Mathematicians Who Play Chess

by Bill Wall


Mathematicians usually admit that chess is a part of mathematics.  Chess is the most mathematical of all strategic games.  Mathematics is considered the queen of the sciences (Gauss).  Chess is queen of all board games.  Both share an abstract way of reasoning in solving problems.  Mathematics, like chess, is one of the things where constant practice, constant thinking, and imagining, and studying are necessary to achieve mastery of the subject.  Along with music, chess and mathematics are the only fields where there are prodigies.  Certain types of mathematical thinking are akin to chess thinking, such as non-verbal (spatial) reasoning, systematic grouping of possibilities, methods of proof, and a high degree of mental flexibility.  About one tenth of mathematicians are chess players and one sixth of chess players are mathematicians.

Here is a list of some mathematicians that also play(ed) chess or had an interest in chess.

Georgy Adelson-Velsky (1922- ) is a Soviet mathematician.  He was the developer of Kaissa, the first world computer chess champion.

George Biddell Airy (1801-1892) was an English mathematician and astronomer.  He was appointed Lucasian professor of mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge.  He helped establish Greenwich, England as the location of the prime meridian.  He was also proficient in chess.

Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander (1909-1974) won a scholarship to study mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge.  He specialized in prime number theory for his post-graduate work.  From 1932 to 1938, he taught mathematics in Winchester, England.   During World War II, he became a leading British cryptanalyst.  He won the British Chess Championship twice (1938 and 1956).  He represented England in the Chess Olympiad six times.  He was awarded the International Master title in 1950 and the International Master for Correspondence Chess in 1970.

Adolf Anderssen (1818-1879) received a mathematics degree from Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) University and was a mathematics instructor at the Friedrichs gymnasium from 1847 to 1879.   He was later promoted to Professor in 1865.  He is considered to have been the world’s leading chess player in the 1850s to 1860s.

Magdy Amin Assem (1954-1966) was an Egyptian mathematician that specialized in p-adic numbers (a subset of rational numbers).  He was International Master strength in the 1960s.

Henry Ernest Atkins (1872-1955) attended Peterhouse, Cambridge as a mathematical scholar.  He was mathematical master at Northampton College and at the Wyggeston School.  He was a British chess master who won the British Chess Championship nine times.

George Atwood (1745-1807) was an English mathematician who graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge.  He wrote a textbook on Newtonian mechanics describing impact and simple harmonic motion.  He was also a renowned chess player of the 18th century and recorded many of the chess games by Francois Philidor and other chess players in London.

Charles Babbage (1791-1871) was an English mathematician who originated the concept of a programmable computer.  In his autobiography, he noted that he played chess at Cambridge very frequently with several other good players.  He published a paper entitled “An Account of Euler’s Method of Solving a Problem relating to the Knight’s move at Chess.”

Walter William Rouse Ball (1850-1925) was a British mathematician and a mathematics historian.  He graduated with a M.A, in mathematics from Cambridge in 1874.  He represented Cambridge in early chess matches against Oxford.

Christoph Bandelow (1939-2011) received a PhD in mathematics from Ruhr University, Germany in 1968.  He was considered the world’s leading expert on mathematical puzzles.  He was a famous chess problemist, including retrograde chess problems.

Gedeon Barcza (1911-1986).  Dr. Barcza had a PhD in mathematics and was a Hungarian professor of mathematics.  He was eight-time Hungarian champion and represented Hungary in six Chess Olympiads.

Harry Bateman (1882-1946) received an M.A. in mathematics from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1906.  He specialized in the integrals of the Euler-Laplace type dates.  His college tutor was W.W. Rouse Ball.  He played on the Cambridge chess team and represented Britain in a match against the USA in an intercollegiate team match.

John Beasley (1940- ) received an undergraduate degree in mathematics at Cambridge and a PhD in Management Science at Imperial College, London.  He was a Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Brunel University in London.  He was the author and columnist for Endgame Studies in the British Chess Magazine.

Max Black (1909-1988) received a PhD in mathematics from the University of London.  His dissertation was Theories of logical positivism.  He was a former chess champion at Cambridge University. He played chess his entire life.

Otto Titusz Blathy (1860-1939) held a doctorate in mathematics from Budapest and Vienna universities.  He became the co-inventor of the modern electric transformer and the single-phase alternating current (AC) electric motor.  He was a well known author of chess problems.  He once composed a chess problem that was a mate in 292 moves.

Ludwig Bledow (1795-1846).  Dr. Bledow had a PhD in mathematics and was a professor of mathematics at the Berlin Gymnasium.  He was founder of the German Chess Association and founded the first German chess magazine.

