Cars and chess

by Bill Wall


In 1901, Johannes von Minckwitz (1843-1901) committed suicide by stepping in front of a street car near Biebrich, Germany.


In 1929, Richard Reti was crossing the road and was hit by a street car in Prague.  He was taken to a hospital to heal, but developed scarlet fever while in the hospital in Prague and died.

On May 30, 1937, Herman Steiner (1905-1955) was on his way back to Hollywood from the annual North-South chess match when he hit a car head-on. Steiner's passenger was Dr. Robert B. Griffith (1876-1937), who played Board 2 for the South (Steiner played Board 1). Griffith died in the car crash and the driver in the other car was critically injured. Dr. Griffith was a medical doctor for the Hollywood film industry. He was the physician for Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin.

In 1938, three women, Mary Bain, Mrs. McCready and Miss Weart, returning from the US Open chess tournament in Boston were in a car wreck after their car skidded on slippery pavement and crashed into a telegraph pole.

On February 17, 1940, the several times New England chess champion, Harold Morton (1906-1940), died in Iowa after a car wreck.  His passenger, Al Horowitz (1907-1973), was seriously injured.  They were travelling together giving tandem simultaneous chess exhibitions across the country.  Morton was driving on the return trip from the west back to an exhibition in Minneapolis when he collided with a truck.  Morton was killed instantly and Horowitz suffered a concussion and other injuries.

In the 1940s, a tournament director of the U.S. Chess championship had his car stolen during the tournament.  The car was found the next day.

In 1945, Herman Pilnik (1914-1981) of Argentina was involved in a car crash on his way to Los Angeles to play in the Pan American Chess Congress.  Two other occupants of the car were hospitalized with broken bones.  Pilnik, who had lost his plane reservation, proceeded by car to Los Angeles from Dallas, Texas.  He crashed his car into an unlighted and parked truck at night near El Centro, Arizona.  The car overturned with part of it hanging over the edge of a steep embankment.  Pilnik spent two days in a hospital in Yuma, Arizona and missed his first-round game against Sammy Reshevsky.  Pilnik arrived after a 3-day delay.

In July 1955, Nancy Roos (1905-1957) was in a car accident just before the U.S. women’s championship and had spinal injuries.  She recovered to win the women’s championship a few months later.

After the 1957 US Junior Championship where Bobby Fischer finished first and Gilbert Ramirez second, they were riding home together with some other participants when the car kept breaking down. All the players chipped in to have it repaired but eventually it broke down completely and had to be abandoned. While riding through the hot desert with no air conditioning arguments lead to a fist fight between Fischer and Ramirez. Ramirez blackened Fischer’s eye and Bobby bit Ramirez on the arm.

In 1960, Mikhail Tal was driving to the 14th Chess Olympiad in Leipzig, Germany when he got into a car accident.  He was unable to play the first 3 rounds, but when he did show up to play, he played board 1 for the USSR.  He won 8 and drew 6 games and only lost the final round, to Englishman Jonathan Penrose.  That cost him the gold medal for board 1, and he settled for silver.

On August 31, 1961, chess master Norman Whitaker (1890-1975), chess expert Glenn Hartleb, and a 16-year-old boy were driving in Arkansas when they got into a car wreck, killing Glenn Hartleb. Apparently, Whitaker and Hartleb were too tired to drive, and they allowed the 16-year-old to drive. He lost control, hit a bridge abutment and overturned the car.  They were returning home after playing in the US Open in San Francisco.  In 1962, Whitaker drove from Germany to Oslo in his Volkswagen beetle and crashed his car when he reached Oslo.  He was hospitalized for chest wounds for a few days after that.

Gosta Stoltz (1904-1963), a Swedish chess grandmaster, was a car mechanic.

On February 10, 1967, French master Pierre Rolland (1926-1967) died in a car accident.  He was French champion in 1956.

In 1972, the wife of GM Larry Evans (1932-2010) was in a car accident.  Evans rushed to the hospital and was unable to play the last round at Lone Pine.

On November 8, 1977, Viktor Korchnoi, age 46, was injured in a car wreck with a broken right hand and other injuries.  Korchnoi’s taxi collided with a Swiss army truck on its way to Zurich.   The car rolled over three times.  He asked for a postponement in his world championship semi-final match with Spassky.  Raymond Keene was also a passenger, but not seriously injured.

In 1979, Milan Matulovic (1935-2013) was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to 9 months in prison for a car crash in which a woman was killed.  Matulovic complained that the sentence was too long because, “…she was only a Bosnian.”

In 1979, Joseph Fielder, a chess player in Wisconsin, was killed in a car accident.  Every year, Wisconsin holds a Joe Feider memorial.

In 1979, Billy Watt (1959-1979), a promising and active chess player in North Carolina, died in a car accident in Taylorsville, NC.  His father started the Billy Watt Memorial in Statesville, NC, which I was the first director.

On December 9, 1983, GM Janos Flesch (1933-1983) and his wife, Ildiko Tenyei, died in an automobile accident in Whitstable, England.  He was returning from the Kasparov-Korchnoi match in London to participate in a tournament in Ramsgate, England.  His wife was driving in foggy weather and they hit a truck.  He died instantly and shed died a few hours later at a hospital in Canterbury.

