Crime and Chess
Perhaps the first arrest associated with chess was in 1624. On August 30, 1624, playwright Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) was arrested in London after producing a play, A Game of Chess, that satirized the proposed marriage of Prince Charles with a Spanish princess. The play was performed in the Globe Theater in London. Its nine performances, from August 5-14, 1624, was the greatest box-office hit and the most talked about dramatic work of early modern London. After Middleton’s arrest, the play was censored and was not allowed to be shown again.
In 1793, Thomas Paine (1737-1809), author of The Rights of Man and Common Sense, was supposedly arrested in Paris for favoring the exile of King Louis XVI rather than his execution. Paine was scheduled to be guillotined, but his fiancée/wife intervened in a strange way. She frequented the Café de la Regence, disguised as a man, where Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794) frequented, and she defeated him in a game of chess. Robespierre challenged her again and promised to grant any wish if she won again. She again won and asked that her husband’s life be spared. Thomas Paine then was released from prison. (source: Ripley’s Believe It or Not, 1944). Another source says the lady was Jacqueline Armand, the fiancée of a duke who was about to be guillotined. A third source says that the lady was the wife of the Marquis de Merin, who was recently condemned to death by guillotine.
Alexandre Deschapelles (1780-1847) was arrested for being involved in the French insurrection of June 1832. He was released after writing to the king that he was too old, too infirmed, and innocent. (source: British Chess Magazine, vol 36, 1916)
In 1862, chess player Armand Edward Blackmar (1826-1888), of the Blackmar Gambit and Blackmar-Diemer fame, was arrested by Union General Ben Butler (1818-1893) and imprisoned by Union soldiers in New Orleans for publishing “seditious” (Confederate) music, such as the Bonnie Blue Flag (Band of Brothers) and the Dixie War Song.
In 1864, George Mackenzie (1837-1891), a former Captain in the Union army, was arrested and imprisoned for desertion from the Union army. He was released in May, 1865, and moved to New York and started playing chess. By 1867, he was U.S. chess champion.
In 1866, William Henry Russ (1833-1866), or W.R. Henry as he was known, shot his adopted daughter four times in the head after he proposed marriage when she turned 21, and she rejected him. He then jumped into a river to drown himself, but the tide was out. He was arrested, but died 10 days later, lacking the will to live. The woman survived. His book, American Chess Nuts, was published in 1868.
In 1875, Albert William Ensor (1843-1883) was arrested for counterfeiting in New York. In 1873, he was the first Canadian Chess Champion. He was later arrested in Germany for gambling and in France for forgery.
In 1879, American chess player and journalist James Mortimer (1833-1911) was arrested for refusing to reveal the author of an allegedly libelous article. Once inside prison, he taught his fellow inmates how to play chess.
In the 19th century chess master Joseph Blackburne was arrested as a French spy for sending chess moves in the mail. The British government thought they were coded secrets.
Some sources say that William Steinitz was arrested in New York or New Jersey after someone in the telegraph company thought that his chess moves being sent over telegraph was code.
In 1914, all the Russian chess masters were arrested at the Mannheim, Germany Congress when World War I broke out. The arrested players included Alexander Alekhine and Bogoljubow. Alekhine was released after 6 weeks.
In 1918, chess master Ossip Bernstein (1882-1962), an advisor to rich bankers in Russia, was arrested by the secret Bolshevik police and ordered executed by a firing squad. An officer reviewing the list of those to be shot recognized Bernstein as the famous chess master and spared his life.
In 1921, British chess master William Winter (1898-1955) was arrested and imprisoned for 6 months for sedition. He was an active member of the Communist Party.
In 1932, chess master Norman Tweed Whitaker (1890-1975) was arrested for attempted extortion in a scheme to swindle $104,000 from a wealthy heiress by claiming to be in contact with the Lindbergh kidnappers. Earlier in his life, he was convicted of several other crimes, including auto theft, sending morphine through the mail, and sexual molestation of a minor. He served time in Alcatraz and was a friend of Al Capone there.
In 1936, Pyotr Izmailov (1906-1937) was arrested and sentenced to death in the Soviet Union, accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin. He was executed in April, 1937. In 1928, he was the first champion of the Russian Republic.
In 1937, chess problemist Mikhail Platov was arrested in Russia after making a derogatory remark about Stalin. He was shipped off to the Gulag in Siberia and died within a year.
In 1937, Nikolai Krylenko (1885-1938), Chairman of the Chess Section of the Supreme Council for Physical Culture of the Russian Federal Republic, was arrested in Russia and later executed on orders from Stalin. One of the charges against him was that he had retarded the development of chess in the Soviet Union.
