Died playing chess

By Bill Wall



In 1251, a chess player in Essex lost a chess game, which angered him so bad that he stabbed his opponent to death.


On March 18, 1584 (old style), Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) died of a stroke while playing chess against his adviser, Bogdan Belsky.  He was 53.


On December 26, 1776, Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall was playing chess in Trenton, New Jersey when General George Washington crossed the Delaware River and attacked Rall and his Hessian troops.  Rall was struck by a musket ball and died later that day of his injuries.  A note was found in his coat pocket that a spy gave him earlier of Washington’s plans, but Rall failed to read it during his chess game.


In 1853, a young man from Bordeaux died while playing chess in a café in Paris. (source: New York Times, Feb 4, 1853)


On October 10, 1858, the German writer, diplomat, and soldier, Vanhargen von Ense (born in 1785), died while playing a game of chess with his niece. (source: New York Times, Nov 3, 1858)


In May 1860, Mrs. Lafayette Lee and Mr. U. G. Flowers sat down to play a game of chess in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  During the game, Mr. Lee, who was standing behind Mr. Flowers looking on, pulled out a pistol and shot his wife after a quarrel about Mrs. Lee wishing to visit her mother.  He then aimed his pistol at Mr. Flowers, but Mr. Flowers pulled out his own pistol and shot Mr. Lee 5 times, killing him.  Mrs. Lee was in critical condition, but survived.  (source: Nashville Union, June 2, 1860)


On Aug 19, 1873, Charles II, Duke of Brunswick, was playing chess at the Beau-Rivage Hotel Geneva, Switzerland, suddenly got up, went to his room and died.  He was 68.


On June 20, 1888, Johann Zukertort (1842-1888) died of a stroke while playing chess at Simpson’s, a London coffee-house. While playing a chess game with Sylvain Meyer, Zukertort fainted. Instead of calling for medical help, he was taken to the British Chess Club in an unconscious state. They then took him to Charing Cross Hospital where they diagnosed the problem as a cerebral attack. He never regained consciousness, and died at 10 a.m. the next day. The cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage. At the time, Zukertort was also in the middle of a tournament at the British Chess Club and was in 1st place. He was scheduled to play a match with Blackburne on June 23, 1888 and Bird on June 26, 1888.


In Feb 1892, Matthew Wilson, a well-known portrait painter, died while playing chess at the Brooklyn Chess Club.  He was 77 years old.  His portraits included President Arthur and Lincoln.  (source: New York Times, Feb 24, 1892)


In March 1893, General Hiram Barden died while playing chess at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, DC.  He was the inventor of the Berdan range finder, torpedo, and rifle.  He was 69.  (source: New York Times, April 1, 1893)


In January 1894, James Edward Ryan died of a heart attack after leaving his chess club.  He was a principal at a public school in New York. (source: New York Times, Jan 14, 1894)


In October 1898, George Stanfield, age 45, died suddenly of a heart attack while playing chess at the Fulton Chess Club. (source: New York Times, Oct 28, 1898)


In May, 1902. N. T. Elliott, chairman of the Asheville County Commissioners, died while playing chess at the Hotel Oakee in Asheville, North Carolina.  (source: Asheville Daily Gazette, May 16, 1902.


In November, 1902, Lester R. Brooks, a millionaire grain and lumber magnate, died while playing chess with his physician.  (source Williamsport Sun-Gazette, Nov 13, 1902)


In October, 1905, General Thomas E. Moss, former attorney general of Kentucky, died while playing chess with his son-in-law in Manila, Philippines.  He was 66.  (source: The Watchman, Sumter, SC, Oct 18, 1905)


In 1915, Ajeeb, a chess automaton was set up at Coney Island by James Smith and Emma Haddera.  One player lost to it and was so angry he took out a gun and shot at the torso of the automaton.  It killed its hidden operator, Sam Gonotsky, which was covered up.  In another incident with Ajeeb, a Westerner emptied his six-shooter into the automaton, hitting the operator in the shoulder (source: New York Times, January 1929)


In 1921, James Dunlop, a member of a chess club that met regularly at a Glasgow restaurant, died while playing chess.  He was 65. (source: Glasgow Sunday Post, Feb 6, 1921)


In 1923, a spectator watching the Ed Lasker - Frank Marshall chess match in New York died of a heart attack.  The excitement was too much for him.


In May, 1931, Andors Wachs of Hungary had just checkmated his opponent at a chess club in Hungary. He then dropped his head on the table and died of a heart attack.


In 1931-1932, Dutch Master Daniel Noteboom (1910-1932) attended the Hastings Chess Congress, held in December-January.  The weather was so cold that he caught pneumonia at Hastings and then died a week after the tournament on January 12, 1932.


