List of amateur chess players

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This is a list of skilled but non-professional chess players who were famous for some other reason, but whose life or work was significantly impacted by the game of chess.

The list[edit]

  • Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin was engaged in chess during most of his life: he played chess, solved chess problems and studies, was actively interested in the events of chess life. In Russia and beyond its borders, he met with well-known chess players of his time. In his political speeches and articles he used images and vocabulary, familiar to chess players. There are dozens of paintings and graphics on this subject (most of them were created in the USSR from the 1930s through the 1970s), a number of photographs that captured Vladimir Ulyanov behind the chess game.[1] Lenin's love for chess is reflected in the records of Lenin himself, is widely represented in memoirs (relatives, comrades-in-arms in the Bolshevik Party, even in the memoirs of political opponents), in the scientific and popular biographies of the leader Bolsheviks and Council of People's Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.[2] Lenin's enthusiasm for chess was actively used in the USSR to popularize the game during the 1920 through 1980s.[1] In 2010, this topic again became relevant in Europe and the United States in connection with the auction of rarities that are connected by some art historians with Lenin and can be attributed to his chess lessons.[3]
  • Film comedian Woody Allen, an occasional player who taught his stepson Moses Farrow the game,[4] authored a comical epistolary short story entitled "The Gossage- Vardebedian Papers" involving a chess game played via mail. The two protagonists disagree on the correct position due to alleged lost exchange. Both eventually claim victory.
  • Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov devotes over a page of his autobiography to his hopeless lack of aptitude at chess. In it, he rued: "In the years that followed, I discovered that everyone beat me, regardless of race, color, or religion. I was simply the most appallingly bad chess player who ever lived, and, as time went on, I just stopped playing chess." - I, Asimov: A Memoir In spite of this he incorporated chess into his famous story Nightfall and his novel Pebble in the Sky.
  • Mathematician and fantasy author Lewis Carroll wove chess extensively into his second "Alice" book Through the Looking Glass. Most of the characters are chess pieces participating in a game on a giant board in which each square is about one square mile in size; similar matches played with human pieces on enormous fields often occurred in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Carroll's two Queens always run very fast, and his Knight is always falling off one side of his horse, moves similar to their respective pieces' in a real game. Carroll also composed occasional chess problems.
  • Silent screen comedian Charlie Chaplin devotes two pages of his autobiography to playing chess, with particular focus on the time he was one of twenty Hollywood stars to play simultaneous chess against Sammy Reshevsky (then nine years old) at the Los Angeles Athletic Club in June 1921.
  • Actor Humphrey Bogart was an excellent chess player, almost of master strength. Before he made any money from acting, he would hustle players for dimes and quarters, playing in New York parks and at Coney Island. The chess scenes in Casablanca had not been in the original script, but were put in at his insistence. A chess position from one of his correspondence games appears in the movie, although the image is a little blurred. He achieved a draw in a simultaneous exhibition given in 1955 at Beverly Hills by the famous chess Grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky and also played against George Koltanowski in San Francisco in 1952 (Koltanowski played blindfolded but still won in 41 moves).[5] Bogart was a United States Chess Federation tournament director and active in the California State Chess Association, and a frequent visitor to the Hollywood chess club. The cover of the June–July 1945 issue of Chess Review showed Bogart playing with Charles Boyer, as Lauren Bacall (who also played) looks on. In June 1945, in an interview in the magazine Silver Screen, when asked what things in life mattered most to him, he replied that chess was one of his main interests. He added that he played chess almost daily, especially between film shootings. He loved the game all his life.[6]
  • Marcel Duchamp for a while abandoned painting for chess. Prior to that time, his 1911 Portrait of Chess Players ({portrait de joueurs d'echecs) contained Cubist overlapping frames and multiple perspectives of his two brothers playing chess. He dropped painting in 1923, concentrating on chess and his strength became near master class. Duchamp can be seen, very briefly, playing chess with Man Ray in the short film Entr'acte (1924) by Rene Clair. He designed the 1925 Poster for the Third French Chess Championship, and later became a chess journalist, writing weekly newspaper columns. While his contemporaries were achieving spectacular success with art, Duchamp observed, "I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art - and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position." Later he said "while not all artists are chess players, all chess players are artists." Duchamp composed an enigmatic endgame chess problem in 1943, included in the announcement for Julian Lev's gallery exhibition "Through the Big End of the Opera Glass". It was printed on translucent paper with the faint inscription: "White to play and win". Grandmasters and endgame specialists have since grappled with the problem with most concluding that there is no solution.[7] In 1968, Duchamp and John Cage appeared together at a concert entitled "Reunion", playing a game of chess and composing Aleatoric music by triggering a series of photoelectric cells underneath the chess board.
