Radio and Wireless Chess
by Bill Wall
Chess was first played by telegraph on December 5, 1844 between Washington DC and Baltimore. Washington won after a total of 7 games were played.
In 1845, Howard Staunton (1810-1874) played a telegraph match in England against a team 100 miles apart.
In 1878, chess was first played over the telephone in England.
In 1890, Edwyn Anthony (1843-1932) wrote a telegraphic chess code to ease move transmission. Chess was still being played by telegraph up to the 1930s. (for more on the telegraph, see my article at http://www.chess.com/blog/billwall/the-telegraph-and-chess or at http://billwall.phpwebhosting.com/articles/telegraph.htm)
In December, 1901, Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) sent the first wireless messages across the Atlantic. Soon, chess was being played by wireless.
Chess was played between ships in the Atlantic Ocean by wireless in the early part of the 20th century.
In February 1902, the Minnetonka merchant ship defeated the Cunard liner Etruria in a game of chess conducted over radio. The Minnetonka crew proudly proclaimed her victory to the Minneapolis wireless operator. (source: The Atlantic Transport Line)
On June 10, 1902, six passengers on the American liner SS Philadelphia and one passenger (Paul Ginther) on the Cunard liner SS Campania 80 miles away in the Atlantic played the first match by radio, transmitting their moves by wireless operators aboard the ships. The match was not concluded after 21 moves and several hours since the radios were needed for navigational use and the ships failed to reestablish communications. Later, the SS Philadelphia played other ships, winning its chess games, and claiming to be the first mid-ocean wireless chess champion. (source: The New York Times, June 15, 1902 and Jan 19, 1903 and The Argus, Jan 21, 1903)
In January, 1903, a team of chess players on the American liner SS Philadelphia defeated a team of chess players on the liner Lucania, winning their game in 13 moves. (source: The American Almanac, Year-Book, Cyclopedia and Atlas for 1903)
In July 1904, Honolulu played a wireless chess match with Hilo. (source: Honolulu Evening Bulletin, July 21, 1904)
In September, 1904, the American transport liner Minneapolis played a wireless chess match with the Holland-American liner Ryndam. The game ended in a draw after 4.5 hours of play. Many of the passengers on both ships were betting on the game as to who would be the winner, hoping to meet and settle their bets in New York, but the outcome of the game made this unnecessary. (source: New York Evening World, Sep 5, 1904)
In September, 1904, Admiral Caspar Goodrich (1847-1925) and the officers of the United States cruiser New York played a chess game by wireless telegraph with Captain Hubbard and the officers of the cruiser Boston. The game was finally won by the players on the Boston. (source: Los Angeles Herald, Oct 2, 1904)
By 1905, telegraph cable companies refused to handle and sponsor chess games over cable, giving the reason that their services was always rendered as a loss. In the early days of cable matches, the telegraph companies were very glad to avail themselves of the means of advertising that these chess matches afforded. The rates were not considered important, and there was always room for chess matches on days like Friday and Saturday. The hope of future matches relied on Deforest or Marconi wireless telegraphy.
In July, 1905, a game of chess was played by wireless between the Carpathia and the Baltic in the Atlantic Ocean. The game ended in a draw after 30 moves. (source: Lasker’s Chess Magazine, Vol 2, 1905, p. 152).
Radio chess was also played between lighthouses.
In 1909, Princeton played a wireless chess match with players at the Brooklyn navy yard. (source: New York Tribune, March 14, 1909)
In 1910, Princeton played Penn State in a wireless chess match, which may be the first intercollegiate wireless chess match.
In 1910, the Zealandia was the first Australian owned ship to be fitted with wireless telegraphy. Soon after Zealandia began operating across the Pacific, the wireless operator began engaging in a long-range chess match with the Union Line passenger steamer Makura as the two liners were crossing the Pacific in opposite directions. (source: Across the Pacific: Liners from ANZ to North America, by Peter Plowman, p. 102, 2010)
In 1911, two games of chess were played by wireless telegraphy between two liners in the Atlantic Ocean, the Briton and the Medric. Each won a game. Among the players on the Briton was Rear Admiral (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Paul Warner Bush (1855-1930), commander-in-chief, Cape of Good Hope Station. (source: The Washington Post, Feb 5, 1911).
