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Chess Trivia And Anecdotes


This is an excerpt of a long list of humorous, educational, and otherwise interesting trivia and anecdotes involving players and games throughout the history of chess. The list was compiled by Bill Wall.

"In 1864, George Mackenzie (1837-1891), a former Captain in the Union army, was arrested and imprisoned for desertion from the Union army. He was released in May, 1865, and moved to New York and started playing chess. By 1867, he was U.S. chess champion."

" Wilhelm Steinitz and Henry Blackburne would sometimes get in a scuffle. Steinitz wrote of Blackburne “…he struck with his full fist into my eye, which he blackened and might have knocked out. And though he is a powerful man of very nearly twice my size, who might have killed me with a few such strokes, I am proud to say that I had the courage of attempting to spit into his face, and only wish I had succeeded.” In 1900, Frank Marshall (1877-1944) sat down to play a game against the British player Amos Burn (1848-1925) at the 1900 Paris International. Burn was a smoker and loved to smoke his pipe while he studied the chess board. After two moves, Burn began hunting through his pockets for his pipe and tobacco. By move 4, Burn had his pipe out and was looking for a pipe cleaner. By move 8, he was filling up his pipe with tobacco. Marshall made a few fast moves, and by move 12, Burn was looking for his matches. On move 14, he struck his first match, but was concentrating on the position. The match burned down and burned Burn’s fingers and went out. On move 15, Burn found another match and lit it. On move 16, he finally lit his pipe, but it was too late. Burn was checkmated on move 18 and his pipe went out. He never did get to smoke his pipe."

" In 1916, during World War I, Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934) and Jacques Mieses played a chess match in Berlin in which the prize was ½ pound of butter. Tarrasch won the match and the butter with 7 wins, 2 losses, and 4 draws."

" In 1927, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1978) married his first wife, Lydie, and went on their honeymoon. One night, she glued all of his chess pieces to the chess board because he spent his honeymoon week studying chess. They were divorced 3 months later."

" In the late 1920s, Jose Capablanca (1888-1942), world chess champion from 1921 to 1927, spent his spare time hanging out in a specific cafe in Paris. Friends, acquaintances, and others would often drop by, participating in games and libations with the former world champion. One day, while Capablanca was having coffee and reading a newspaper, a stranger stopped at his table, motioned at the chess set and indicated he would like to play if Capablanca was interested. Capablanca folded the newspaper away, reached for the board and proceeded to take his own queen off the board and play a queen down. The opponent (who apparently had no idea who Capablanca was) reacted with slight anger. 'Hey! You don't know me! I might beat you!' he said. Capablanca, smiling gently, said quietly, 'Sir, if you could beat me, I would know you.'"

" In the early 1930s, an amateur approached Frank Marshall, who was the US champ at the time, and asked for help in a postal chess game. Marshall obliged and played a few opening moves. A few days later, another amateur dropped in at the Marshall Chess Club to also seek help in a postal game from Marshall. Marshall realized the game of the second player was with the opponent who had come in a few days earlier. Marshall helped the second player and then ended up playing himself for several months as the two amateurs marveled at how their opponent was able to play on for so long against the great Frank Marshall!"

" In 1972, during the World Youth Team championship in Graz, Switzerland, Robert Huebner of Germany was scheduled to play Ken Rogoff of the USA. Both were tired from previous long games and Huebner offered a draw to Rogoff without making any moves. However, the arbiters did not like this and refused the game. So the two players put together a scoresheet of a game that looked like this: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.Ng1 Ng8 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Ng1 Ng8 and so on ... Draw. The arbiters were not amused. They insisted that the two play some real moves. So the next game went 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nf1 Bg7 4.Qa4 O-O 5.Qxd7 Qxd7 6.g4 Qxd2+ 7.Kxd2 Nxg4 8.b4 a5 9.a4 Bxa1 10.Bb2 Nc6 11.Bh8 Bg7 12.h4 axb4 draw. The arbiters were not amused. They insisted that the two play a valid game. Rogoff agreed but Huebner did not, so Rogoff was given a win and Huebner was given a loss. The Russian team pressed for a double forfeit, but Huebner insisted that he alone bore responsibility. Years later, the main arbiter, Sajtar, admitted he was wrong in ordering a rematch of the games."

" In 1973, during the Anglo-Dutch match, chain smoker Jan Donner (1927-1988) was filling up a large Bakelite ashtray with all of his discarded cigarettes. Cigarette after cigarette and all the ashes were making a big pile in the ashtray, much of which was still emitting smoke. Eventually, after several hours of play and several packs of cigarettes, the mountain of ash and discarded cigarettes burst into flames, causing the Bakelite ashtray to crack completely in half. The players were still transfixed on the position of their game as the chess table started to burn, with neither player seemingly about to take any action to control the fire. At this point, Ray Keene picked up Donner’s coffee cup and threw the contents over the fire. With the chess table now covered in a mess, the players looked at one another and offered a draw, shook hands, and left the table."

Read the full list of anecdotes on Bill Wall's page here, freshen up on your trivia, and learn something new about historical chess matches that you didn't know before!

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