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Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Chess Trivia 1


In 802 A.D., the first mention of a woman chess player occurred in a correspondence letter between Harun al-Rashid (786-809) and Nicephorus (780?-811). Harun wrote that he just bought a slave girl noted for her skill in chess.

In 1008, the first reference to chess in Europe appeared in a will by Ermengaud I, Count of Urgell in Catalona, who willed his chessmen to the convent of St, Giles, Spain. The count died on September 1, 1010 in a battle near Cordova. The coat of arms of the Counts of Urgell looks like a chess board.

In 1271 the Croat Svetoslav Surinj played Peter II Orseolo, the Venetian Doge, in a chess match. The winner won the right to rule the Dalmation towns of Yugoslavia on the Adriatic.

In 1550, Fray Antonio de Valdiviesco, the Dominican Bishop of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, was assassinated by an agent of the Spanish crown while playing a game of chess in his church.

The oldest chess club may be the Zurich Chess Club (Schachgesellschaft Zurich), founded in 1809. It is the world’s oldest chess organization. Prior to 1798, chess was officially banned in many parts of Switzerland.

In 1823, George Walker (1803-1879) wrote the first chess column to appear in a magazine, the Lancet. Due to lack of popularity, the chess column disappeared after less than a year. Walker was also the editor of England’s first chess magazine, The Philidoria, in 1837. Only six issues of it were published and it ended in May, 1838. It was Walker who was most responsible for recording chess games and preserving them.

In 1873, billiards was the first sport to have a world championship match (won by William Cook over John Roberts). Chess was the second sport to have a world championship match when Steinitz played Zukertort for the first official world championship match in 1886.

In 1878, Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) won an international chess tournament in Paris. The first place prize, given to him by the President of France, was a Sevres vase, worth over 5,000 francs (perhaps about $10,000 in today’s currency). A few days later, Zukertort took the vase to a pawn shop and sold it for about 2,500 francs.

In 1895, Beniamino Vergani (1863-1927) was invited to play in the Hastings International tournament of 1895. He was a chess master from Italy. He ended up in last place, scoring only 3 points (2 wins and 2 draws) out of 21. He was so disgusted with his game that he never played in a masters’ chess tournament again. He was given 2 British pounds for his efforts.

In 1932, six-time British champion Frederick Yates had just finished a 16 game simultaneous exhibition in London. He returned to his home very tired and went to sleep. He never woke up. There was a leakage in one of the fittings of a gas pipe in his house (the tap was never turned on – so no suicide) The gas leak killed him while he was asleep. In 1967, International Master Arpad Vajda also died as a result of a gas leak in his room.

The worst score in the U.S. Amateur championship has to be Walter Stephens (1883-1948), who went 0 out of 11 games in the 1945 U.S. Amateur championship. Stephens was best known as the tournament director of the 1942 U.S. Chess Championship when he mistakenly forfeited Arnold Denker after Samuel Reshevsky’s flag had fallen. He had flipped the chess clock around because he was positioned behind the clock and was not looking at the clock or flag at the time.

In 1965, Moscow State University offered the first course on chess from a university. Over 2,000 students signed up for the course.

In 1975, International Master Bernard Zuckerman (born in 1943) was playing in the Cleveland International in Ohio. A spectator became too loud for him and Zuckerman told him to shut up. When the spectator continued to talk loudly, Zuckerman threw a chess piece (it was a bishop) at him. Zuckerman was reprimanded for his “unsportsmanlike” conduct. Zuckerman has not played in a serious chess tournament since 1990, but occasionally plays blitz tournaments.

In 1983, Orson Welles (1915-1985) narrated the first VHS video chess cassette (How to Play Chess), a two-hour program also starring Yasser Seirawan and Larry Christiansen. In 1971 Welles starred in A Safe Place, in which he plays chess in Central Park with Tuesday Weld sitting by him.

– Bill Wall

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