In May, 1915, the chess club of Ohio State University played a wireless match with the University of Michigan. The game ended in a draw. (source: Detroit Free Press, May 23, 1915)
On April 14, 1920, a radio match between Washington DC and Chicago was played. It was the first recorded long distance radio chess match. The moves in Washington DC were telephoned from the Capital City Chess Club to the United States naval laboratory wireless operator in Arlington, Virginia, and relayed to an amateur’s station in Evanston, Illinois, then relayed to the Chicago Chess Club. Edward Lasker (1885-1981) played for Chicago and Norman Tweed Whitaker played for Washington DC. 25 moves were played in almost 3 and ½ hours. The contest closed according to an agreed time limit. Jose Capablanca was to adjudicate the game. (source: Chicago Daily Tribune, April 16, 1920, p. 8 and The Wireless Age, Vol 20, June, 1920 and The Washington Herald, May 28, 1920)
In 1920, a chess match between a city in Holland and Berlin was played by wireless telegraphy. (source: New Science and Invention in Pictures, vol 8, 1920).
In the 1920s, amateur radio (commonly called “ham”) operators communicated their chess moves through Morse Code.
In April, 1921, Edward Lasker, on board the steamship Olympic, played a wireless match against 3 players on the steamship Adriatic. Only 16 moves were made before communications was lost.
In 1922, New York University played a radio chess match with Princeton. It was the first intercollegiate radio chess match of its kind. (source: New York Evening World, Feb 11, 1922, p. 4)
In 1922, a radio chess match between a group of players in Wisconsin and a group of players in Minnesota was held.
In the May 1922 issue of Illustrated World, there appears an article called “Playing Games by Radio” by Windsor Kay. It mentions how you can test your skill at chess with your opponent miles away. The article describes how you can use the radiophone or the usual spark transmitter of dots and dashes (Morse code). The article had a picture of a lady, Miss Rosaline Kendall, playing chess by radio. She was one of the contestants in a chess game between New York and Chicago (source: Vancouver Daily World, mar 28, 1922).
In June 1922, a radio chess match was played between E. T. Gundlach on the steamship President Taft and Edward Lasker at the Chicago Chess Club. It was billed as the world’s first radio chess match between land and sea. Lasker won the match. (source: The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 7, 1922, p. 11 and The Courier-Journal, June 8, 1922)
Radio broadcasting began at Haverford College in 1923, when AM station 1150 WABQ was built and launched by its 15-member Haverford Radio Club. They soon began conducting chess matches by wireless using Morse code. Initial matches were with other colleges in the United States.
In 1923, Mr. B.G. Laws (1861-1931) used the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) to broadcast a lecture on chess. His lecture was entitled “The Art of Chess Problem.” This may be the first time that radio was used to popularize chess.
In April, 1923, the moves of the Frank Marshall vs. Edward Lasker US championship match was broadcasted by radio. It was the first time that a serious chess match was broadcasted by radio.
In May 1923, two steamships, the SS Western World out of New York and the SS American Legion out of Argentina, 6,000 miles apart played a game of chess by wireless radio. Each ship had a three-man team. (source: Oakland Tribune, May 29, 1923, p. 9 and Schenectady Gazette, Aug 2, 1972, p. 16)
In December 1923, a Minneapolis radio station broadcasted a talk on chess by E. E. Munns. He gave a short discussion on the theory of the game.
In 1924, Haverford College played a wireless chess match with the College of the City of New York (CCNY). It was the first intercollegiate chess match played by radio. (source: http://spinningindie.blogspot.ae/2009/08/haverford-college-radios-heyday-in.html)
The August 1924 issue of Popular Mechanics described a radio match at sea.