Richard Borcherds (1959- ) is a British mathematician specializing in lattices, number theory, group theory, and infinite-dimensional algebras.  He received his PhD in mathematics from Cambridge in 1985.  As a child, he was a strong chess player on the verge of becoming a chess master, but gave up competitive chess for mathematics.  At age 14, he had been Midlands under-21 chess champion.

Hans Bouwmeester (1929- ) was a mathematics teacher at Utrecht and Amsterdam.  He was awarded the International Master title in 1954.  He was awarded the Grandmaster in Correspondence Chess title in 1969.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) was a Polish-Jewish British mathematician.  He received a PhD in mathematics from Cambridge in 1935, writing a dissertation in algebraic geometry.  From 1934 to 1942 he taught mathematics at the University College of Hull.  During World War II, he developed mathematical approaches to bombing strategy for the RAF Bomber Command.  He was a strong chess player at Cambirdge.  He represented Cambridge University on board three against Oxford University in 1931.  He won the Hull Chess Club championship, the county championship, and the Yorkshire championship in his early days.

Sylvain Cappell (1946- ) received a PhD in mathematics from Princeton University in 1969.  His dissertation was on super-spinning and knot complements.  As a topologist, he spent most of his career at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University, where he is a Silver Professor of Mathematics.  In his spare time, he played chess.

Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) was an Italian Renaissance mathematician and one of the founders of probability theory.  He invented the Cardan transmission in mechanics and was the first mathematician to make systematic use of numbers less than zero.  He was a friend of Leonardo da Vinci.  For two years, he abandoned his studies and did nothing but gamble and play chess all day.  He invented the method of shading the black squares in chess diagrams.  He played chess for 40 years, writing, “I would never be able to express in a few words how much damage, without any compensation, [chess] caused in my domestic life.”

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), whose real name was Charles Dodgson, was an English mathematician.  For 26 years, he lectured in mathematics at Christ Church.  He is famous for his writings, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, which was based on a chess game.  Dodgson was a passable chess player.

David G. Champernowne (1912-2000) was an English mathematician.  He was Professor of Statistical Economics at Oxford (1848-1959) and professor of Economics and Statistics at Cambridge (1970-2000).  In 1948, he helped develop one of the first chess-playing computer programs, called TURBOCHAMP (which beat Champernowne’s wife in its only victory).

Nathan Divinksy (1925- ).  Dr. Divinsky received a PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1950.  He served as a mathematics professor at the University of British Columbia.  He is a Canadian chess master and famous chess author.  He represented Canada twice in at the Chess Olympiads.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) showed a strong talent in mathematics as a child.  He studied mathematics on his own and was several years ahead of any school curriculam in mathematics.  In 1900, he was awarded the Zurich Polytechnic teaching diploma and was qualified as a mathematics teacher.  He received a PhD in physics in 1905 at the University of Zurich.  Einstein played chess as a boy and was a good friend to world chess champion Emanuel Lasker.   He played chess with his neighbors and friends and always had a chess board set up at his home.

Noam Elkies (1966- ).  Dr. Elkies graduated from Columbia College at age 19 and received a PhD in mathematics from Harvard at the age of 20.  In 1993, he was made a full, tenured professor at the age of 26.  This made hime the youngest full professor in the history of Harvard.  He is a former world chess solving champion (1996).  His last USCF rating was 2263.

Arpad Elo (1903-1992) was a professor of mathematics and physics at Marquette University who created a mathematical rating system for two player games (chess) called the ELO system.  He was a chess master and won the Wisconsin championship 9 times.

Paul Erdos (1913-1996) was a Hungarian mathematician who published more papers, about1,500, than any other mathematican in history.  In 1934, at the age of 21, he was awarded a doctorate in mathematics.  He was a skillful player of chess.  He was one of the greatest mathematicians but was frequently stumped by simple chess problems.  He would have to show chess problems to his friends and they solved it for him.

Thomas Ernst (1960- ) earned a PhD in mathematics with a dissertation on q-calculus.  He is a professor of mathematics at Uppsala University.  He is a Grandmaster from Sweden (1991).

Leonard Euler (1707-1783) was a Swiss mathematician who made discoveries in calculus and graph theory.  He is considered to be the preeminent mathematician of the 18th century.   Euler published the first solutions to the Knight’s Tour.  He made the first serious mathematical analysis of the Knight’s Tour in 1758.  The knight’s tour is moving the knight through all the squares of a chess board, without ever moving two times to the same square, and beginning with a given square.  Euler took up the game of chess but was disappointed with how well he played.  He is said to have take up chess lessons, perhaps with Philidor.

