Occupations of Chess Players

By Bill Wall

Simen Agdestein (1967- ) was Norway’s first chess grandmaster but also represented Norway on their professional soccer (football) team.  He had to give up soccer due to injuries on his knee.  He currently teaches soccer and chess at the Norwegian Sports Gymnasium.

Semyon Alapin (1856-1923) was one of the strongest chess players in the Russian Empire in the late 19th century.  He studied engineering at the St. Petersburg Engineering Institute and at Heidelberg University.  He was also a linguist, railway engineer, and grain commodities merchant who traveled to Russia to buy grain.  He was a wealthy man and chess was just a hobby for him.

Adolf Albin (1848-1920) was born in Bucharest to a wealthy family.  He ran the Frothier Printing House in Bucharest and was a translator.  He did not play in his first international tournament until he was 43 years old (Vienna 1891).  His son, Max Adolf Albin, Jr, was a professor of linguistics at the University of Vienna.

C.H.O.D. Alexander (1909-1974) was a British master, but he was also one of the lead code breakers during World War II.  He was a colonial in British Intelligence and was part of the British Government Code and Cipher Code at Bletchley Park.  He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his wartime services. 

Aaron Alexandre (1765-1850) was a Bavarian-trained rabbi.  He also worked as a teacher and a mechanical inventor.  Eventually, he became a full time chess player and instructor. 

Adolf Anderssen (1818-1879) studied mathematics and philosophy.  He graduated from Breslau University in 1847 at the age of 29, then took a position at the Friedrichs-Gymansium (high school) as an instructor in German and mathematics in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland).  He later became Professor of Mathematics.  He was given an honorary doctorate by the town of Breslau for his accomplishment in chess, not mathematics.  His hobby and passion was playing chess.  He is considered to have been the world’s leading chess player in the 1850s and 1860s, only eclipsed by Paul Morphy.

Lev Aronin (1920-1983), a Russian International Master (1950) who played in 8 Soviet championships, was an engineer-meteorologist.

Ernest Atkins (1872-1955) won the British Chess Championship 9 times, from 1905 to 1925.  He was the son of a clergyman.  He attended Cambridge University as a mathematics scholar and played board one on its college team for four years, only losing one game during that time.  He taught mathematics before being appointed principal at Huddersfield New College.  He was its principal for 28 years.  He was a schoolmaster who played chess only in his spare time.

Curt von Bardeleben (1861-1924) was a German chess master.  He originally studied law, but gave it up to become a professional chess player and a journalist.  He later quit competitive chess for four years to complete his law degree.  He supplemented his chess income by marrying wealthy women.  He suffered hardship during the difficult years of Germany after World War, and may have committed suicide after jumping (or accidently falling) from his boarding house window in Berlin at the age of 62.

Jana Malypetrova Bellin (1947- ) is a Woman GM.  She is a medical doctor specializing in anesthesiology.  She works at the Sandwell General Hospital in England.  She has won the British Woman’s Chess Championship 8 times.

Hans Berliner(1929- ) was world correspondence champion, but is now a leading computer scientist with a PhD.  He specializes in Artificial Intelligence.  In 1979, he developed a backgammon-playing computer program that defeated the reigning world backgammon champion.  He helped develop the chess machine program called Hitech, which was one of the strongest chess machines in the world.  It was the first computer program to get a USCF Senior Master rating.

Ossip Bernstein (1882-1962) was born in Imperial Russia to a wealthy family of Jewish heritage.  He earned a doctorate in law at Heidelberg University and started out as a financial lawyer in Moscow.  In 1918 he was arrested on Odessa by the Cheka and ordered shot by a firing squad because he was a legal advisor to bankers.  At the last minute, he was recognized as the famous chess master and was spared.  In the 1920s, he became one of France’s most prosperous financial lawyers, only to lose it all in the Wall Street stock market crash.  He was awarded the Grandmaster title in 1950.

Henry Bird (1829-1908) was a practicing statistics accountant, specializing in the railway business, and not a professional chess player.  One of the reports he wrote was entitled Railway Accounts: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Capital and Revenue of the Railways of the United KingdomHe also wrote 6 chess books.  Bird first worked as a clerk to an accountant in London.  Later, he became partner in the firm Coleman, Turquand, Youngs and Co.