In December 1924, Haverford College in Pennsylvania (college broadcasting station 3BVN) played an amateur radio chess match with Oxford University in England (private station G-2NM). It was the first international chess match by amateur radio and was reported by the American Radio Relay League. The communication was maintained by radio telegraphy on 85 meters, despite heavy static. However, a week later, the Postmaster General in England declined to give permission for Oxford to play chess by amateur wireless telegraphy. The Postmaster objected on the ground that permits are granted to amateurs subject to the condition that messages shall be sent only to stations which are actually cooperating in experiments. The Postmaster General ruled that the exchange of messages relating to a chess match was not regarded as a bona fide experiment. (source: New York Times, Dec 10, 1924, p. 1 and New York Times, Dec 22, 1924, p. 2)
In 1925, there were at least two stations in Germany (North German Radio) that were giving chess talks and lessons over the radio. In one broadcast, commentators debated whether chess was an art, a science, or a game. They also broadcasted classes for beginners as well as general news about chess.
In 1925, Vera Menchik and Mr. Samuel Tinsley of the Times gave lectures on chess over the BBC.
In 1926, Haverford College in Pennsylvania played an amateur radio chess match with the University of Paris. The broadcasting and receiving station used in Franc was L’Intransigeant (F-SER), at wavelength from 90 to 100 meters. Broadcasting and receiving at Haverford College was Stations 3ZG and 3OT, operating on a 40-meter wavelength. (source: The New York Times, Jan 17, 1926, p. 1)
In May 1926, the Shanghai chess club defeated the Manila chess club in a radio match over shortwave. (source: Indiana Gazette, May 28, 1926, p. 1)
In 1926, Vera Menchik won a girls’ tournament at the Imperial Chess Club and gave the results in a 10:30 pm BBC broadcast.
In December, 1926, the first international radio match between Argentina and Uruguay took place between the Club Gimnasia y Esgroma de Rosario and the Uruguayan Chess Federation in Montevideo. The match lasted nearly 24 hours. (source: Horacio A. Nigro Geolkiewsky of Montevideo, Uruguay). Also see Ajedrez por radio, una historia concisa.
Sammy Reshevsky made his debut on chess by singing a love song. (source: Chess Review, October 1951)
Al Jolson (1886-1950), the first movie actor of the talkies, formed a chess club called Knight Riders of the Air, consisting of Hollywood radio stars.
In May 1927, a 12,000 mile wireless radio match was played between the London House of Commons and the Australian Parliamentarians in Canberra, Australia. The match ended in a draw. The Duke of York made the opening move in Canberra and Prime Minister Baldwin made the first move in London. (source: The New York Times, May 10, 1927, p. 38 and The Winnipeg Tribune, May 10, 1927)
In 1928, the National Chess Federation organized a Radio Chess League.
In 1929, Dr. Norman Shaw of McGill University, Montreal issued a challenge to play a radio match with Frank Davies, physicist of the Byrd expedition in the Antarctic, a distance of 11,000 miles.
In 1930, a radio match was played between a chess club in Los Angeles (headed by Herman Steiner) and a chess club in Rosario, Argentina. It was the first time an international radio match was contested between teams of four players. Two amateur radio stations, owned by T. E. La Croix of Long Beach and Dr. Adolfo Elias of Rosario, were used for the communication. (source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 1, 1930, p. 27 and North Adams Transcript, Apr 10,1930)
In the 1930s, crews in the lighthouses of the mid-Atlantic coast played “Radio Chess” with the crews of other lighthouses. Two crews tried to checkmate each other while the rest listened in and planned their turns at play. (source: Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic Coast)
In 1931, a wireless chess match was played between Sydney and Melbourne Universities. Sydney won the match. The students claimed that is was the first inter-state and the first inter-university chess match ever played by wireless. (source: Sydney Morning Herald, Oct 3, 1931)
In March 1934, Alekhine was interviewed on a radio in Holland, just before he was to give a simultaneous blindfold exhibition.
