Hollywood and Chess


Perhaps the first chess club in the Los Angeles/Hollywood area was the Los Angeles Chess and Checker Club, organized in 1910 with a membership of 40 players.


In the 1920s, the Beverly Hills Chess Club was founded by Dr. Charles L. Lindley.  By the 1930s, it was the strongest chess club in Southern California.  Another active chess club at the time was the Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAAC).


In June 1921, Sammy Reshevsky (Rzeschewski) (1911-1992) gave a 20-board simul at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and met several Hollywood stars such as Charlie Chaplin (1899-1977) and 5-year-old Jackie Coogan at the simul.  Reshevsky later gave a 12-board simul at the Hamburger Department Store in Los Angeles, where h lost one game and burst out crying.


In the 1920s, Hollywood was using chess in their movies more often.  In 1921, the silent version of The Three Musketeers, starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (1883-1939) was one of the first films to use chess as a crucial part of the narrative in the film.


Herman Steiner (1905-1955), was a very strong chess master (later awarded the title of International Master) who was active in New York.  He left New York in 1932 and settled in the Los Angeles area.   He traveled to the Chess Congress Masters tournament and decided to stay on the West Coast.


In 1932, the Los Angeles Congress was held, which sponsored the Chess Congress Masters Tournament.  The international tournament was promoted by Cecil B. DeMille (1811-1959).  The tournament followed the 10th Modern Olympic Games, held in Los Angles.  The Masters tournament was won by Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946).


In December 1932, Steiner formed the Hollywood Chess Group, headquartered in a clubhouse nest to his own house, which was located at 108 North Formosa Avenue in West Hollywood.  Steiner invited Alekhine, who played 26 boards at the new Hollywood Chess Club, winning them all.  The president of the Hollywood Chess Club was Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1909-2000).


In  April 1933, Jose Capablanca (1888-1942) played 23 boards at the Hollywood Chess Club, winning 21 and drawing 2 games.  He later played 32 boards at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.


In 1933, Herman Steiner became the chess editor of the Los Angeles Times and helped promote chess in the area.  The top chess clubs in the area were the Hollywood Chess Club, the Yiddish Chess Club, the Los Angeles Chess and Checker Club, the Los Angeles Athletic Club, and the Caltech Chess Club in Pasadena.


In the 1930s, Herman Steiner gave weekly chess lessons to several Hollywood stars and promising chess players.  Jose Ferrer (1909-1992) took lessons from Steiner and remarked what a genius chess teacher Steiner was.  Other chess students who took lessons from Steiner included Humphrey Bogart, Billy Wilder, Louis Hayward, Fritz Feld, Rosemary Clooney, Jim Cross and Jacqueline Piatigorsky.


In 1936, the Hollywood Chess Club drew a short-wave radio match, using Morse Code, with the Hawaii Army Chess Club.  This may have been the first overseas radio chess match.


In 1939, the Hollywood Chess Group sponsored the California State Championship.  The event was won by Philip Woliston (1920- ), age 19.  2nd-3rd place went to Herman Steiner and Harry Borochow (1898-1993).  George Koltanowski (1903-2000) took 4th place.


By the 1940s, the Hollywood Chess Group had over 100 members.


In 1941, the Hollywood Chess Group helped raise money for the British War Relief.  Herman Steiner played 400 players on 100 boards, winning 83, drawing 11, and losing 6 games in 9 hours and 20 minutes.


In 1942, Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) was active in chess in Hollywood and he played chess with patients in Veterans hospitals.  He was also playing correspondence chess with several GIs overseas until he was visited by the FBI in 1943 and was told not to play any more correspondence chess with military members for the duration of the war.


In 1943, the Hollywood Open was held at the Hollywood Chess Club.  The tournament was won by Harry Borochow.


In November 1944, the Hollywood Chess Group helped raise money for the Russian War Relief.  Herman Steiner gave a number of simultaneous exhibitions.


In  July-August 1945, the Hollywood Chess Group and the Los Angeles Times organized the Pan-American International Tournament.  Singer and actress Carmen Miranda (1909-1955) was there to open the event and draw the players’ numbers for the pairings.  Humphrey Bogart, a tournament director of the U.S. Chess Federation, was selected as the Master of Ceremonies.  One of the spectators of the tournament was actress Marlene Dietrich (1904-1992).  Samuel Reshevsky won the event and $1,000.


In 1945, Humphrey Bogart and his new wife (they were just married and both were chess players), Lauren Bacall (1924- ), along with Charles Boyer (1899-1978) and Herman Steiner, appeared on the cover of the June-July Chess Review magazine.  The shot was taken during the filming of The Confidential Agent.


In 1947, the Hollywood Lasker team won the Los Angeles Metropolitan League Chess Championship.


In 1947, Steiner was the chess advisor for the movie Cass Timberlane, starring Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner. Steiner told Lana Turner, "Don't play chess. Sitting at a chess board for hours might make you fat and spoil your perfect figure." There were several chess scenes in the movie.


In 1948, Herman Steiner and Jim Cross (1930- ) tied for 1st in the Hollywood Open.


In 1950, a Hollywood Invitational was held at the Hollywood Chess Club.  It was won by Ray Martin (rated 2210), ahead of Herman Steiner (rated 2394) and Jim Cross.


In the 1950s, Humphrey Bogart was a USCF tournament director and active in the California State Chess Association.


In the 1950s, the Hollywood Chess Club was located in the same Hollywood Boulevard building as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Writers Guild.  The club was at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue (1655 North Cherokee Ave).


In 1951, members of the Capablanca Chess Club in Havana showed up in Hollywood to play the Hollywood Chess Club.  The Hollywood team won, scoring 11.5-7.5


In 1952, the Hollywood International tournament was held and won by Svetozar Gligoric, followed by Oscar Pomar.  Herman Steiner took 3rd place.