  • Mathematician Leonard Euler constructed an 8x8 square with each square containing one of the numbers from 1 to 64. This square was simultaneously a "magic square" (all the rows and columns adding up to the same sum) and a solution to the knight's move problem according to which all 64 of the squares of the chess board must be hit in a series of knight's moves. The square may be viewed here.[8]
  • American Founding Father and scientific experimenter Benjamin Franklin was playing chess by around 1733, making him the first chess player known by name in the American colonies.[9] An avid player, his essay on the "Morals of Chess" in Columbian magazine, in December 1786 is the second known writing on chess in America[9] and has been widely reprinted and translated.[10][11][12][13] He and a friend also used chess as a means of learning the Italian language the pair was studying; the winner of each game had the right to assign a task, such as parts of the Italian grammar to be learned by heart, to be performed by the loser before their next meeting.[14] Franklin was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1999.[9]
  • Actor and novelist Stephen Fry both plays the game and includes a philosophical conversation about chess in his novel Revenge.
  • Pope John Paul II was a chess enthusiast. While acting as a vicar for University students in Kraków, Poland, the young priest, then known as Karol Wojtyla, frequently played chess with other students.[15] However, chess problems alleged to have been composed by him have generally proved to have been hoaxes.[16]
  • Film director Stanley Kubrick was an avid chess player. As a young man in New York, he hustled chess games in the streets for money.[17] Chess plays a role in the plot of two of his films: Lolita and 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Lolita, Professor Humbert plays chess with Lolita's mother, Charlotte Haze, and announces he will "take her queen" while he has designs on her daughter who is kissing him goodnight as he speaks. This scene is not in the source novel. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the super-computer HAL 9000 defeats astronaut Frank Poole at chess, though making a mistake in chess notation when announcing his moves, just prior to beginning to malfunction.
  • Author Vladimir Nabokov wove chess themes into many of his novels. Chess plays a major role in his novel The Defense about a young chess prodigy who has a mental breakdown. Nabokov published 18 chess problems in his anthology Poems and Problems, and composed three poems in sonnet form about chess in the Russian émigré journal Rul’ in Berlin in November 1924. His autobiography Speak, Memory compares the composition of chess problems to the composition of poetry. In his foreword to The Defense, he calls the creation of surprise twists in a novel "chess effects".[18] A 1979 study in Yale French Studies explores links between Nabokov's chess problems and his novels,[19] as does Janet Gezari's 1971 Ph.D. thesis 'Game Fiction: The World of Play and the Novels of Vladimir Nabokov', later issued as a book entitled Vladimir Nabokov: chess problems and the novel.
  • Napoleon is perhaps the most well-known victim of the chess hoax known as The Turk, an apparently mechanical chess-playing machine animated by a player hiding inside. The emperor was visiting Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna in 1809 and challenged the Turk. In a surprise move, he took the first turn instead of deferring to the Turk, as was usual; the device's then owner, Mälzel, allowed the game to continue. Shortly thereafter, Napoleon attempted an illegal move. The Turk simply returned the piece to its original spot and continued the game, as was its habit. Napoleon attempted the same move a second time; the Turk removed the piece from the board entirely and took its turn. When Napoleon persisted a third time, the Turk swept its arm and knocked all the pieces off the board. Napoleon was reportedly amused, then played a proper game, completing nineteen moves before tipping over his king in surrender.[20]
  • Though it is unknown how avidly Edgar Allan Poe played chess, an intimate knowledge of the game pervaded an essay and two of his stories. The essay was an important speculation on the secret of the hoax chess-playing automaton The Turk entitled Maelzel's Chess Player. Poe also published a short story in which the Turk figures entitled "Von Kempelen and His Discovery". The Turk was eventually purchased by Poe's personal physician, John Kearsley Mitchell. Poe's short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" contains a discussion of the psychology of chess, arguing that much greater powers of shrewdness are required to play checkers than chess, whereas the latter only requires intense concentration. He also asserts that proficiency in the game of whist is an indicator of high general capacity for achievement, but not proficiency in chess.[21]
  • Russian composer Serge Prokofiev relates in his autobiography that he learned to play chess at age seven and it remained a lifelong passion. He became friends with various grandmasters and frequented the chess club in St. Petersburg, often spending hours on simultaneous games. According to his personal diary, he once beat the future World Chess Champion, José Raúl Capablanca in a simultaneous exhibition.
  • Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy learned to play chess at a young age and late in life played chess frequently with his biographer Aylmer Maude writing "He had no book-knowledge of it, but had played much and was alert and ingenious.".[22] Another frequent chess companion of Tolstoy's was Prince Leonid Urusov.[23]
  • Computer scientist Alan Turing, long considered to be a major founder of the field of artificial intelligence, considered chess playing to be the ideal starting point for researching the field of machine intelligence. He was himself a mediocre player.
