by Bill Wall


The first known living chess played with people taking part of chessmen was demonstrated in the court of Charles Martel (688-741), Frankish ruler of Austrasia in 735.  Martel had just annexed Aquitaine where chess was introduced by the Arabs from Spain.


Luis Ramirez de Lucena (1465-1530) was the author of the oldest existing printed book on chess, Repeticion de Amores y Arte de Ajedrez con 101 Juegos de Partido (Repetition of Love and the Art of Playing Chess) published in 1497.  Less than 12 copies are known today.  An earlier book, Libre dels jochs partits dels schachs en nombre de 100 (The Book of 100 Chess Problems), was published in Valencia in 1495 by Francesch Vicent, but no copies exist.


Between June and October 1834, Louis-Charles Mahe de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840) of France and Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) of Ireland played 85 games (6 matches), the largest number of games ever played successively in match conditions.  Neither knew a word of the other's language, and the only word they exchanges was “check.”  La Bourdonnais spent his time spitting, cursing, singing, and laughing. McDonnell spent up to two hours to make a single move.  Some of the games lasted over 7 hours to complete.  La Bourdonnais won 45 games, lost 27, and drew 13.


In 1839, the first chess club in Budapest (Pest) was formed.  Its members included Jozsef Szen and Loewenthal.  Chess clubs were not allowed following the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-1849.  It wasn’t until 1864 that the Budapest Chess Club was re-established.


Max Lange (1832-1899) invented the helpmate in 1854. A helpmate is a type of chess problem in which both sides cooperate in order to achieve the goal of checkmating Black.  Max Lange published the first helpmate in Deutsche Schachzeitung in December, 1854.  The problem had White to move first.  In November 1860, Sam Loyd (1841-1911) published the first helpmate with Black to move first, which Is now the standard.


Arthur Ford Mackenzie (1861-1905) was a chessplayer who composed chess problems when he was blind.  He was responsible for the popularity of the two-mover in the early 20th century and won over 100 prizes.   By coincidence, a problem he submitted to a composing tournament was almost identical to another problem submitted by H. Lane.  They both featured the same key move.  By a greater coincidence, H. Lane was also blind!  Mackenzie was a school teacher in Jamaica.


The worst loss by a player was Nicholas Macleod (1870-1965) of Canada who lost 31 games (while winning 6 and drawing 1) in the New York double-round robin of 1889.  Retired Colonel Charles Paul Narcisse Moreau (1837-1916) lost all 26 games at the Monte Carlo tournament in February-March, 1903.  He was a French soldier serving in the artillery and an officer of the French Legion of Honor. 


Gyula Makovetz (1860-1903) was editor of Hungary's first chess magazine, Budapesti Sakkszemle, from 1889 to 1894.  He was a Hungarian journalist and strong chess master.  In 1890, he took 1st place at Graz, defeating Emanuel Lasker in that event.


Emil Kemeny (1860-1925) won the championships of New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago.  He was the author of The American Chess Weekly chess magazine.


Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) was an avid chessplayer who used "Karpov" as one of his pseudonyms during his exile.  A famous painting title Lenin was created by a Russian artist named Karpov.


Frank Marshall (1977-1944) was the first American to defeat a Soviet player in an international tournament (New York, 1924).  He reigned as U.S. Champion from 1909 to 1936, but only defended his title once when he defeated Ed Lasker in 1923.  He was the first master to play more than 100 games simultaneously. In 1916 he played 105 players at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  He won 82 games, lost 8, and drew 15.  He was one of the original grandmasters of chess, given the title by Czar Nicholas II.


Lev I. Loshinsky (1913-1976) is considered the greatest of all problem composers, and perhaps the greatest chess composer of three-movers.  He won over 70 first place prizes in problem composing contests.  He was a professor of mathematics at the Moscow Institute of Communications.


Moonraker, the third James Bond novel by Ian Fleming (1908-1964), written in 1954, contains references to Paul Morphy.  “Morphy, the great chess player, had a terrible habit. He would never raise his eyes from the game until he knew his opponent could not escape defeat. Then he would slowly lift his great head and gaze curiously at the man across the board. His opponent would feel the gaze and would slowly, humbly raise his eyes to meet Morphy's. At that moment he would know that it was no good continuing the game. The eyes of Morphy said so. There was nothing left but surrender. Now, like Morphy, Bond lifted his head and looked straight into Drax's eyes. Then he slowly drew out the queen of diamonds and placed it on the table. Without waiting for Meyer to play he followed it, deliberately, with the 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and the two winning clubs.”  It was a battle over a game of bridge.  Moonracker was Britain’s first nuclear missile project.   In 1957, Fleming wrote From Russia, With Love with several references to chess.


