Athletes who play chess

Former NBA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was recently observed reading a chess book (Chess Tactics for Champions by Susan Polgar) at the Bonnaroo music festival in June, 2011.

WNBA basketball star Svetlana Abrosimova of the Seattle Storm is an avid chess player.

Former NFL running back Shaun Alexander plays and promotes chess through the America Foundation for Chess (AF4C).  His Shaun Alexander Foundation offers a $7,500 grant to inspire kids for educational excellence and career planning.  He has given over $25,000 to AF4C for chess programs.

Ossie Ardiles was one of the top football (soccer) players in the world.  He was a midfielder for Argentina when they won the 1978 World Cup.  He describes himself as a chess fanatic who spends 10 hours a week studying chess.

Former NFL linebacker LaVar Arrington is a chess addict.  He has a whole room in his house devoted to chess and he occasionally mentions chess in his sports column in the Washington Post.

Seve Ballesteros (1957-2011) was a Spanish professional golfer, former World No. 1 player (5-times golf major winner), and a chess player.  He was described as a fine chess player.

Former NBA (1959-1974) player Dick Barnett was an avid chess player who played correspondence chess.

Boris Becker was one of the greatest tennis players, winning at Wimbledon at age 17 and winning 6 grand slams of tennis.  He played an exhibition match against Kasparov ”live” on CNN for one hour in 2000.  Kasparov was in New York and Becker was in Munich.  He once said that his experiences with chess influenced his playing style in tennis.

Former NBA star Larry Bird plays chess online, but I don’t think his favorite opening is 1.f4.

Former baseball outfielder Barry Bonds, now convicted of obstruction of justice in a steroids scandal,  was an avid chess player.

Former Major League Baseball pitcher and author (Ball Four) Jim Bouton is a chess player.

The boxer and former WBO heavyweight champion  Shannon “the Cannon” Briggs used to hustle chess games in New York City parks.  In 2010, before the WBO world championship challenge against fellow chess player and heavyweight boxer Vitali, Klitschko, both wanted to play each other in chess.  Briggs told Klitschko, “Whether or not we fight, I want to play you in chess.”   Klitschko put Briggs in the hospital after the fight, so we don’t know if they played or not (my money is on Klitschko).

Former NFL running back Jim Brown is a chess player.

The tennis doubles partners and twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan are chess players.  The have won 11 Grand Slam doubles titles.  Mike Bryan has been quoted as saying “I have to play tennis like a chess game.”

NBA star Kobe Bryant was quoted as saying “These young guys are playing checkers.  I’m out there playing chess.”  A 2009 basketball add showed Kobe Bryant playing chess with LeBron James.

Anson Carter, retired professional hockey player, plays chess.  He made the ceremonial first move in game 2 of the Kasparov –X3D Fritz match in New York in 2003.

Former NBA basketball player and assistant coach Bill Cartwright plays chess.

Basketball great Wilt Chamberlain (1936-1999) played chess.  He once phoned Bobby Fischer to come over his house to have dinner and play chess, but Bobby declined the invitation because there would be other people there.  There are several photos of Wilt playing chess during his college days.

Former Cincinnati Bengal wide receiver Cris Collinsworth plays chess and has sponsored scholastic chess tournaments as part of his Cris Collinsworth ProScan Fund.

Retired tennis player Elena Dementieva, once ranked No. 3 in the world, plays chess.  She used to play chess in the players’ lounge with her brother or any other chess player.  He has played and lost chess to Max Mirnyi, a fellow tennis professional.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale (1936-1993) was a chess player.

Tennis great Roger Federer plays chess.  In his early days, he would lose a game to his father and knock all the pieces off the board.

Yankee pitching star Ron Guidry (highest lifetime winning percentages in major league baseball) plays chess and appeared on the cover of the September 1983 issue of Chess Life, making a pitch for chess.  In the 1980s Guidry was playing a game of chess with Bruce Pandolfini when Billy Martin came by, telling Pandolfini that the Yankee locker room was no place to play chess.  Guidry once beat Pandolfini.

Former NFL running back Priest Holmes is an avid chess player who has founded and sponsored chess clubs.  He sponsors chess tournaments through his Priest Holmes Foundation, encouraging education and enhancing the lives of children.  When he retired from football, he said he enjoyed three things – playing chess, bass fishing, and riding motorcycles.

Tennis great Ivan Lendl plays chess.  His father, Jiri Lendl, was a chess master, Czech junior champion and played in the Czechoslovakian chess championship.

Heavyweight boxer and ex-world champion Lennox Lewis plays chess.   He urges kids to take up chess, saying “If you teach a kid chess, you tech him to sit down and think.”  He funded an after-school chess program for disadvantaged youths, one of whom earned a university chess scholarship.

NBA center David Robinson is a chess player.  He played chess at the Naval Academy where he graduated, before going to the San Antonio Spurs.

Former tennis professional  Greg Rusedski is an avid chess player.  He was at the opening ceremony of the Braingames World Chess Championships between Kasparov and Karpov at London in 2000.

NBA player Bill Walton plays chess.