In 1934, the first chess match ever staged in Ohio over a short wave radio set was played by Victor Alderson and Homer Lawrence. (source: Mansfield News-Journal, Mar 2, 1937)
In 1935, Alexander Alekhine gave a radio broadcast a day before his world championship match with Max Euwe.
In 1936, several broadcasters in Nottingham, England arranged to interview Max Euwe, Jose Capablanca, and other chess players during the Nottingham International tournament.
In 1936, Ajeeb, the automaton, owned by Jess Hanson and Frank Frain, toured the United States to sponsor a radio set, one to be given free to any winner against Ajeeb. Ajeeb never lost a chess or checkers game during that tour. (source: article on Ajeeb in The Oxford Companion to Chess).
In 1937, the Palestine chess championship results were announced on the radio. It may be the first radio broadcast about chess in Israel or Palestine.
In 1937, radio station KQV, an AM station in Pittsburgh, broadcasted the Radio Chess Club in the evenings.
In the late 1930s, Hermann Helms was the first to broadcast chess games and matches over the radio (WNYC).
In 1938, Alekhine was interviewed by the BBC (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrH-tcDTU48&NR=1)
In 1938, the Dutch radio broadcasting company AVRO (Algemene Vereniging Radio Omroep) sponsored AVRO 1938, in which the world’s best eight chess players competed. It was the strongest chess tournament held up to that time. The joint winners were Paul Keres and Reuben Fine, followed by Botvinnik, Alekhine, Euwe, and Reshevsky.
In 1947, Hermann Helms was interviewed about chess in a radio broadcast.
In 1938, the BBC challenged its listeners to a game of chess.
In 1938, the BBC did a brief interview with Alekhine. He said that he never looked back on a game or a match, but was trying all the time to see how he could improve his play.
In April 1939, three University of Illinois “hams” from station W-9201 defeated members at station W-9YB at Purdue, in a wireless telegraphy chess match. (source: Daily Illini, April 23, 1939)
On February 23, 1941 a radio broadcast called “The Chess Club Murders” was aired. A triple murder occurs at the chess club and The Shadow checkmates the killer.
In March 1941, the first radio match of any consequence was played between the chess clubs of Moscow and Leningrad.
Capablanca gave chess lectures over the radio during World War II.
In 1945, an inter-base radio chess match was being played at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, Antactica. However, the match has to be abandoned as a cat knocked over the chess board. (source: http://www.purr-n-fur.org.uk/famous/antarctic2.html)
In 1945, the first International Radio Chess Match was held. From September 1 to September 4, 1945 one of the most historic chess matches took place. It was the USA vs USSR radio chess match. The 10 leading masters of the United States played the 10 leading master of the USSR for chess supremacy. The match was announced in August 1945 for the benefit of Russian war relief. It was to be a four days’ radio match between 10 selected chess players in the United States and the Soviet Union. The chairman of the organizing committee was investment banker and chess patron Maurice Wertheim (1886-1950). W.W. Lancaster served as vice chairman. Joseph E. Davies (1876-1958), former Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1937-1938), was one of the major sponsors of the event. Other sponsors included New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia (1882-1947) and New York senator James Mead (1885-1964). J.N. Derbyshire, head of the British Chess Federation, acted as official referee for the match. The Soviet match committee proposed Derbyshire as the referee, who was accepted by the USA team. The match was played by radio (using the Mackay Radio & Telegraph Company) starting at 10 am EST, and was a double round robin. The time limit was 40 moves in 2 1/2 hours and 16 moves per hour after that. The Udeman Code was used for transmitting the move messages. It took an average of 5 minutes to transmit a move. The US team played in the ballroom of the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York, using giant wallboards to reproduce the play for the spectators. The Soviet team met at the Central Club of Art Masters in Moscow, 5000 miles away. Mayor LaGuardia made the opening move for the USA team. US Ambassador Averill Harriman officiated at the Moscow end. Fred Reinfeld and Edward Lasker announced the moves to the audiences. Ken Harkness was the match director. The match was historic in that it was the first international sports event since the outbreak of World War II. Also, never