Armand Edward Blackmar (1826-1888), of Blackmar-Diemer Gambit fame, was a violinist, pianist, music teacher and the founder of a music publishing company in the South.  He was born in Vermont, but moved to Louisiania.  From 1852 to 1855, he was professor of music at Centenary College in Jackson, Louisiana. He was the most successful publisher of music of the Confederacy during the Civil War.  He was best known for the patriotic songs he wrote for the South.  During the Civil War, Armand worked out of New Orleans until a Union raid, led by General Benjamin Butler, on his business forced him to cease working and arrested Blackmar.  After the Civil War, he opened up a music store in New Orleans.  Armand was also a lawyer.  Blackmar created his Blackmar Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.f3) in 1881 and had his opening analysis published in 1882 in Brentano’s Chess Monthly.

Samuel Boden (1826-1882) started out as a railroad clerk and accountant at Nine Elms in Vauxhall, England.  He later became art dealer and critic, and amateur watercolor landscape painter.  Boden exhibited 7 watercolor paintings at the Royal Society of British Artists between 1865 and 1873.  The British Museum has 5 Boden paintings.  He later became an English professional chess player.  He was the chess editor of the Field from 1858 to 1873.

Feodor Bogatirchuk (1892-1984) was of grandmaster strength.  He played in six Russian championships.  He was a medical doctor and professor of radiological anatomy.  During World War II, he was head of the Ukrainian Red Cross.

Former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995) had a PhD in Electrical Engineering and worked as an electrical engineer and developed computer chess programs. 

Henry Buckle (1821-1862) won the first modern chess tournament in 1849.  He spent his time writing History of Civilization in England, which he published in 1857.  He was a British historian who studied 19 languages (he could speak seven languages and read twelve languages).  He had a library of over 22,000 books.  He died of typhoid fever in Damascus at the age of 40.

Amos Burn (1848-1925) was never a professional chess player.  He started out as a clerk to a corn merchant, then became a cotton broker and sugar merchant in Liverpool, England.  Burn played in his first international chess tournament at the late age of 37.

Vitaly Chekover (1908-1965) was a famous endgame composer.  He was also a music composer, musician, and a professional pianist (did he play the Giuoco Piano?) from Leningrad.

Nicolaas Cortlever (1915-1995) was a Dutch chess master who owned a gemstone and marble business in Amsterdam.

Arthur Dake (1910-2000) was a strong master who played for the USA in three chess Olympiads.  He became a bridge toll collector, then a highway auto controller, and finally an automobile inspector for the state of Oregon after serving in the merchant marines when he was 16.

Arnold Denker (1914-2005) was US chess champion in 1945 and 1946.  He graduated from New York University.  He was a promising boxer in his early years.  Denker was a Golden Gloves boxing quarterfinalist in New York and won three Golden Gloves bouts by knockouts in the welterweight division.  He later became a boxing manager.  He was also a promising young baseball player who later got a job at a meat-packing company (1937).  He later became the owner and was doing $38 million a year in sales when he retired in 1974.  He retired as a millionaire and moved to Florida. 

Nathan Divinksy (1925-2012) was a Canadian chess master and played in several Canadian chess Olympiads.  He served as assistant dean of science at the University of British Columbia.  His former wife (1972-1983), Kim Campbell, was the 19th Prime Minister of Canada.  Divinsky received a B.S. from the University of Manitoba.  Divinksy received an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Chicago and became a mathematics teacher at the University of Manitoba.  He then moved to Vancouver, BC where he served as mathematics professor and assistant dean of science at the University of British Columbia.  He was an alderman on the Vancouver, BC city council and was Chair of the Vancouver School Board.

Noam Elkies (1966- ) is a chess master and mathematician.  He was the youngest professor ever tenured at Harvard (age 26).  In 1981 and 1982 he placed first in the USA Math Olympiad.  He had a perfect score in 1981.     At age 18, he graduated from Columbia University as class valedictorian, majoring in mathematics and music.  He earned his PhD from Harvard in mathematics at age 20.   He won the world chess solving championship in 1996 and 2001.  In 2001, he was awarded the title of Grandmaster for Chess Solving.

