The Kennedys and Chess

By Bill Wall


John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), 35th U.S. President played chess.  In 1962, on his birthday, he received a very nice chess set from a very close friend and major supporter.  After the assassination, a letter from Evelyn Lincoln, the Personal Secretary to the President, was sent to the giver of this ebony and ivory chess set, thanking him of the gift and telling him that President Kennedy would want him to have the set back as both he and the President were avid chess players.  The chess set ended up in the estate of the actor Peter Lawford, who was married to Patricia Kennedy, John F Kennedy’s sister.  In 2013, the chess set was available on Ebay for $475,000, but there were no bidders.


In 1961, during the Kennedy Administration, a New York Times article was published called “Russians Play Chess While We Play Poker.”  It may have been a quote from Kennedy.


John F. Kennedy, Jr. (1960-1999) was a chess player and played in several chess tournaments.  According to Josef Vatnikov’s book, Essay on Chess, JFK, Jr was a very good chess player.  In 1975, JFK, Jr. visited the Moscow University chess club.  JFK, Jr. and his cousin, Mark Shriver, played chess at the club.


On November 27, 1963, Bobby Fischer was to play over 400 opponents at once in an exhibition, but was postponed because of President Kennedy's assassination. He was attempting to break Gideon Stahlberg's record of 400 opponents. Stahlberg played 400 opponents in Buenos Aires in 1941, winning 364, 14 draws, and 22 losses. It was only $3 to play Fischer and $1 for spectators.


Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963), Kennedy’s alleged assassin, was a fine chess player.   His chess set, given to him by his mother, was up for auction in 2013.


On February 12, 1964, Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother testified before the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, that Lee played chess.  Lee learned the game around age 13 and played chess with his brothers.


Chess was referenced several times in the Warren report.  In volume 8 of the Warren Report,  Daniel Patrick Powers, a fellow Marine stationed with Oswald, testified that Oswald taught him how to play chess and that they would sometimes spend 4 to 8 hours playing chess.


John E. Donovan, a Marine Lieutenant, also testified that he and Oswald played chess.  In 1959, Donovan was the Marine base chess champion in Santa Ana, and, on occasion, Oswald would beat him.


Mack Osborne and James Botelho, fellow Marines with Oswald, testified that Oswald spent time playing chess.


On May 20, 1964, Richard Dennis Call gave a sworn affidavit to the Warren Commission that Oswald spent a great deal of time playing chess while the two were station in a Marine Squadron in Santa Ana, California.  He stated that “Oswald always chose the red chessmen, making some remark to the effect that he preferred the ‘Red Army.’”


In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan.   Sirhan is an avid chess player and still plays chess at San Quentin.


In the book, Who Really Killed Kennedy, by Jerome Corsi, page 52, the author quotes one of my articles while making a point about amateurs (Oswald as an amateur sniper) and professionals.  “Typically the transition to world class involves a transformation where the pro learns to see the game differently than the amateur. Consider the game of chess. Studies have shown chess masters truly see no more moves ahead in a chess game than beginners. The difference is that where beginners see moves, chess masters see patterns.”  How’s that for chess being referenced in a Kennedy assassination book.