On July 23, 1933, Adolf George Olland, a Dutch chess master, died of a heart attack while playing in the 1933 Dutch chess championship at The Hague.  He was 66.  His last game was White against Hamming.  Olland made his 25th move, then he collapsed, his head fell on the chessboard and the pieces rolled off the table.  The arbiter declared the game as won by him.


On December 14, 1934, Paul Leonhardt (1877-1934) died of a heart attack while playing chess at a chess club.


On March 8, 1942, Jose Capablanca (1888-1942), died after watching a skittles game at the Manhattan Chess Club. The cause of death was given as “a cerebral hemorrhage provoked by hypertension.” He died at Mount Sinai Hospital, the same hospital that Emanuel Lasker died a year earlier. Capablanca’s body was given a public funeral in Havana on March 15, 1942.


In 1944, Al Horowitz's opponent died of a heart attack in Kansas City just after Horowitz made a spectacular move.  Horowitz was giving a simultaneous exhibition.


On June 18, 1952, Efim Bogoljubov (1889-1952) suffered a heart attack after concluding a simultaneous chess exhibition in Triberg, Germany.


In 1952, Juan Quesada, Cuban chess champion, died of a heart attack during an international tournament in Havana.  He was 40.


On November 25, 1955, Herman Steiner, age 50, died of a heart attack after a California State Championship game in Los Angeles. He was defending his state championship title and finished his 5th round game (a 62-move draw against William Addison). He then said he felt unwell, so his afternoon game was postponed. About two hours later, around 9:30 pm, Steiner had a heart attack while being attended by a physician. By agreement of the players, the 1955 California State Championship tournament was cancelled.


In 1959, a Soviet scientist killed another Soviet scientist at a Soviet research station in Vostok, Antarctica after a chess game argument. The losing player got so mad that he killed his opponent with an axe. After the incident, the Soviets banned chess at their Antarctic stations.


On June 1, 1960, an American sailor, Michael L. George, got into a fight at a Greenwich Village bar, Chumley's at 86 Bedford Street, when a spectator criticized the sailor’s chess game after he lost.  The sailor struck the spectator (Clinton Curtis, a free lance editor from Miami) with a broken beer bottle, which cut his jugular vein, and he died.  The sailor was eventually acquitted of murder and charged with accidental death instead. (source: New York Times, June 2, 1960)


On July 31, 1965, E. Forry Laucks (1897-1965), founder of the Log Cabin Chess Club, collapsed of a heart attack and died after the 6th round of the U.S. Open in San Juan, Puerto Rico.


On May 26, 1967, Gideon Stahlberg (1908-1967) died of a heart attack during the 1967 Leningrad International chess tournament.


On September 25, 1968, Russian grandmaster Vladimir Simagin (1919-1968) died of a heart attack while playing in a chess tournament in Kislovodsk, Russia.


In 1970, Charles Khachiyan, President of the New Jersey Chess Association, died of a heart attack while playing chess at the Montclair Chess Club in New Jersey.


On October 4, 1972, USCF business manager Kenneth Harkness (1898-1972) died of a heart attack on a train in Yugoslavia on his way to a FIDE meeting in Skopje, Yugoslavia, where the chess Olympiad was to take place.


In 1975, Paul Keres (1916-1975) died of a heart attack in Helsinki, Finland, while returning home to Estonia from the World Class Championship in Vancouver, B.C. He had just won the event despite a doctor’s orders not to play in the event due to the stress and his high blood pressure. His airplane had taken off from Helsinki to Tallinn when Keres had his heart attack. The aircraft turned around and landed back at Helsinki and Keres was rushed to the hospital and died.


In 1979, Patrick McKenna, a prisoner in Nevada, strangled his Las Vegas cellmate, Jack J. Nobles, after an argument over a chess game in which he lost.  He has been on death row for over 36 years.  He was once considered as Nevada’s most dangerous inmate.  He was denied the latest in a long line of appeals. (sources: Crime & Capital Punishment blog; The Pacific Reporter, 1986, p. 616)


On November 6, 1979, Cecil Purdy (1906-1979) died of a heart attack while playing chess in the Sydney, Australia chess championship. His opponent was Ian Parsonage. His last words were, “I have a win, but it will take some time.”


On October 21, 1982, Ed Edmondson (1920-1982) died of a heart attack while playing chess on a beach in Honolulu, Hawaii.


On April 19, 1985, Jozef Gromek died during a blitz game in Poland.  He was 53.  In 1955, he had won the Polish chess championship.


In 1993, a person was shot and killed while playing chess with a friend outdoors in Bosnia. It was the first recorded killing of a chess player by sniper fire.


