe5 12.Bxb7 Rd8 13.Re1 O-O 14.Nd2 Bf6 15.Ne4 Bxe4 16.Bxe4 h6 17.Be3 a5 18.Bc5 Rfe8 19.Rad1 Kh8 20.Rxd8 Rxd8 21.Kf1 Ng4 22.h3 Ne5 23.Ke2 Nc4 24.Rd1 Rxd1 25.Kxd1 Nxb2 26.Kc2 Na4 27.Bd4 Bxd4 28.cxd4   drawn (1/2 -1/2)


Bogart – Claude Bloodgood, Santa Monica 1955

1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 e6 3.e4 fxe4 4.Ng5 d5 5.f3 exf3 6.Qxf3 Nf6 7.Bd3 g6 8.Nxh7 Rxh7 9.Bxg6+ Rf7 10.O-O Bg7 11.Bg5 Nbd7 12.Nc3 Kf8 13.Bxf7 Kxf7 14.Rae1 c5 15.Nxd5 exd5 16,Qxd5+ Kg6 17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Re6 Qh8 19.Qf5+ Kf7 20.d5 Qh4 21.c3 Qg5 22.Qh7+ Qg7 23.R1xf6+ Nxf6 24.Re7+ Kxe7 25.Qxg7+ Kd6 26.Qxf6+ Kxd5 27.Qd8+  1-0