Max Euwe (1901-1981).  Dr. Euwe received a PhD in mathematics from Amsterdam University in 1926.  Euwe then lectured on mathematics in Winterswyk and Rotterdam and was appointed to the Lyceum for Girls in Amsterdam, teaching mathematics there from 1926 to 1940.  He was a former world chess champion from 1935 to 1937.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was a physicist who developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions governing the behavior of subatomic particles.  In high school, he won the New York University Math Championship.  Feynman used the rules of chess to illustrated the laws of physics and made a video of it.  Feynman relied heavily on chess in his lectures at Cal Tech.  In the 1940s, while at Los Alamos, Feynman played chess with the other scientists such as Robert Oppenheimer and Leo Szilard.

Edward Formanek (1942- ) received a PhD in mathematics from Rice University in 1970.  His dissertation was on Matrix Techniques in Polycyclic Groups.  He is a professor of mathematics at Pennsylvania State University.  He is an International Master (1977).  He was the first International Master to lose to a computer when he lost to Hitech in the 1988 Pennsylvania Chess Championship.

Fred Galvin is a mathematician at the University of Kansas.  He received his PhD in 1967 from the University of Minnesota.  His dissertation was on Horn sentences and decision problems.  His research interests include set theory and combinatorics.  He invented a chess variant called doublemove chess in 1957.  He is rated around 2050.

Joseph Ganem (1959- ) received a PhD in physics from Washington University in Saint Louis.  He teaches physics and mathematical methods at Loyola University in Maryland.  He is a correspondence chess master and editor of The Chess Correspondence.  His current USCF rating is 1853.

Martin Gardner (1914-2010) was an American mathematics and science writer specializing in recreational mathematics.  He was a longtime chess admirer and often used unusual chess puzzles in his columns.  He once played two tournament games against Sammy Reshevsky in a double round-robin in Chicago.

Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) was a child prodigy and German mathematician, sometimes called the greatest mathematician since antiquity.  He spent his spare time playing chess.  In 1850, he published a solution to how many queens can be placed on a chess board to guard all the squares except the occupied ones.  The problem was first proposed in 1848 by Max Bezzel.  The maximum number is 8 queens.  There are 92 solutions to the problem.

Alexander Gelfond (1906-1968) received a PhD in mathematics from Moscow State University in 1935.  He taught mathematics there for many years.  During World War II, he was the Chief Cryptographer of the Soviet Navy.  He was an expert in chess.  He is known for saying “Chess is the Drosophila of artificial intelligence.”

James W.L. Glaisher (1848-1928) was a prolific English mathematician.  He taught at Cambridge and specialized in number theory.  He published a proof on the 8 queens problem in 1874 as to the total number of possible different solutions (12 patterns, 92 solutions).

Richard Guy (1916- ) was a British mathematician and is Professor Emeritus in the Department of mathematics at the University of Calgary.  He received an M.A. in mathematics from Cambridge in 1941.  He is also a notable figure in the field of chess endgame studies.  He has composed around 200 studies and was the co-founder of the Guy-Blandford-Roucroft (GBR) code for classifying chess studies.  He served as the endgame study editor for the British Chess Magazine from 1948 to 1951.

Godfrey H. Hardy (1877-1947) was a prominent English theoretical mathematician.  In 1903, he earned his M.A. in mathematics, which was the highest academic degree at English universities at that time.  He called chess “trivial mathematics.”  Hardy enjoyed comparing mathematics to chess puzzles.  He called chess problems the hymn-tunes of mathematics.

William Hartston (1947- ) is a Cambridge-educated mathematician.  He was awarded the International Master title in 1972.  He won the British Chess Championship in 1973 and 1975.

Stephen Hawking (1942- ) is a physicist who also specializes in applied mathematics.  He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge for 30 years.  He is now Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in the Department of Applied mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge.  Stephen plays chess with his sons.  He was once featured on Star Trek: The Next Generation  playing chess with Mr. Data nd Albert Einstein.

David Hilbert (1862-1943) was a German mathematician.  He obtained his PhD in mathematics from the University of Konigsberg in 1885.  His dissertation was on the invariant properties of special binary forms, in particular the spherical harmonic functions.  He obtained the position of Chairman of Mathematics at the University of Gottingen.  Hilbert encouraged Emanuel Lasker, one of his students, to obtain his PhD in mathematics.  Lasker did his doctoral studies at Erlangen Univeristy from 1900 to 1902 under David Hilbert.