before had teams representing the USA and the USSR competed against each other. It was the first match to be played by radio telegraphy. Up to that time it was the most widely publicized event and the greatest spectacle in the chess history of the United States. This was also the debut of the USSR in a sport. Never before had the USSR played another country in any form of sport. All records for attendance were broken by both sides. In the US, over 1000 spectators watched the match from the Grand Ballroom of the Henry Hudson Hotel. The spectators were also entertained with exhibition games, lectures, demonstrations and other features. The same numbers of spectators watched the match in Moscow. Movie audiences in every theater of the Soviet Union saw films of the match. During the match 2,163 messages were sent by radio telegraphy. USSR won the match by the overwhelming score of 15 1/2 points to 4 1/2 points. All the proceeds of the event went for therapy equipment used in the treatment of wounded Russian and American soldiers. At the conclusion of the match, a plaque was formally presented by Chairman Wertheim to the Soviet Consul General, Pavel Mikhailov (who doubled as the controller of military intelligence for the NKVD). The concluding ceremonies were opened by Grace Moore (1898-1947) of the Metropolitan Opera Company singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Others on the program included actor Sam Jaffee (1891-1984) and Pulitzer Prize journalist Leland Stowe (1899-1994).
In June, 1946, the first radio match between Great Britain and the Soviet Union took place. The USSR easily won (18-6) with players like Botvinnik, Keres, Smyslov, Boleslavky, Flohr, Kotov, Bronstein, Boleslavsky, Lilienthal, and Ragozin,
In other radio matches in 1946, Australia beat France (5.5-4.5), and Spain beat Argentina (8-7).
In June, 1947, Australia defeated Canada in a radio match. (source: Sydney Morning Herald, Jul 8, 1947)
In 1947, Britain won a radio match against Australia. The match, which lasted 2 days, was the longest range chess match ever played, with 10,500 miles separating the contestants. The players notified their moves through Overseas Telecommunications. (source: The Ottawa Journal, Oct 6, 1947, p. 18)
In March, 1948, the Amsterdam and New York Stock Exchange had a radio chess match with 10 players to a side. The Dutch team won. (source: The Kokomo Tribune, Mar 11, 1948)
In 1948, the first Polar radio chess game started between Australian scientists on Heard Island and South Africans on Marion Island, 1,400 miles away. The Australians are studying cosmic rays in the Antarctic, while the South Africans are maintaining a weather station in the Antarctic. (source: Winnipeg Tribune, Apr 26, 1948)
In 1949, the subject of chess sometimes was broadcasted by Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio station.
In the 1950s, George Koltanowski made radio broadcasts featuring chess.
In 1952, Ernest Klein of the BBC played a chess game with Olaf Barda of NRK.
In 1952, an article called “Calling All Chess Players” appeared in CQ: the Radio Amateur’s Journal. The article pointed out a conspicuous absence of chess players among ham operators, and that chess seemed to have disappeared from the amateur radio world.
In the autumn of 1958, the BBC started a half-hour program on chess. The BBC ran a series called Network Three (now Radio 3) with consultation games that included Bobby Fischer, Mikhail Tal, Max Euwe, Abrahams, Hugh Alexander, Barden, Broadbent, Bruce, Clarke, Fraenkel, Golombek, Haygarth, Kottnauer, Pritchard, Rhoden, Sunnucks, and Wade. All the top English players of the time appeared on the program, playing consultation games and often describing their favorite chess game. The program ran until the summer of 1964.
In 1959, C.H.O’D. Alexander played a game of chess with some listeners over the BBC.
In 1960, Americans, Russians, and New Zealanders were playing chess with each other by radio in Antarctica. Men stationed at New Zealand’s Scott Base in McMurdo Sound were playing chess with Russians at the Soviet station of Lazarev in Queen Maud Island, nearly 3,000 miles away. Players at American bases on Ross Island in McMurdo Sound were playing with men at the main Russian base of Mirny on the Queen Mary coast in East Antarctica. (source: Brownsville Herald, Sep 8, 1960, p. 13)
In 1960, Bobby Fischer played chess and chatted on the BBC Network Three broadcast. He teamed up with Leonard Barden and played against Penrose and Clarke. When the studio time ran out, position of the game was given to Max Euwe for adjudication. Euwe declared the game as drawn, but Fischer said it was a win for his team.