Arpad Elo (1902-1992) was an American master who devised the Elo rating system.  He was a professor of physics and astronomy at Marquette University in Milwaukee for 30 years (1935 to 1965) and president (1935-1937) of the American Chess Federation before it merged and came part of the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) in 1939. 

Esther Epstein (1954- ) is a systems manager for the Bio-Molecular Engineering Research Center (BMERC) at Boston University.  She is a Woman International Master (WIM) and won the U.S. Women’s chess championship in 1991 and 1997.  She is married to GM Alex Ivanov.

Former world champion Max Euwe (1901-1981) had a PhD in mathematics and was a math professor.  From 1930 to 1940 he was a schoolmaster at a girls’ school in Amsterdam.

William Davies Evans (1790-1872), of Evans Gambit fame, started out as a sailor for the British Royal Navy at the age of 14.  He then became a ship captain in Wales on postal packet ships, taking mail across the Irish Sea.  He was a sailor for nearly 40 years.  He invented the tri-colored lighting now used on all naval vessels designed to prevent collisions at night.  Around 1825, during shore leave in London, he introduced the Evans Gambit.  The inscription on his gravestone in Ostende, Belgium is wrong.  It stated that Evans was 80 when he died in 1872.  He was 82.

William Fairhurst (1903-1982) was a recognized authority in the field of civil and structural engineering and the bridge designer.  He started designing bridges at the age of 20.  In 1945, he wrote Arch Design Simplified, a textbook on arch bridges.  He was the senior partner in his own engineering consultancy.  In 1959, he designed the Tay Road Bridge, connecting Fife with Dundee, which was built in 1966.  At the time, it was the longest river crossing in Europe, measuring 1.4 miles.  He incorporated several chess motifs in the bridge design (the walkway is a chess board pattern, with a knight’s move repeated in five different colors of stone).  He was President of the Scottish Branch of the Institution of Structural Engineers.  He also built prefabricated houses.  In 1961, he was awarded the Order of Chivalry by the British Empire for his services to engineering.  He still had time to win the Glasgow championship 18 times, the West Scotland championship 16 times, the Scottish championship a record 11 times, and the British championship in 1937.  He was awarded the International Master title in 1951.  He was also the president of the Scottish Chess Association for 13 years.

Reuben Fine (1914-1993) was one of the top chess players in the USA and the world.  He was also a leading psychologist.  During World War II he was employed by the Navy to calculate where enemy submarines might surface based on positional probability.  He was also a translator who could speak French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Yiddish, and German.   He later did research on Japanese Kamikaze attacks.  He gave up chess to become a psychoanalyst (PhD in psychology).  In 1956 the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis published his work, The Psychology of the Chess Player.  The book is a Freudian account of the game of chess.

Martin From (1828-1895) of From’s Gambit fame, tried to pursue a career as a poet, with the help of Hans Christian Andersen.   He failed at that and volunteered as a soldier in the Danish army during the Prussian-Danish war.  He was later employed by the Danish Statistical Bureau in Copenhagen.  He later worked in the central office for prison management, and then became an inspector in a prison for women.  He achieved chess fame by analyzing the gambit 1.f4 e5 in the early 1860s.

Harry Golombek (1911-1995) was a British International Master and honorary grandmaster (1985).  He studied philology at King’s College in London.  During World War II, he worked at Bletchley Park, the British wartime codebreaking center.  He helped decipher German enigma codes.  He later became a chess journalist, writing for the London Times for 44 years..  He wrote 38 books on chess.  In 1966, he was the first person to receive the OBE (Officer of the British Empire) for “services to chess.”

Carl Göring (Goering) (1841-1879), of Goering Gambit fame (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3), was the son of a rich landowner.  He became a German professor and philosopher in Leipzig, where he taught Empiricism and Posivitism.  He committed suicide in Eisenach, Germany in1879 by jumping out a 5th story window.  He was 38.

Henri Grob (1904-1974), of Grob’s Attack fame (1.g4), was a newspaper columnist, artist, and Swiss portrait painter.  He painted portraits of several grandmasters.