On November 13, 1988, International Master Bela Perenyi (1953-1988) died in a car accident near Kistelek.  He was travelling to a chess tournament in Saloniki.  He was the fiancé of WGM Ildiko Madl.

In 1989, Brian Yamin was an honor student and promising chess player.  He was killed in an automobile accident in Indianapolis.  A scholarship was created in his name.

In 1990, grandmaster Gregory Kaidanov and his wife had their luggage stolen from the trunk of their car while he was having dinner at a restaurant in New York City.

In 1990, FIDE president Florencio Campomanes (1927-2010) barely escaped death as he had a car crash in Uganda.  The president of the Uganda Chess Federation sitting next to him was killed.

In 1990, GM Guillermo Garcia Gonzales (1953-1990) died in a car accident in Havana, Cuba while on his way to the airport to play in the 1990 Chess Olympiad in Novi Sad.

In 1994, master Charles Meidinger was in a car wreck on his way to an Armed Forces tournament in Fort Knox, Kentucky.  He showed up at the tournament with a neck brace and won the event.

In 1998, David Hooper (1915-1998) was killed in a car crash in Somerset, England.  He was 82.  He was a former international player and author of several chess books.

On September 24, 2000, International Master Jaan Eslon (1952-2000) died from injuries after a car wreck.

On February 18, 2001, USCF Executive Director Dr. George De Feis was injured in an auto accident while attending the US Amateur Team East tournament in New Jersey.  He was in intensive care in Morristown, New Jersey and suffered a brain injury.

In 2002, it was reported the GM Peter Leko had died in a car crash in Budapest.  The report proved to be untrue.

In 2003, five chess players died in a car wreck in India while going to a chess tournament.

In 2005, GM Alexander Stripunsky was in a terrible car crash just before the 2005 US chess championship.  He played his chess games wearing dark sunglasses to protect his left eye, which was badly injured in the accident.  He tied for 1st in the 2005, US chess championship, but lost to Hikaru Nakamura in the playoff match.

In May 2005, Nigel Short was in a car crash while driving from Messinia to Athens.  His car was struck by an oncoming vehicle which had skidded uncontrollable off a wet bend.  His passenger was Sergey Karjakin, who was the youngest grandmaster in the world.

In 2006, WGM Lilit Mkrtchian was hospitalized after a car accident in Armenia.

In 2007, GM Maxim Sorokin (1968-2007) died in a car wreck on his way from Elista, Kalmykia to Volgograd.

In 2007, Florencio Campomanes was involved in a car accident in Turkey that left him in intensive care.  He was on his way to the airport for a return flight to the Philippines after the FIDE Presidential Board meeting in Antalya, Turkey when the driver lost control of the vehicle.  The car overturned and plunged over the side of the road.  Campomanes was sitting in the back seat and not wearing a safety belt.  He was thrown from the car, which was badly damaged.  Campomanes was operated on for 7 and ½ hours to repair broken bones in his legs, hands, neck and face.

In 2008, FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was in a car accident on the way to the airport to go to the 38th Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany.  He was unable to attend the opening ceremony.

In 2009, Philip Hogarty, a strong chess player, was killed when he was hit by a police car while walking across a badly-lit road in London.  He suffered head injuries and died later that day.

In 2009, National Master Landon Brownell (1989-2009) died after a car accident near Bakersfield, California.  He was 19.  In 2006, he won the National High School Championship.

In 2010, Tyrone Lee, a long-time Chicago chess player, was killed in a car accident while traveling to Tennessee.

In October 2011, Grandmaster Eduardo Iturrizaga, the top player in Venezuela, got in a car wreck on his way to the airport to participate in a chess tournament in Barcelona. He was unable to make it to the tournament.

On September 9, 2013, Alexander Bitman was killed by a hit-and-run car accident in Moscow.  He was a chess master and co-developer of one of the first chess programs in the world.

On August 8, 2013, Russian grandmaster Igor Kurnosov was hit and killed by a car as he was crossing a street in his hometown of Chelyabinsk in Russia’s South Urals.  He was 28 and ranked 20th among Russian players and 84th in the world.

In 2013, six members of the Melbourne, Australia Chess Club were involved in a car crash while returning from a chess tournament in Canberra, Australia.  Their Toyota Tarago van rolled off the freeway near Winton in north-eastern Victoria, killing two of the players (Andrew Saint and Hannibal Swartz).  Two other players, IM James Morris and Dimitry Partsi, were seriously injured.

In August 2013, correspondence grandmaster Mark Noble walked away from what could have been a fatal car crash.  A car failed to stop at a stop sign, hitting the front end of Mark’s car, just missing the driver’s door.

In 2013, GM Andrei Istratescu and IM Dragos Dumitrache were involved in a car accident on the way to a Zurich chess tournament and had to withdraw.

In January 2015, Erich Spielman, age 92, was struck by a car driven by another 92-year-old in England and died.  He was a chess player (winner of several club championships in Loughton) and the nephew of the famous chess player Rudolf Spielmann.