Famous People and Chess I

Claude Akins (1926-1994) was an enthusiastic chess player. He learned how to play chess in college and played chess with friends and actors throughout his life. During the making of the 1959 movie Rio Bravo (he played Joe Burdette), he played chess constantly with John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Ricky Nelson. Akins said that he taught Dean Martin how to play chess. In 1973, Claude starred in Battle for the Planet of the Apes (he was Aldo). Between takes, Claude was always playing chess in a gorilla costume. Claude played in one of Walter Browne’s blitz tournaments and was a spectator (along with Morgan Fairchild and Gene Scherer) with a front row seat at the 1988 World Action Chess Championship in Mazatlan, Mexico. One of his regular chess partners was actor William Windom (1923-Aug 16, 2012). There is a photo of Claude Akins and William Windom playing chess in the March 1988 issue of Chess Life.

Actor Alan Alda (born in 1936) is a chess player. He usually plays chess on his computer.  In the 1977 CBS TV movie, Kill Me if You Can, Alda played Caryl Chessman (1921-1960), who spent 12 years on death row before being executed in 1960. Chessman played chess while on death row. In the 2011 movie, Tower Heist, he plays chess online. Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), as a crooked businessman, talks to Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) about the Marshall chess swindle involving Frank Marshall and Lewitsky in a World Championship game in 1912 in Helsinki. Alda called the swindle as the greatest move in the history of chess. Alda should have known better. It was a real game, but not a world championship game, and not in Helsinki (it was played in Breslau, now called Wroclaw). Alan’s father, Robert Alda (1914-1986), may also have been a chess player. Robert Alda played a chess hustler (Bruce Conrad) in the 1946 movie, Beast with Five Fingers. His opponent was Francis Ingram (Victor Francen).

Billionaire Paul Allen (1953- ), co-founder of Microsoft, plays chess.  So does Bill Gates (1955- ), who lost to world chess champion Magnus Carlsen in 12 seconds, getting mated in 9 moves.  Paul Allen wrote that he had to stop playing chess with Bill Gates because Gates was such a bad loser, he would sweep the chess pieces to the floor in anger when he lost.

Film comedian Woody Allen (1935- ) plays chess on occasion, and taught his stepson, Moses Farrow, how to play.

Actress June Allyson (1917-2006) played chess.  There is a photo of her playing Van Johnson in her trailer between takes on The Bride Goes Wild.

Actor James Arness (1923-2011) played chess.

Actor Lew Ayres (1908-1996) played chess. He was on the executive board of the Hollywood Chess Club, along with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in the 1930s. In the 1946 movie, The Dark Mirror, psychiatrist Scott Eliot (Lew Ayres) studies a chess position at home.

Actor Adam Baldwin (1962- ) plays chess. In 1987, he starred in Full Metal Jacket. While on the set, he played about 50 games of chess with Stanley Kubrick. When Baldwin was asked if he had a great memory from Full Metal Jacket, he responded, “Beating Stanley Kubrick at chess.” There is a photo of him playing blitz chess with William Windom in 1988. In the 1992 movie, Deadbolt, Alec (Adam Baldwin) plays chess with Marty Hiller (Justine Bateman) and Jordan (Chris Mulkey).

Actor Alec Baldwin (1958- ) plays chess.  In 2013, he donated $2,500 to help the chess team at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island defray the cost of traveling to a national scholastic chess event.  The team took 8th place out of 63 teams at the Supernationals in Nashville, Tennessee.

John Barrymore (1882-1942) was perhaps the strongest chess player in Hollywood, according to Fritz Feld.  He played chess with Herman Steiner.  John’s older brother, Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954), was also a chess player.

Tennis start Boris Becker (1967- ) plays chess.  He played a game against Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short.  In 2011, at the London Chess Classic, he made the first move for Magnus Carlsen.  As a tennis coach to Novak Djokovic, the to play chess together.

Polly Bergen (1930-2014) played chess.  Gregory Peck taught her how to play chess between scenes when they both starred in Cape Fear in 1962.

Actor Dan Blocker (1978-1972), who played Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza, played chess.  He and Michael Landon played chess while on the set of Bonanza.

Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) is perhaps the most well known chess-playing actor. He learned chess as a teenager in New York City. In 1929, after the stock market crashed, he hustled chess players for money in New York City parks and at Coney Island. He was known to have played chess and hustle in Times Square as late as 1933. In the 1942 movie, Casablanca, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) played chess with Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains). All the chess playing scenes were his idea. He wanted a character that was a chess player that drank too much. There were some chess scenes of Bogart studying a chess game while Peter Lorre looked on, but these scenes did not make the final cut in the film. During the making of Casablanca, Bogart played several games with Paul Henreid (1908-1992), who played Victor Laszlo in Casablanca. According to Henreid, Bogart didn’t win a single game from him. During World War II, Bogart played correspondence chess with sever GIs overseas. One of his chess postcards to one of the troops sold for $2,500 in a recent Hollywood auction. In 1944, during the making of Passage to Marseille, Bogart played many of the actors and film crew during breaks. In the June-July 1945 issue of Chess Review, Bogart and his new wife, Lauren Bacall, appeared in the cover while Bogart played Charles Boyer a game of chess during a break in the making of The Confidential Agent. Bogart showed up on the set almost every lunch hour in the set to play Boyer a game of chess. In the 1949 movie, Knock on Any Door, attorney Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart) is playing chess with Susan Perry (Candy Toxton) and Mr. Elkins (Curt Conway). During breaks of his films, Bogart played a lot of chess with his make-up artist, Karl Silvera. In the early 1950s, Marlon Brando would drive over to Bogart’s elegant mansion in Holmby Hills, and the two would play chess for hours. In the 1955 movie, The Left Hand of God, Jim Carmody/Father O’Shea (Humphrey Bogart) checkmates Dr. Dave Sigmond (E.G. Marshall). In 1956, Bogart, as Black, drew former U.S. chess champion Sammy Reshevsky in a 70 board simultaneous exhibition in Los Angeles. The game lasted 28 moves in a bishop and pawns vs knight and pawns endgame. A few years earlier, Bogart lost to George Koltanowski in a blindfold exhibition in San Francisco. When Bogart was dying of cancer, his only activity with friends was playing chess. His most common chess partner in his last days was screenwriter and film director Richard Brooks, who probably was Bogart’s last chess opponent in late 1956.

World sprinting champion Usain Bolt (1986- ) plays chess and is a chess devotee.

Irish singer Bono (Paul Hewson, born on May 10, 1960), of U2, is a chess player.  Around the age of 12, during the Fischer-Spassky world championship match, he became obsessed with the game of chess and became quite good.  At one time, he was a school boy chess champion.

English singer and actor David Bowie (1947- ) plays chess.  He played chess with actress Catherine Deneuve on the set of the movie ‘The Hunger.’

Actor Charles Boyer (1899-1978) played chess.  In June-July 1945, he appeared on the cover of Chess Review magazine playing a game of chess with Humphrey Bogart.

Actor Marlon Brando (1924-2004) played chess.  Chess was a lifelong passion with Brando.  He learned chess as a teenager and tried to teach his friend, Wally Cox (1924-1973), how to play chess.  Brando later moved to New York City and continued to play chess.  He was not a strong player and a poor loser. Whenever he lost, he would knock all the pieces off the board and say, "I'm bored."  He did play a lot of chess anc would call his friends at all hours to invite them over to play some chess.  Sondra Lee, an actress and Brando's girlfriend during his theater days, played chess and was able to beat Marlon Brando in most of the games they played.  Marlon Brando almost always played chess between scenes and during breaks on the movie sets.  In 1953, Marlon Brando played chess between scenes while filming Julius Caesar.  A Hollywood reporter wanted to get an interview with Brando.  Brando agreed if the reporter would play a game of chess with him.  The reporter did play a game of chess against Brando and won.  Brando later said about the interview, "That was the worst interview I ever gave."  Brando played many chess games with Humphrey Bogart.  When Brando died, his chess sets were auctioned by Christie's in Los Angeles in 2005 (purchased by Neville Tuli, an art collector).

Writer, director, actor and comedian Mel Brooks (1926- ) played chess.  International Master Kim Commons gave him chess lessons.  He incorporated chess-playing scenes in many of his movies.