Kurt Hirsch (1906-1986) was a German mathematician who moved to England to escape Nazi persecution of Jews.  He later became county chess champion.

Carl Jaenisch (1813-1872)  was a Russian mathematician of the highest order and one of the top chess players in the world.

Stephen Jones (1942- ).  Dr. Jones has a PhD in mathematics.  He is a FIDE master and a correspondence International Master.

Charles Kalme (1939-2002).  Dr. Kalme received a PhD in mathematics from New York University in 1967.  He was a former U.S. Junior Chess Champion and a former U.S. Intercollegiate Chess champion.

Andrew Kalotay (1941- ) is a Hungarian-born finance professor and a chess master.

Moroslav Katetov (1918-1995) was a Czech mathematician and chess master.

Maurice Kendall (1907-1983) was a British statistician and played chess for Cambridge.

Paul Keres (1916-1975) studied mathematics at the University of Tartu in Estonia from 1937 to 1941.  He became a professional chess player and grandmaster.  He was among the world’s top chess players from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s.

Martin Kreuzer (1962- ).  Dr. Kreuzer has a PhD in mathematics with a specialty in computational commutative algebra and applications.

Robion Kirby (1938- ) is a Professor of Mathematics at UC, Berkeley and strong chess player

Alexander Kronrod (1921-1986) was a Soviet mathematician and chess player who helped program Kaissa chess computer.

L’udovit Lacny (1926- ) studied mathematics and was a computer programmer.  He is a Slovak chess problem composer and chess problem judge.

Edmund Landau (1877-1938) was a German mathematician and published mathematical problems in chess.

Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941).  Dr. Lasker received a PhD in mathematics from Erlangen University in 1902.  His dissertation was on geometrical calculus and ideal numbers.  He was a former world chess champion.

Adrein-Marie Legendre (1752-1833) was a French mathematician.   He had an interest in the Knight’s Tour.

Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) was a German mathematician and philosopher.  He once said that people’s ingenuity is best revealed at chess.

Barbara Liskov (1939- ) is a computer scientist at MIT.  Her Ph.D dissertation was a computer program to play chess.

George Lorentz (1910-2006) graduated with a degree in mathematics from Leningrad State University.  He received a PhD at Tubingen, Germany in 1944.  He later moved to the USA where he taught mathematics at Wayne State University, Syracuse University, and the University of Texas.  He was an avid chess player.

Vania Mascioni (1962- ) is a Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Ball State University.  He was chairman of the Internet Email Chess Group (IECG) from 1999 to 2000.

Jonathan Mestel (1957- ).  Dr. Mestel has a PhD in mathematics from Cambridge University, specializing in magnetohydrodynamics and biological fluid mechanics.  His dissertation was entitled, Magnetic Levitation of Liquid Metals.  His is a Grandmaster from England.

Abraham de Moivre (1667-1754).  Abraham was a pioneer in probability theory.  He became a chess professional.  He published solutions to the Knight’s Tour.

Theodor Molien (1861-1941) was a Baltic-German mathematician.  He was a chess master and president of his local chess club.

Pierre De Montmort (1678-1719) was a French mathematician who provided some of the earliest solutions of the knight’s tour.

Marsten Morse (1892-1977) was a Professor of mathematics at Harvard.  His recreational activity was chess.

Karsten Mueller (1970- ).  Dr Meuller received a PhD in mathematics from the University of Hamburg in 2002.  He is a Grandmaster from Germany.

John Forbes Nash, Jr (1928- )  His son  had a PhD in mathematics and became a master in chess.

Crispin Nash-Williams (1932-2001) was a British and Canadian mathematician.  His mathematical papers sometimes included studies of an infinite chessboard in a-dimenstional space.

John von Neumann (1903-1957) was a Hungarian and American pure and applied mathematician.  He classified chess as a two-player zero-sum game.

Simon Newcomb (1835-1909) was a Canadian-American astronomer and mathematician.  He was an expert chess player.

Maxwell Herman Alexander Newman (1897-1984) was a mathematics lecture at Cambridge.  During World War II he worked at the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park.  His field was combinatorial topology and theoretical computer science.  He served as President of the London Mathematical Society in 1949-1951.  He was a strong chess player.

Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists and mathematicians, played chess.

Emmy Noether (1882-1935) was a German mathematician and perhaps the greatest woman mathematician.  She was a chess player and worked with Emanuel Lasker. 

John Nunn (1955- ).  Dr. Nunn received a PhD in mathematics at age 23 from Oxford in 1978.  His dissertation was on algebraic topology and finite H-Space. He was a professional mathematician before turning full-time to chess.   He is a Grandmaster from England.