In 1962, Bobby Fischer gave an interview over Radio Liberty before departing for the Candidates Tournament. He said that the USA will have a better chess team than the Soviet Union within 5 to 10 years. (source: Chess Review, Aug 1962, p. 227)
In 1964, a radio match between a South African Antarctic outpost and Radio Nederland had to be called off because Moscow radio was jamming their frequency. (source: Holland, Michigan Evening Sentinel, Sep 8, 1964, p. 3)
In 1968, Lawrence Krakauer was perhaps the first person to use amateur radio (“ham radio) to play a chess game between two computers. (source: Computer chess via ham radio).
On March 23, 1973, Texas A&M and the University of Texas competed in a game of chess over amateur radio. The chess clubs of each school communicated their moves via amateur radio (3.950 MHz SSB and two meter AM). Texas A&M won the match. (source: WSAC Texas A&M Amateur Radio Club).
In 1973, Radio Atlantis, a Belgium-owned offshore pirated station, was supposed to go on the air on July 15. However, it was discovered that the 773 kHz transmitter crystal had gone missing. It turned out that the crystal was being used as a replacement pawn for the ship’s chessboard, and the piece was apparently thrown overboard when a new chess set was delivered, replacing the old chess set. (source: Wikipedia article on Radio Atlantis)
In 1974, an article in Chess Life & Review stated that “…this year, radio matches have really arrived on the campus.”
In 1977, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) organized the first Telechess Olympiad where the game of chess can be played over amateur radio, telephone, or telex.
In the 1980s, Vince Luciani of Cologne, New Jersey founded the Chess & Amateur Radio International (CARI) for ham radio enthusiasts (source: The Deseret News, Jan 3, 1983). There were about 200 members around the world. In 1983, he published the bi-monthly magazine CARI News. An article on CARI was written in Monitoring Times, November, 1985. A ham radio chess net was formed in September, 1985 on 14.267 MHz (source: net.chess forum)
In 1982, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater broadcasted an episode called The Chess Master. An uneventful game of chess with a stranger in the park leads to a world of adventure for an out-of-work advertising agent. The actors included Fred Gwynne, Paul Hecht, and Russell Horton.
In 1993, the BBC covered that Kasparov-Short world championship match at the Savoy Theatre in London.
In 2002, Terence Tiller published Chess Treasury of the Air. The book is a written record of the BBC broadcast programs on chess that ran from 1958 to 1964.
In 2008, British Antarctic Survey scientist Ian MacNab, stationed on Adelaide Island, Antarctica, played Boris Spassky, who was in Wales, in a simultaneous exhibition. It was the first time a chess match has been played against the outside world from the region. (source: BBC News, May 26, 2008)
In August, 2008, astronaut Greg Chamitoff, aboard the International Space Station (ISS), played against a variety of ground stations by ham radio. Chamitoff won his game.
In 2011, astronauts Greg Johnson and Greg Chamitoff , aboard the ISS, played chess by ham radio against members of the United States Chess Federation.
In 2013, the BBC Radio 4 started a chess series called Across the Board with interviews and a chess game. Former Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson, president of the English Chess Federation, conducts a series of interviews over a game of chess. Guests have included Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, Hou Yifan, snooker player Steve Davis, boxer Lennox Lewis, philanthropist Rex Sinquefield, military historian Antony Beevor, journalist and broadcaster Piers Morgan, former Soviet dissident and Israeli politician Natan Sharansky.
Ham operators have volunteered and have been playing opponents who are have multiple sclerosis and confined to a wheel chair to keep them mentally occupied.
Chess.com has an International Amateur Radio group, formed in 2010.