William Lombardy (1937- ) was the first American to win an official world chess championship when he won the World Junior Championship in 1957 with a perfect 11-0 score.  The event was held in Toronto, Canada.  Lombardy had won the Canadian Open the year before.  He was a catholic priest, but left the church in the early 1980s to marry.  He now has one son.


Edward Lasker (1885-1981) became an International Master in 1961 at the age of 75.  He was the inventor of the mechanical breast pump.  He was a distant relative to former world champion Emanuel Lasker.

Edgar Thomas McCormick (1914-1991) participated in more U.S. Open chess tournaments than any other person (37 times).  He was a former US Amateur Chess Champion.  During World War II, he served in the US Army as a special agent in cryptology and worked for the CIA.  He served as Vice President of the USCF.

Brazilian grandmaster Henrique Mecking (1952- ), during his 1973 candidates' match with Tigran Petrosian, accused the formal world champion of kicking the table, shaking the chessboard, stirring the coffee too loudly, and rolling a coin on the table.  He went to the referee twice to complain that Petrosian was breathing too loudly.  Mecking kicked back at the table and made noises of his own.  Petrosian responded by turning his hearing aid off.  In 1977, he was the 3rd highest rated chess player in the world, behind Karpov and Korchnoi.  He was the first Brazilian GM.  He won the Brazilian championship at the age of 13.


Irina Levitina (1954- )  was the 4-time USSR Women's Champion who was not allowed to play in the 1979 Women's Interzonal and for the World Women's Championship because her brother emigrated (legally) to Israel.  She has won the US Women’s chess championship 3 times.  In contract bridge, she has won the world bridge championship 5 times.


Tony Miles (1955-2001) was the first English-born player to become a grandmaster for over-the-board play, in 1976.  He once defeated the World Othello Champion at his own game.  Miles had a mental breakdown in 1987 and moved to the United States.  He then moved to Australia, then back to England.  He played in the British championship (winning one time), the US championship (took last place), and the Australian championship.


Tatiana Mefodievna Lemachko, a woman grandmaster, defected from the Bulgarian team on the eve of the last round of the Lucerne Chess Olympiad in 1982.  She had played board one for the Bulgarian women’s team since 1978.  She settled in Switzerland.


Essex player Edward Lee (1968- ), by age 14, defeated 7 grandmasters in simultaneous exhibitions: Karpov, Korchnoi, Nunn, Speelman, Ftacnik, Kochiev, and Kupreichik.  He also drew against Korchnoi and Hort in two other exhibitions.  In 2010, he defeated GM Nigel Short in a blitz game.


There are 8 different ways to mate in two moves and 355 different ways to mate in three moves.


Mythical inventors of chess include Adam , Arabians, Aristotle, Attalus III Philometor (king of Pergamon from 138 BC to 133 BC) , Australian aborigines, Babylonians, Balhait, Bataks, Castilions, Chinese soldiers, Diomedes, Egyptians, Greeks, Hebrews in the third century, Hermes , Hindu counselor, Icelanders , Irish, Japhet, Jason, King Solomon, Knights of King Arthur's Round Table, Kushan Empire of Central Asia, Lydus and Tyrrhenus, Meetaks, reign of Merodach, Moses, Palamedes, pygmies, Pythagoras, Romans, South American Indians (Araucanians), Scythians, Semiramis, Shatenscha, Shem, Ulysses, Welsh, wife of the king of Ceylon, Xerxes, and Zenobia .


A knight’s tour is a sequence of moves of a knight on a chessboard such that the knight visits every square exactly once.  The number of possibilities of a knight's tour is 26,534,728,821,064.  The earliest known reference to the Knight’s Tour dates back to the 9th century AD, found in a Sanskrit work on Poetics.


In the 13th century, the king could move two squares on his first move (known as the king’s leap).  Later, it could move once like a knight.  In either case, the king could never leap out of or over check.  The King's leap survived until the 17th century in England and France.  It survived in Spain and Portugal up to 1750.  It survived until the 19th century in Iceland.  From this move, castling developed.


The first book on the King's Gambit was written in September, 1706 by M. Caze, but never pubished.  The manuscript is in the White Collection in Cleveland, Ohio.


David Janowski (1868-1927) was a chess master and addicted gambler.  In 1901 he won an international tournament at Monte Carlo and lost all his first place money in the casino the same evening the tournament ended.  In another event he handed his money to a friend and made him promise not to return it until after the chess tournament.  However, the lure of gambling proved too strong and he begged for the return of his money.  His friend refused.  Janowski was so infuriated that he sued his friend.  Janowski had a chess patron, the Dutch painter Leo Nardus, who supported him in chess for many years.  One day Nardus suggested an alternate move during a postmortem of one of Janowski's games.  Janowski called Nardus an idiot in front of a crowd of people.  Nardus never gave Janowski any financial support after that.  He died penniless and a subscription was raised to prevent his being buried in a pauper's grave.