In 1940, the Germans arrested all the chess players that were meeting at the Warsaw Chess Club (Kwiecinski Chess Café), which was banned earlier by the Germans. The Jews were all taken to a concentration camp (Danilowicowskia) and were later killed in a mass execution. This included Polish masters Dawid Przepiorka, Achilles Frydmann, Stanislaw Kohn, and Moishe Lowtzky.
In September 1940, Menahem Begin (1913-1992) was playing chess with his wife when he was arrested at home by Russian troops (NKVD). At the time, he was an active member of the Zionist movement.
In June 1941, Estonian player Ilmar Raud (1913-1941) was found wandering in the streets of Buenos Aires and was arrested by the police. A fight occurred while he was in jail, and he was later sent to a lunatic asylum, where he died on July 13, 1941, most likely of starvation.
In 1941, Ludek Pachman (1924-2003) was arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated for several weeks about incitement to anti-German demonstrations.
In 1943, Austrian master Ladslaus Dory was arrested for sedition by the Nazis and sentenced to death. He was released from prison by allied troops in 1945.
In 1943, Akiba (Akiva) Rubinstein’s (1882-1961) son, Samy Rubinsten (1927-2002), also a chess player, was arrested by the Germans after hiding in a castle in the Ardennes, and spent a year in prison.
In 1950, a chess player in Vancouver, British Columbia, was arrested for assault after cutting his chess opponent in the arm with a knife after he lost a chess game.
In March 1952, Pal Benko was arrested and imprisoned for 16 months in a Hungarian concentration camp for trying to escape from East Berlin and defect to the West. He was accused of being an American spy. When they searched his apartment, they found mail devoted to his postal chess games. The police assumed that the notation was secret code, and they demanded to know how to break the code.
In 1952, famous bank robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980) was arrested by the FBI. At the time, Sutton was reading How to Think Ahead in Chess by I.A. Horowitz.
In 1957, two Poles, Alexander Piotrowski and Kazimierz Osiecki, were arrested for assault after they both got into a fight over a chess game, resulting in both players going to the hospital. The charges were later dismissed.
In 1960, a U.S. sailor was arrested in New York for murder after he got in a fight with a spectator who criticized his chess game. The sailor struck the spectator with a broken beer bottle, which struck his jugular vein. The sailor was eventually acquitted of murder and was charged with accidental death instead.
In 1962, Theodore Smith was arrested for murder after stabbing to death chess master Abe Turner (1924-1962) at the office of Chess Review magazine. Smith stabbed Turner 9 times in the back, then stuffed his 280 pound body in a safe. Smith had been recently released from an insane asylum and claimed that Turner was a Communist spy and had to be killed on orders from the U.S. Secret Service.
In 1964, chess master Raymond Weinstein was arrested for murder after he killed an 83-year old man in a nursing home with a razor. He was judged mentally ill and was confined to Ward’s Island for the mentally ill.
In August 1969, Grandmaster Ludek Pachman (1924-2003) was arrested and imprisoned for his political activities in Czechoslovakia. He was charged of defaming a representative of the Republic and supporting Dubcek. He was sent to Ruzyn Prison on the outskirts of Prague. He was later charged with subversion and up to 10 years imprisonment. He was released in December, 1970, but was banned from chess in Czechoslovakia. In 1972 he moved to Germany so he could play chess.
In 1970, chess player and organizer Claude Bloodgood (1937-2001) was arrested and sentenced to death for killing his stepmother. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1972.
In 1971, Trevor Stowe, a chess antique dealer, was charged in court in London for indecent exhibition on display in his window. Each of the 32 pieces showed couples in sexual positions. Stowe had to pay $132 in fines and court costs.
In 1973, police arrested a chess tournament director in Cleveland and confiscated the chess sets on charges of allowing gambling (cash prizes to winners) and possession of gambling devices (the chess sets).
In January 1979, Patrick McKenna, a prisoner in Nevada, strangled his Las Vegas cellmate, Jack J. Nobles, after an argument over a chess game. McKenna has been on death row in Nevada since 1979.
In May 1981, Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) was arrested in Pasadena, California because he matched the description of a man who had just committed a bank robbery in that area. He was held for two days, then released on $1,000 bail.
In 1982, Boris Gulko and his wife were arrested for protesting at the Moscow Interzonal in Moscow. They were trying to immigrate to Israel.
In 1987, Grandmaster Tony Miles (1955-2001) was arrested at 10 Downing Street in London after trying to get in after midnight to talk to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about payments owed to him by the British Chess Federation. He was eventually hospitalized for two months from a mental breakdown.