Isidor Gunsberg (1854-1930) narrowly lost the 1891 world chess championship to William Steinitz.  He was an early operator of Mephisto and was paid well.  Later, he listed his occupation as tobacconist and professional chess player.  He had a dealership arrangement with cigar makers and supplied cigars to chess clubs and chess rooms.  Gunsberg himself did not smoke.  In 1891, he listed his occupation as chessplayer and journalist.  In 1901, he listed his occupation as author and journalist.

Max Harmonist (1864-1907) was a leading German chess master.  He was also a professional ballet dancer, and often performed in the royal ballet.  He later suffered from Cerebal Palsy.

Robert Huebner (1948- ) was one of the top 10 players in the world and is a papyrologist with a PhD.

Carl Jaenisch (1813-1872) was first educated in Moscow, and then attended the Institute of the Corps of Railroad Engineers in St Petersburg, Russia.  He then taught classical mechanics and mathematics, and was associate professor of mechanics.  He later joined the army, becoming a Major of the Army Corps of Engineers.  He left the army in 1840 and tried to support himself fully through chess, but that failed.  He then took employment in the Ministry of Finance.  He wrote several chess books and edited the first chess column in Russia in the St. Petersburg Gazette.  He never became a chess professional or chess master.

Hans Johner (1889-1975) was Swiss champion 12 times.  He was an accomplished musician, playing the viola and violin.  He was a violin teacher and was director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich.  He played with the orchestra for 45 years.  He wrote a chess column in a Zurich newspaper for 57 years.

Janis Klavins (1933-2008) was the Latvian chess champion in 1952.  He earned a physics and mathematics degree from the University of Latvia.  He earned a PhD in physics from the Latvian Academy of Sciences.  He ended his chess career and performed research on mangentohydrondynamics.

Ignatz Kolisch (1837-1889) was one of the top players in the world before he quit chess and went into banking.   In his early years he was the private secretary of the Russian Prince Urusov.  He later became a wandering chess professional and was one of the top 4 chess players in the world in the 1860s.  In 1867, he won at Paris, ahead of Steinitz.  He moved to Vienna and met Albert Rothschild in 1868.  He became involved in banking and became a millionaire and chess patron, organizing and sponsoring many chess tournaments in the 1870s and 1880s.  In 1881 he was made a baron of the Austrian Empire.

Danny Kopec (1954- ) is an American International Master.  He is one of the world’s foremost authorities on artificial intelligence and its application to chess.  He holds a Ph.D. in Machine Intelligence and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer and Information Systems at Brooklyn College.

Edward Lasker (1885-1981) was a strong American master and a mechanical engineer.  He had degrees (but no Ph.D.) in mechanical and electrical engineering.  He invented and patented a breast pump to secure mother's milk.  He was a safety engineer for Sears Roebuck. 

Former world champion Emanuel Lasker had a PhD in mathematics.  His Ph.D. dissertation of 1902 on ideal numbers became a cornerstone of 20th century algebra.   He was a friend of Albert Einstein.

Grigory Levenfish (1889-1961) was a Russian GM.  He had a degree in chemical engineering from St. Petersburg University.  He was an engineer in the glass industry.  He helped design and construct glass factories.

Irina Levitina (1954- ) gave up serious chess and became a professional bridge player.  In chess, she was a world championship Candidate and was a Woman Grandmaster.  In contract bridge, she has been World champion six times.  Levitina is the only person in the world to win world championships in both chess and bridge.  She is currently the top US player in the World Bridge Federation (WBF) Masterpoint rankings.

Bill Lombardy (1937- ) was once world junior chess champion and became a Catholic priest.    He was ordained a priest in 1967 by Cardinal Spellman.  He is no longer a priest and is now married.

Vladimir Malakhov is a Russian GM.  He started his career as a nuclear physicist.  His father is a physics researcher at CERN in Geneva and his mother lectures on physics at the university of Dubna.  Vladimir worked at the Institute of Physics in Dubna after he graduated from college.