In 1994, Martin Wirth, 37, of Fort Collins, Colorado, shot to death Vernie Cox, 24, on his birthday 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, and 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. (source: Boulder Daily Camera, Aug 16, 1994)


On November 13, 1994, grandmaster Igor Platonov (1934-1994) returned home to his apartment in Kiev after a chess tournament, when two thieves ambushed him and murdered him.  The killers were never caught.


In 1995, Benno Puder, died playing chess at a hotel in the French Alps.


On May 7, 1995, International Master Nikolai Kopilov died while giving a simultaneous chess exhibition in Voronezh.  He was 76.


In September 1999, Laurence Douglas, 32, stabbed Craig Williams, 25, to death over a chess game in Poughkeepsie, New York. Williams beat Douglas in a chess game that had a $5 wager. Williams took a $5 bill from Douglas after the game and Douglas then stabbed Williams 16 times. Douglas was sentenced to 12 years in prison.  (source: Associated Press, May 12, 2000)


In 2000, GM Vladimir Bagirov (1936-2000) died of a heart attack when in a winning position in a tournament game in Finland. He had just finished a move while in time pressure and his flag fell. As both players moved to a separate board to reconstruct the game, he collapsed and died.


In 2000, Latvian grandmaster Aivars Gipslis (1937-2000) died of a stroke while playing chess in Berlin. He was playing for a local Berlin chess club when he collapsed from a stroke during the chess game. He died in a German hospital after being in a coma for several weeks.


On Sep 25, 2001, five chess players died in a vehicle crash in India on their way to a chess tournament. 


In 2001, Alexei Suetin (1926-2001) died of a heart attack after returning home from the Russian Seniors Chess Championship.


In 2001, Christopher Newton, imprisoned for burglary, murdered his cellmate, Jason Brewer, 27, over a game of chess in a Ohio prison.  Brewer would resign his chess game against Newton every time a pawn was lost or the position looked bad.  Newton tried to tell him not to give up and play the game out, but Brewer refused.  After a month of playing chess and Brewer always resigning early without playing out the game, Newton finally had enough and strangled Brewer.  Newton was executed on May 24, 2007 by lethal injection on Ohio.  He was the first murderer executed for killing someone over a chess game.


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 the unlucky Kowalski in the neck, who bled to death. Andrews was sentenced from 15 to 30 years in state prison.


In 2004, at the Canadian Open, Donal Hervieux collapsed and died over the chess board while playing a FIDE master during round 8.


In July 2007, Bernard Papet, age 73, died right after completing his 10th round game in the Veteran’s French championship.


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. (source: KCRG News, Oct 13, 2009)


In December 2008, a man was so upset in losing a chess match, that he threw his opponent out the window.  It happened in Gloazov, Russian Republic of Udmurtia.  43-year-old Aleksey Valentikhin lost several games to a 60-year-old pensioner neighbor.  He got so mad that Aleksey threw his opponent from his second floor window.  The pensioner broke several bones and later died.  Valentikham was sentenced to 6 years in prison. (source: Susan Polgar blog, April 24, 2009)


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. (sources: Oakland Tribune, Feb 5, 2009; Mercury News, Feb 4, 2009)


On jan 17, 2010, Dale Lyons of Portsmouth, NH died while playing chess.  He was 60.


In April, 2013, six members of the Melbourne Chess Club in Australia were returning from a chess tournament in Canberra when their car rolled off the freeway.  Two of the chess players died.  International Master James Morris (1994- ) was seriously injured in that accident.


In 2013, a Chinese player murdered his best friend and then killed himself so they could play chess in the afterlife.


In January, 2014, an Italian man, Saverio Bellante, who had been living in a rented home in Dublin, killed his unlucky 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.


In August 2014, Candidate Master Kurt Meier, 67, a Swiss-born member of the Seychelles chess team, died on the last day of the 41st Chess Olympiad, held in Tromso, Norway.  His son was playing on the board next to him and tried to revive him.  Hours later, Alisher Anarkulov from Uzbekistan was found dead in his hotel room in central Tromso.


In 2015, Alan Wright, age 88, died on his way back from a chess match in England.


In 2015, Michael Uriely died one day after participating in a chess game at the 2015 Mind Sports Olympiad.


In April 2015, a New Jersey boy, age 10, jumped to his death after losing a game of chess.


In June, 2015, GM Walter Browne died in his sleep after finishing playing in the 50th National Open in Las Vegas.


In July 2015, Craig Woolcock of Wales killed himself after he quit his job as a customer services official to concentrate on chess, but failed to qualify for the British chess championship. The unlucky player suffered from mood swings. (source: MailOnline, July 14, 2015)


On October 17, 2015, International Master Emory Tate died while playing in a chess tournament near San Jose.  He was 56.


Earl Smith was a chaplain at San Quentin prison and played chess with inmates one day before or the day of their execution.