In 1988, International Master James Sherwin was arrested on stock manipulation charges. The appeals court overturned the guilty verdict in 1991 and he was released. The U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Sherwin was Rudi Giuliani, who spent over a million dollars prosecuting the case.
In 1989, the LAPD vice officers arrested three men at a chess tournament, citing them for gambling after finding $1.50 on the table.
In 1991, Arkady Flom, a 64-year-old grandfather was arrested in Manhattan after a young man sat down to play chess with him in the park. The young man played so poorly that Flom would give him pointers in exchange for $2. The young man agreed. They played for 20 more minutes and the young fellow paid his money. As soon as Flom put the money in his pocket, four NYPD officers approached him, slapped him in handcuffs and read him his rights. He was arrested for promoting gambling in the second degree and for possession of a gambling device, his chess set. He was jailed for 3 days, his medication was confiscated, and he had a heart attack. Five years later, he received a $1 million settlement in a false arrest suit against New York City as the judge ruled that a chess game was not “gambling” since it was a game of skill rather than chance and the chess board was not “gambling equipment.”
In 1992, Robert Bryan of England shot Matthew Hay over a chess game. Bryan had ‘had enough’ after losing to Hay and was jailed for 10 years after admitting attempting to murder Mr. Hay by shooting him in the neck with a shotgun.
In 1992, police in New Rochelle, NY arrested a player who refused to put away a chess board and pieces at a library. Louis Taylor, 41, was reading a chess book and set up his own chess pieces and board in the library. A librarian told him to put his game away. When he refused, the police were called, who cuffed Taylor and charged him with trespassing.
From 1992 to 2006, Alexander Pichushkin (1974- ) went on a killing spree in Moscow. Pichushkin claimed he killed 63 people (48 confirmed) and his aim was to kill 64 people, one for each square on a chessboard.
In 1993, a chess player in San Antonio got so mad at a tournament director for poor pairings and bad tournament conditions at a hotel that he tore down and ripped up all the pairing sheets that were posted for the next day. The police were called and he was arrested.
In 1994, Martin Wirth of Fort Collins, Colorado, shot to death Vernie Cox after the two argued over a chess game. Cox died of two gunshot wounds to the chest. Witnesses said that Wirth had lost a chess game with Cox, knocked over the chess board and some furniture, then began to argue with his opponent. Wirth went across the street to his home and returned with a gun and shot Cox to death.
In June 1995, Gilberto Rodriquez-Orejuela was arrested in Columbia for illegal importation of 200 metric tons of cocaine over the past 10 years. He was known as “the chess player.”
In March 1997, two teenagers got into a fight over a school chess game. !3-year-old John Slack was in critical condition. His 15-year-old opponent was arrested on an assault charge.
In 2000, Laurence Douglas of Puoghkeepsie, New York, stabbed Craig Williams to death over a chess game. Williams had just beaten Douglas in a chess game that had a $5 wager. Williams took a $5 bill from Douglas after the game. Douglas then pulled out a knife and stabbed Williams 16 times.
In 2001, John Smith, was arrested for molesting boys as a chess coach in Masssillon, Ohio.
In 2001, Vaughn Bennett, executive director of the Olympic Chess House, was arrested for unlawful trespassing onto the grounds of the U.S. Chess Center in Washington, DC.
In 2003, Simon Andrews of Falls Township, Pennsylvania, stabbed to death Jerry Kowalski during a chess game. Authorities said that Andrews was disturbed by Kowalski’s constant talking during their chess games. Andrews then pulled a knife from under a sofa-bed mattress and stabbed Kowalski in the neck. Andrews was sentenced from 15 to 30 years in state prison.
In May 2003, Grandmaster Alex Sherzer, 31, was arrested in Mobile, Alabama for allegedly attempting to solicit sex from a 15-year-old-girl he met on the Internet and who was living at a juvenile detention center.
In July 2004, Bobby Fischer was arrested in Japan, accused of traveling on a revoked American passport. He was wanted by the U.S. government on charges of violating a ban to travel to Yugoslavia in 1992, where he went to play chess with Boris Spassky.
In 2004, the FIDE vice president, Zurab Azmaiparashvili, was arrested by a group of security agents during the final ceremonies of the 36th Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Spain. He was approaching the stage to get the attention of FIDE President Ilyumzhinov about some awards that had not been given out when the security people stepped in front of him. The Calvia police said that he hit them, so they arrested him.