Geza Maroczy (1870-1951) was one of the best players in the world in his time.  He was awarded the Grandmaster title in 1950.  He worked in Hungary as a clerk at the Center of Trade Unions and Social Insurance.  When the Communists came briefly to power, he was a chief auditor at the Educational Ministry.  After the Communist government was overthrown, he could not find a job.  He retired from international chess in 1908 and was a practicing engineer and mathematics teacher.  For a while, he worked in waterworks construction.

William Martz (1945-1983) was U.S. Junior champion in 1975 and US Open co-champion in 1982.  He was later awarded the International Master title.  He graduated from high school at age 16.  He received his bachelor’s and his master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin.  He graduated from Marquette Law School in 1970, but never practiced, turning down a clerkship with a judge.  He became a used car dealer of a Chevrolet dealership in Milwaukee.  He is said to hold the USCF record for the most consecutive rated chess games without a loss – 107.  He died of cancer at the age of 37. 

Luke McShane (1984- ) is a former World Youth Champions and grandmaster.  He attended Oxford University and studied mathematics and philosophy.  He interned at Goldman Sachs.  After graduating, he worked there as a trader in London’s financial sector.

Edmar Mednis (1937-2002) was an American grandmaster.  He was trained as a chemical engineer, and then became a stock broker.

Miguel Najdorf (1910-1997) was a grandmaster.  He was also a porcelain importer and worked in the insurance business in Buenos Aires.  He had his own insurance and finance firm with over 100 employees, which made him a millionaire and one of the world’s richest chess players.  He was the primary agent for the Prudential Insurance Company of America in Argentina.  He was also a longtime chess writer.

William Napier (1881-1952) was an American chess master and the British chess champion in 1904.  He started out studying music (he was a pianist and vocalist) in England, but mostly studied chess instead.  He turned to journalism and wrote for newspapers in seven different countries.  He later became secretary of the Banker’s Life Insurance Company.  He then became secretary, then vice-president of the Scranton Life Insurance company.

John Nunn was one of the top British chess players and was a math professor.  He went to Oxford at age 15, graduated at 18, and got his doctorate in mathematics at 23 (dissertation on Algebraic Topology).

Fridrik Olafsson (1935- )was Iceland’s first grandmaster.  He was the Secretary General of the Icelandic Parliament.

Louis Paulsen (1833-1891) was one of the top chess players in the world in the 1860s and 1870s.  He was born in Blumberg, Germany and his family owned a potato farm in Germany, but the potato blight wiped out the family crops.  Louis Paulsen immigrated to the United States in 1854 and settled in Dubque, Iowa.  He established a distillery, was a wholesale tobacco merchant, and made cigars.  Paulsen himself did not drink or smoke.  He returned to Germany to work on his family’s potato farm.  He remained a chess amateur all his life.

Viacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962) was a Soviet grandmaster.  He was a civil engineer and had a career in the construction industry.

Samuel Reshevsky (1911-1992) first enrolled at the University of Detroit to study accounting.  After two years, he transferred to the University Of Chicago School Of Business.  In 1933 he graduated with a degree in accounting.  He was a Certified Public Accountant by profession.  He was an accountant for a Manhattan engineering and construction firm and coached chess teams on the side.

Ken Rogoff became a young American grandmaster, and then got a PhD in economics.  He gave up chess to become the chief economist at the World Bank and was a professor at Princeton and Harvard.  He has a PhD from MIT in Economics.  He had gone to Yale and MIT, and dropped out of MIT to play chess.  In 1978 he quit competitive chess and earned his Ph.D. in Economics in 1980.

Matthew Sadler (1974) is an English grandmaster who won the British championship in 1995 and 1997.  He ceased playing chess professionally and opted for a career in Information Technology in the Netherlands, working for Hewlett-Packard.

Albert Sandrin (1923-2004) was one of the world's best blind chess players. In 1952, he enrolled in the Marshall School for the Blind and became a piano tuner.  He advertised in the Chicago telephone book for customers and soon found himself tuning pianos all over Chicago.

Emil Schallopp (1843-1919) was a German chess master who had a classic education.  He was also chief stenographer (shorthand) of the Reichstag in Berlin and worked as stenographer in the Prussian House of Representatives.  He was also President of the Shorthand Association and a member of the Commissioner of Examiners.