In 1954, the Hollywood Chess Group organized the Second Pan-American Chess Congress.  It was won by Arthur Bisguier.


When Herman Steiner died in November 1955 (during the California State Championship), the Hollywood Chess Group was headed and managed by Jacqueline de Rothschild Piatigorsky (1911- ), wife of world-renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976).  The club was renamed the “Herman Steiner Chess Club,” in memoriam to Herman Steiner.


In 1955, Isaac Kashdan became chess editor of the Los Angeles Times.


In 1956, Samuel Reshevsky gave a simul in Los Angeles.  One of the players that got a draw from him was Humphrey Bogart.


In 1956, the Herman Steiner Chess Club held the California Women’s Championship.  The tournament was won by Sonja Graf-Stevenson (1908-1965), followed by Lina Grumette (1908-1988) and Jacqueline Piatigorsky.


In 1959, the Herman Steiner Chess Club moved to its third location, 8371 Beverly Blvd, West Hollywood.  It was located in a converted upstairs three-bedroom apartment, or “duplex.”


In the 1960s, the Herman Steiner Chess Club were consistent first prize winners in team chess matches for the annual Los Angeles Team Matches.  Members of the Steiner Chess Club included club regulars such as Jack Moskowitz, Carl Pilnick (1923- ), Irving Rivise (1918-1976), Morris Gordon, William Addison (1933-2008), Tibor Weinberger (1932- ), and Jim Lazos.


In 1961, the Piatigorskys purchased a property at 8801 Cashio Street. on the Westside of Hollywood, just south of Beverly Hills.  They commissioned Frank Loyd Wright, Jr. (1890-1978) to design a chess venue to accommodate chess tournaments of 150 players or more.  The place was used for the 1961 Fischer-Reshevsky match (Jose Ferrer was the master of ceremonies) and the 1962 California Junior Championship.  The place also put on large simuls by Samuel Reshevsky, Svetozar Gligoric, Larry Evans, and others.


In 1961, the new Herman Steiner Chess Club hosted the Southern California Chess Championship.  Tied for first were Ray Martin, Irving Riviese, and Walter Cunningham.


In 1962, the Herman Steiner Chess Club was the host of the California State Championship.  Irving Rivise and Tibor Weinberger tied for 1st.


In July 1963, Gregor Piatigorsky sponsored the first Piatigorsky Cup grandmaster tournament in Los Angeles.  Tigran Petrosian and Paul Keres tied for 1st  Bobby Fischer was invited, but he requested an extra $2,000 appearance fee and the sponsors did not want to pay for that.  His invitation went to Pal Benko who placed 7th-8th.


In 1963, Anthony Saidy won the Herman Steiner Chess Club Championship, followed by William Addison.


By 1964, the Herman Steiner Chess Club on Beverly Blvd ended and players migrated to the site on Cashio St.  The winner of the 1964 Herman Steiner Chess Club Championship was William Addison.


In 1964, the Herman Steiner Chess Club sponsored part of Bobby Fischer’s great simul tour of the USA.  Fischer played 50 opponents at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood.  The board fee was $3.50 and $1 for spectators.  Fischer won 47, drew 2 (Andy Sacks and Nicholas Enequst), and lost one game (Donn Rogozin).  These three players were all junior members of the Herman Steiner Chess Club.


In August 1966, Gregor Piatigorsky sponsored the second Piatigorsky Cup in Santa Monica.  The tournament was won by Boris Spassky.  2nd place went to Bobby Fischer.  The event had over 900 spectators, the largest audience ever to witness a chess tournament in the United States.


In 1967, Bobby Fischer stayed at Lina Grumette’s home in West Hollywood.  He stayed for several months.


In 1968, the Herman Steiner Chess Club hosted the Interzonal play-off, which was won by Samuel Reshevsky.


In the 1960s, Lina Grumette ran a chess club in her West Hollywood home called The Chess Set.


In the early 1970s, Agustin Eastwood De Mello hosted a chess club (The Hollywood Chess Club) at his own residence in Hollywood.  Hollywood also had its coffeehouses, parks, and donut shops where chess players could always find a game.


In the 1990s, National Master Robert Snyder ran several tournaments in the area and taught chess to Will Smith and Nicholas Cage and family.


Over the years, the Hollywood Chess Group and the Herman Steiner Chess Club was visited by many movie stars, including Lew Ayres (1908-1996), Lauren Bacall, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Humphrey Bogart, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), Charles Boyer, J. Edward Bromberg (1903-1951), Nigel Bruce (1895-1953), Charlie Chaplin, Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002), Helmut Dantine (1917-1982), Linda Darnell (1923-1965), Henry Darrow (1933- ), Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Fritz Feld (1900-1993), Jose Ferrer,  Henry Fonda (1905-1982), Sydney Greenstreet (1879-1954), Barbara Hale (1922- ), Louis Hayward, Katharine Hepburn (1909-2003), Louis Jourdan, Duan Kennedy, Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999), Myrna Loy (1905-1993), Ernst Lubitsch, Dean Martin, Walter Matthau, Mitzi Mayfair, Frank Morgan, Kathleen O’Malley Maureen O’Sullivan, Sam Peckinpah, Anthony Quinn (1915-2001), Basil Rathbone (1892-1967), Man Ray (1890-1996), Mike Romanoff (1890-1971), George C. Scott (1927-1999), Josef von Sternberg, Shirley Temple, Franchot Tone, Jean Trent, Roseanne Murray, John Wayne (1907-1979), Blly Wilder (1906-2002), and Bill Williams,