In March 2005, British International Master Simon Webb (1949-2005) was stabbed to death by his son, Dennis, in Sweden after returning home from a chess tournament. His son was arrested after he tried to commit suicide by driving his car into a building.
In 2005, GM Vladimir Akopian was arrested at Dubai airport having been mistaken for an individual of the same name wanted by Interpol for murder.
In April 2005, Grandmaster and former World Junior Champion Maxim Dlugy was arrested in Moscow and charged with attempting to defraud a metals plant in Russia of $9 million in bonds. He was transferred to a prison in Perm, central Russia. He faced up to 10 years in prison. All the charges against him were later dropped.
In September 2005, chess master Robert Snyder was arrested in Fort Collins, Colorado on charges of molesting three chess students of his. Two boys were age 13 and one boy was age 12. He later escaped and was featured on America’s Most Wanted in 2009. He was later captured in Belize after someone recognized him from the TV show. He was released from jail in 2008 and was supposed to register as a sex offender, but he never did. He was featured on America’s Most Wanted in November, 2009. A girl had recognized him as a chess teacher in her school in Belize and notified the authorities. US Marshals tracked him down in Belize and arrested him.
In July 2006, two chess players tried to smuggle cocaine in a wooden chess set in Trinidad, but were caught and arrested. The cocaine, which weighed 6.8 kilograms, was valued at $3 million.
In 2006, Alexander Pichushkin, 32, was arrested in Moscow for murdering 49 people. He said he killed 61 people and was trying to murder 64 people, one for each square of the chessboard. He said he was a great fan of chess and was dubbed the Crazy Chess Killer. He said his killings were linked to moves in a chess game.
In 2007, two players got into an argument at the Village Chess Shop in New York during a chess game. One player was using his piece to knock off the other player’s piece rather than using the hands to remove a captured piece. One player than picked up the wooden board and hit the other player in the mouth, which drew blood. The police were called. The player that was hit was pressing criminal charges and vowed to sue.
In April 2007, Garry Kasparov was among 170 people arrested during an anti-Kremlin rally in Moscow. He was freed several hours later (some sources say he was in prison for 5 days) after being fined $40 for public order offenses.
In January 2008, Zachary Lucov was playing chess with Dennis Klien in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, when a scuffle broke out. Luco pulled out a gun and Klein was shot in the elbow. Lucov was arrested for aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.
In 2008, a man was arrested by Boston police on a warrant of receiving stolen property. He was supposed to have been running an extracurricular chess program for elementary school students, charging $63.50 per student, but it was a scam.
In October 2008, David Christian of Iowa City got in a fight with Michael Steward while playing a game of chess at the rooming house where they both lived. He was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Christian choked Steward to death
In February 2009, a man killed a friend with a sword after a chess game in Alameda, California. An argument broke out during their game, and the two started wrestling. Joseph Groom retreated to his bedroom and returned with a sword, which he used to stab Kelly Kjersem once. Kjersem later died.
In July 2009, Gregory Alexander, an assistant to GM Susan Polgar, was arrested in San Francisco for computer fraud and aggravated identity theft in stealing email messages between USCF board members.
In October 2009, David Christian of Iowa City, Iowa, was arrested after killing his neighbor, Michael Steward, after the two got into a fight over a chess game. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In July 2010, Oakland school board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge was arrested when she refused to stop playing chess at the intersection of Broadway and 14th Streets.
In October, 2010, seven players were arrested for playing chess in a playground in Inwood Hill Park, New York (Manhattan). The chess tables in the park were off limits to adults if not accompanied by a child. The charges were finally dismissed in April, 2011.
In June 2011, a chess coach for a junior chess team in Port Elizabeth, South Africa was arrested in connection with child pornography charges.
In December 2011, two Vietnamese men were arrested for gambling on chess at a local café. Gambling is illegal in Vietnam except in casinos. The two men had been gambling on chess since 2009, betting up to $50,000 per game.
In August 2012, Garry Kasparov (pictured above) was arrested at a protest outside a Moscow court during the Pussy Riot trial. He was not there to protest, simply to attend. The police cornered him and dragged him into the police van and began assaulting him. Kasparov was in jail for five days.
In January 2014, an Italian man, Saverio Bellante, who had been living in a rented home in Dublin, killed his landlord over a game of chess. He was arrested for the killing after stabbing his landlord, Tom O’Gorman, multiple times. O’Gorman was a minister. Bellante told police that they were fighting over a chess game. Bellante was then asked by O’Gormon to leave the house following an argument over a chess move. Instead, Bellante found a kitchen knife and stabbed O’Gormon, then beat him over the head with a dumbbell. Bellante was also accused of eating the heart of his victim.