  • Iconic Western actor John Wayne played chess frequently on movie sets according to both biographers Ronald L. Davis and Herb Fagan. His onscreen characters play chess in the films McClintock and 3 Godfathers. According to biographer Michael Munn, when Wayne was asked a question about the homosexuality of Rock Hudson, Wayne replied "Who the hell cares if he's a queer? The man plays great chess" before further expositing that Hudson's personal life was something he didn't feel he needed to know about.[24]
  • British science-fiction novelist H.G. Wells devoted an essay in his collection Certain Personal Matters entitled Concerning Chess to trying to account for humanity's passion for chess. Chess figures prominently in his short story The Moth, and somewhat incidentally in The War of the Worlds. According to biographer Vincent Brome, Wells was "bad, very bad" at chess.[25]
  • Radio personality Howard Stern regularly plays on an Internet Chess Club site. His ranking is above 1,600.[26]


  1. ^ a b Linder, Isaak M. (1988), Chess in Old Russia, pp. 3–10 
  2. ^ Kogan, M. S. (1932).
  3. ^ "Pictured: Hitler playing chess with Lenin", The Telegraph, 3 September 2009 
  4. ^ The Unruly Life of Woody Allen by Marion Meade p. 206
  5. ^ "The chess games of Humphrey Bogart." Retrieved: March 11, 2010.
  6. ^ "Bogart and Chess by Bill Wall.",January 14, 1957. Retrieved: March 11, 2010.
  7. ^ Beliavsky, A & Miklahchishin, A Winning Endgame Technique Batsford, 1995
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ a b c John McCrary, Chess and Benjamin Franklin-His Pioneering Contributions (PDF). Retrieved on April 26, 2009.
  10. ^ David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess, Oxford University Press (2nd ed. 1992), p. 145. ISBN 0-19-866164-9.
  11. ^ The essay appears in Marcello Truzzi (ed.), Chess in Literature, Avon Books, 1974, pp. 14–15. ISBN 0-380-00164-0.
  12. ^ The essay appears in a book by the felicitously named Norman Knight, Chess Pieces, CHESS magazine, Sutton Coldfield, England (2nd ed. 1968), pp. 5–6. ISBN 0-380-00164-0.
  13. ^ Franklin's essay is also reproduced at the U.S. Chess Center Museum and Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  14. ^ William Temple Franklin, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, reprinted in Knight, Chess Pieces, pp. 136-37.
  15. ^ Szulc, Tad (1996). Pope John Paul II. Simon and Schuster,. p. 175. ISBN 9780671000479. 
  16. ^ Chessbase News 08.04.2005
  17. ^ Playing Chess with Kubrick- New York Review of Books by Jeremy Bernstein- New York Review of Books
  18. ^ Nabokov, Vladimir. The Defense. Random House Digital, Inc. ISBN 9780679727224. 
  19. ^ Gezari, Janet K.; Wimsatt, W. K. (1979). "Vladimir Nabokov: More Chess Problems and the Novel". Yale French Studies (58): 102–115. ISSN 0044-0078. JSTOR 2929973. 
  20. ^ Bradley Ewart, Chess: Man vs. Machine (London: Tantivy, 1980).
  21. ^ I will, therefore, take occasion to assert that the higher powers of the reflective intellect are more decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game of draughts [checkers] than by all the elaborate frivolity of chess. In this latter, where the pieces have different and bizarre motions, with various and variable values, what is only complex is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound. The attention is here called powerfully into play. If it flag for an instant, an oversight is committed, resulting in injury or defeat. The possible moves being not only manifold but involute, the chances of such oversights are multiplied; and in nine cases out of ten it is the more concentrative rather than the more acute player who conquers. In draughts, on the contrary, where the moves are unique and have but little variation, the probabilities of inadvertence are diminished, and the mere attention being left comparatively what advantages are obtained by either party are obtained by superior acumen. The Murders in the Rue Morgue- Paragraph 1; "Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, while eschewing chess as frivolous. Beyond doubt there is nothing of a similar nature so greatly tasking the faculty of analysis. The best chess-player in Christendom may be little more than the best player of chess; but proficiency in whist implies capacity for success in all these more important undertakings where mind struggles with mind." The Murders in the Rue Morgue- Paragraph 2
  22. ^ Leo Tolstoy (London, 1908), page 255
  23. ^ Sophia Tolstoy: a biography by Alexandra Popoff - 2010 p. 97
  24. ^ John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth by Michael Munn Google e-book
  25. ^ H G Wells by Vincent Brome p. 8
  26. ^ McClain, Dylan Loeb (19 Oct 2008). "Long a Player, Howard Stern Gets Serious About His Game". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 May 2017.