Ernest Jones (1879-1958) was a psychoanalyst who wrote, "The Problem of Paul Morphy," the most famous example of a single case study in the psychoanalytic discipline.  It was delivered to the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1930 and published in 1931.  Jones was a protégé of Sigmund Freud and his biographer, and made chess into an Oedipus complex to protect the Queen (mother) and checkmate the King (father).


Mir Sultan Kahn (1905-1966) was the winner of the All Indian championship and winner of the Championship of the British Empire several times (1929, 1932, and 1933).  He was the strongest chess master of his time from Asia.  He was illiterate and had to learn the rules of chess in Europe, which were different than Eastern chess (pawns could only move one square at a time, for example).  He couldn't speak English and had to have an attendant write down his score.  He was a servant in the household of Colonel Umar Khan, an army officer in charge of the horses for King George V.  He defeated Capablanca, Nimzovich, Rubinstein, Tartakower, Flohr and other top players.  He returned to India with his master, living the rest of his life as a farmer.


Nikolai Krylenko (1885-1938) was a chess enthusiast responsible for persuading the Soviet government to support chess.  In the 1930s, he headed the Soviet chess, checkers (draughts) and mountain climbing associations.  He was Commissar for War in the first Bolshevik government, then Commander-in-Chief of the Russian armed forces, chief prosecutor for the revolutionary tribunals, and later Commissar for Justice for the USSR.  His chess title was Chairman of the Chess Section of the Supreme Council for Physical Culture of the Russian Federal Republic, and later, Secretary of the Soviet Chess Federation.  In 1937 he was arrested and charged with retarding the development of chess, cutting it off from the social and political life of the Soviet Union.  He was ordered executed by Stalin as an enemy of the people.


The Japanese confiscated chess book from prisoners during World War II, thinking they were military codes.  During World War II, The US military did not allow servicemen overseas to play chess by mail due to censorship restrictions. 


GM Alexander Kotov (1913-1981) was awarded the Order of Lenin for an important invention relating to mortar during World War II.  He was a military engineer and designed the 120-PM-43 mortar in 1943.  It was used in the Soviet army up until the late 1980s.


Paul Keres (1916-1975) was the  Estonian Sportsman of the Year in 1962.  He never became world champion but defeated nine world champions in his career.  When asked why he never became world champion, he replied: "I was unlucky, like my country."  From 1954 to 1960, he won 4 straight board gold medals in the chess Olympiads, playing board 3 for the USSR.  There were over 100,000 people at his funeral in Tallinn, Estonia.


Bojan Kurajica (1947- ) of Yugoslavia  was the winner of the 1965 World Junior Championship.  The title is an automatic award to the International Master title, yet he was not even a master.  He thus became an International Master without ever being a master.  He became a grandmaster in 1974.


Milan Matulovic (1935- ) is a Serbian grandmaster.  In 1967 at the Sousse Interzonal, he played a losing move against Istvan Bilek (1932-2010) of Hungary, but then took it back after saying “j’adoube” (“I adjust”).   Bilek complained to the arbiter, but the move was allowed to stand as there were no witnesses.  After that, his nickname was “J’adoubovic.”  


John Jarecki (1969- )was the first person to win the National Elementary and National Junior High Chess Championship in the same year (1980).  In 1981, John became the youngest chess master in the US at the time, at age 12.    He played Board 2 for the British Virgin Islands in chess Olympiad play from 1980 to 1984.  His mother, Carol, is an International Arbiter in chess.


John  Peter Kalish (1937-  ), is an International Master in correspondence chess.  He has won the championship of Okinawa 25 consecutive times.  He is an insurance salesman in Okinawa.  He is a former winner of the North American Correspondence Chess Championship.


International Master Hans-Jurg Kanel of Switzerland set the world blitz (5-minute game) continuous play record in 1981 after playing 58 hours and 48 minutes.  He played 420 games and made 17,386 moves.  A few months later, the record was beaten by English IM Andrew Martin, who played 430 blitz games in 60 hours and winning over 70% of his games.


Russian Grandmaster Ratmir Kholmov (1925-2006) was once suspended for a year from tournament play because of conduct unbefitting a chess master (he was drunk).  He was a sailor in the Soviet merchant marine during World War II.  He won the Lithuanian championship 10 times.