Lothar Schmid (1928-2013) was a German grandmaster and the chief arbiter of the 1972 and 1992 Fischer-Spassky matches.  His family were the co-owners of the Karl May press, which published the German author Karl May (1842-1912) adventure novels.  Karl May, after Goethe, was Germany’s best-selling author.  Schmid studied law and became manager of the publishing firm in Bamburg when his father died.  He was the owner of the largest private chess library in the world, over 50,000 chess books, occupying 7 rooms on the top two floors of his house in Bamberg, Germany.

James Sherwin (1933- ) is an International Master.  He was an Executive Vice President of GAF Corporation who was the American Chess Foundation (ACF) President from 1979 to 1990.  He was involved in some Wall Street scandals in 1988 and was replaced as President of the ACF by Fan Adams, a retired Mobil Corporation executive.  Sherwin was tried 3 times for stock manipulation charges. In 1986 he tried to lift the price of Union Carbide stock shortly before selling a large block of shares.  Government prosecutors finally dropped the charges after the appeals court overturned the verdict in 1991.  His arrest made the front page of the New York Times and all the financial publications.  Sherwin lost his job and moved to Switzerland and England.  The United States Attorney who prosecuted Sherwin was Rudi Giuliani.  They spent over a million dollars in prosecuting the case.  GAF and Sherwin spent over a million dollars defending the case.

Howard Staunton (1810-1874) was one of the top players in the world.  He was a Shakespearean scholar and wrote a 517-page book on the history of English public schools.

Mark Taimanov (1926 - ) was one of the top chess players in the world and a concert pianist.

James Tarjan (1952- ) became a grandmaster in 1976.  He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and received a Master in Library Science (MLS) degree from UCLA.  In 1984, he gave up professional chess to become a librarian at the Santa Cruz Public Library.  He donated all his chess trophies to be used in scholastic chess tournaments.

Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934) was one of the top chess players in the world and a medical doctor specializing in hypnosis.

Richard Teichmann (1868-1925) was a student of modern languages and studied in Berlin.In 1892, he moved to England as a language teacher for 10 years.  He was one of the top chess players in the world at the beginning of the 20th century.  He was handicapped by chronic eye trouble and wore a patch over his right eye.

George Thomas (1881-1972) won the British chess championship twice.  He was also 7-time British badminton champion (he won 21 British badminton titles between 1903 and 1928),  and quarter-finalist tennis player at Wimbledon (1922).  He played at Wimbledon from 1919 to 1926.  He was also an internationally ranked hockey, squash and table-tennis player. 

Alexei Troitsky (Troitzky) (1866-1942) is considered to have been the greatest composers of chess endgame studies.  He worked as a forester in Siberia.  He died of starvation during the sieges of Leningrad.

Milan Vidmar (1885-1962) was Yugoslavia’s first grandmaster.  He was an electrical engineer (PhD).  He was a specialist in power transformers.   He was also the Chancellor of the University of Ljubljana. 

Milan Vukcevich (1937-2003) was an American International Master.  He was once considered a candidate for the Nobel prize in chemistry.   He was a professor of metallurgy (Ph.D. from MIT) and Chief Scientist at General Electric.

Joshua Waitzkin (1976- ) won the US Junior Chess championship in 1993 and 1994.  He is the only person to have won the National Primary, Elementary, Junior High School, High School, U.S. Cadet, and U.S. Junior Closed chess championships in his career.  He later gave up chess and became a martial artist.

David Yanofsky (1925-2000) was a Canadian grandmaster.  He was a lawyer and had been the mayor of a suburb of Winnipeg.

Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) was one of the top chess players in the world. He was a chess master, physician, pianist, magazine editor, music critic, linguist, swordsman and marksman.  He was fluent in   English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Sanskrit, Arabic, Turkish, Danish, and Polish.  He was decorated for gallantry 9 times in three Prussian wars with Denmark, Austria, and France and was once left for dead.  He was one of the best dominoes and whist players in the world.  He was a leading spokesman for prison reform.  He studied chemistry, physiology, philology, and theology with distinction.


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