Luca Pacioli (1445-1517) was an Italian mathematician and wrote an unpublished treatise on chess.

Roger Penrose (1931- ), the brother of IM Jonathan Penrose, is a chess player.  Penrose and Stephen Hawking have done much mathematical work on the theory of black holes.

Blaise Pascal.  He once wrote, “Chess is the gymnasium of the mind.”

Grigori Perelamn (1966- ) is a Russian mathematician who plays chess.

Miodrag Petkovic (1948- ) is a Serbian mathematician who wrote a number of articles and books on recreational mathematics and chess.

Ilya Piatetski-Shapiro (1929-2009) was a Soviet-born Israeli mathematician and amateur chess player.

Henri Poincare (1854-1912).  Henri confessed that he was a hopeless chess player.

Ken Regan (1959- ).  Dr. Regan received a PhD from Oxford.  He is an International Master.

Hans-Peter Rehm (1942- ) is a German mathematician and Grandmaster of chess composition.

Ira Lee Riddle (1946-2009).  Dr. Riddle had a PhD in mathematics.  He was an International Arbiter and President of the Pennsylvania Chess Association for many years.

John Riordan (1902-1988) was a Professor of mathematics at Yale.  He wrote a paper on programming a computer to play chess.

Jakob Rosanes (1842-1922) was a German mathematician and chess master.

Sol Rubinow (1924-1981).  Dr. Rubinow had a PhD in mathematics.  He was a former Massachusetts State Chess Champion and former U.S. Intercollegiate Champion.

Jan Rusinek (1950- ) is a Polish mathematician and chess composer.

Bertand Russell (1872-197) was a British philosopher and mathematician.  Bertrand gave up chess for mathematics when he was 18, but played chess throughout his life.

George Salmon (1819-1904).  Dr. Salmon was once considered the best Irish mathematician who taught at the University of Dublin.  He was also the best Irish chess player of his day.

Peter Sarnak.  Dr. Sarnak is famous for proving the Riemann hypothesis.  He is head of the mathematics department at Princeton and an avid chess player.  He was once Junior Chess Champion of South Africa, and then Champion of Rhodesia.

Richard Schroeppel (1948- ) is an American mathematician and cryptologist.  He is an amateur chess player.

Claude Shannon (1916-2001).  Dr. Shannon received a PhD in mathematics from MIT.  His dissertation was An Algebra for Theoretical Genetics.  He is considered the founder of Information Theory and of chess computer algorithms.

Raymond Smullyan (1919- ) is an American mathematician who has written about chess puzzles and retrograde analysis.

Kannan Soundararajan (1973- ) is a professor of mathematics at Stanford.  He is a chess player.

Jonathan Speelman (1956- ).  Dr. Speelman has a PhD in mathematics from Oxford.  He is a Grandmaster from England.

Louis Statham (1907-1983).  Dr. Statham had a PhD in mathematics and pioneered the use of shock waves in oil exploration, which made him a multi-millionaire.  He was a correspondence chess player and chess philanthropist who organized the famous Lone Pine tournaments.

Norman Steenrod (1910-1971) was an American mathematician who was interested in chess.

Thorvald Thiele (1838-1910) was a Danish astronomer and mathematician.  He was an active member of the first Danish chess club, founded in 1865.

Leonardo Torres y Quevedo (1852-1936) was a Spanish civil engineer and mathematician.  He constructed a chess automaton that could play a simple endgame.

Alan Turing (1912-1954).  Dr. Turing received a PhD in mathematics from Princeton in 1938.  His dissertation was on the notion of relative computing.  He was a famous computer scientist and an amateur chess player who wrote one of the earliest chess programs for computers.  He was a very poor chess player.  Harry Golombek could give him queen-odds and still beat him.

Stanislaw Ulam.  In his autobiography, Adventures of a Mathematician, he mentioned that when he first came to the USA, he played chess with other mathematicians for relaxation.  He once said, “In many cases, mathematics as well as chess, is an escape from reality.”

Alexandre-Theophile Vandermonde (1735-1796).  He had an interest in solving the Knight’s tour.

Erwin Voellmy (1886-1951).  Dr. Voellmy had a PhD in mathematics.  He was a three-time Swiss champion.

Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) was a Professor of Mathematics at MIT.  He was an amateur chess player.

Jean-Christophe Yoccoz (1957- ) is a French mathematician and chess master.

Ernest Zermelo (1871-1953).  He developed a theorem on chess describing a game by means of a tree structure, which was presented at the International Congress of Mathematicians held in Cambridge in 1912.


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Mathematics and Chess Page

Mathematics Genealogy Project