Nigel Bruce (1895-1953), who was best known for his portrayal of Dr. Watson, played chess. He was a member of the Hollywood Chess Group and the Herman Steiner Chess Club. He played in several Hollywood chess tournaments.  In the 1940 movie, Susan and God, Hutchie (Nigel Bruce) plays chess with Amos (Sam Harris). In the 1943 movie, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) helps Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) solve a mystery by playing a living chess game from moves found in a family ritual.

Actor James Caan (1940- ) plays chess.  He played chess with John Wayne.  James Caan’s son, Scott Caan, also plays chess.

Actor Nicholas Cage (1964- ) plays chess and is a member of the Internet Chess Club (ICC). In 1999, he sent his son, Weston, to a chess master to take chess lessons.

Actor and comedian Drew Carrey (1958- ) plays chess.

Silent screen comedian Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) occasionally played chess.  In 1921, he was one of 20  players to play simultaneously against Sammy Reshevsky at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Blind musician Ray Charles (1930-2004) played chess.  Ray was known to be a chess fan and often played against fellow band members, friends, and even at times interviewers. Ray's chess board was designed so that each square has the same color, but the 'dark' squares were slightly elevated and the 'light' squares were slightly lowered. Each square also had a hole in which to fit the pieces, in the style of traveling sets. The dark pieces' tops had sharper edges in comparison to the whites.  His chess set was once displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is now in the Smithsonian National Museum.

Author Tom Clancy (1947-2013) played chess.  While attending Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland, he was president of the chess club.  In Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 video game, there are several references to chess.  He also had several chess references in his Jack Ryan books.

Actor Charles Coburn (1877-1961) was a strong chess player.

Actor Sean Connery (1930- ) plays chess.  As a young man, he was a keen chess player.  There are photographs of him playing Patrick McGoohan on the set of ‘Hell Drivers.’

Ted Danson (1947- ), best known for his acting in Cheers, plays chess  and has played Woody Harrelson in the past (Harrelson is the better player). In the 1980 TV film, Lethal Games, Jack Chenault (Ted Danson) plays chess with a computer. In the 2005 TV film, Knights of the South Bronx, Richard (Ted Danson) is a chess teacher and coach.

Henry Darrow (1933- ) plays chess.  He once held former world chess champion Boris Spassky to a draw and says he played Bobby Fischer.  In an interview, he said he won many chess championships when he was young.

Actress Viola Davis (1965- ) plays chess.  In 2014, she donated $30,000 to the chess club at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island.  Davis’ sister is teacher at that school and Viola attend that school in the 1980s.

Actor James Dean (1931-1955) played chess.  He played chess when on breaks during the filming of ‘Rebel Without a Cause.’

Actress Sandra Dee (1942-2005) played chess.  She played chess with Rock Hudson.

Film director Cecil B. deMille (1881-1959) played chess.  He was a member of the Hollywood Chess Club and the Beverly Hills Chess Club.  He played a game of chess against Jose Capablana in 1933.

Actor Dustin Diamond (1977- ) is a chess player.  In 2001, he made a video called Dustin Diamond Teaches Chess.  His father taught him how to play chess.  He said he was master strength, but his highest USCF rating was 1369 in 1999.

Princess Diana (1961-1997) played chess.  There is a picture of her playing chess with children while visiting a hospital in 1989.

The American actor and producer Leonardo DiCaprio (1974- ) has been seen in public playing chess with a chess clock with some of his friends.

Actress Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) played chess.  She played chess with John Wayne on the set of ‘Pittsburgh’ in 1942.

Actor Tony Dow (1945- ) plays chess.

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan (1941- ) was a keen chess player.  Dylan’s manager paid Bobby Fischer so Dylan could play chess with him.

Actor Erik Estrada (1949- ) plays chess.  He used to play chess against William Windom and has played in a celebrity chess tournament.  An online article says that Estrada played in several USCF-rated tournaments, maintaining a rating of 1400, but the present USCF rating lookup shows no Erik Estrada.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr (1909-2000) played chess.  He was the president of the Hollywood Chess Club in 1932.

Peter Falk (1927-2011) played chess.  He took chess lessons from master Dennis Waterman and visited chess tournaments.

John Fanning (1963- ), co-founder of Napster and entrepreneur, built the first Internet chess server in the late 1980s.

Character actor Fritz Feld (1900-1993) played a lot of chess.  He had a collection of over 300 photos of himself playing chess with other actors and actresses.  His collection was exhibited at the Library of the Performing Arts at the Lincoln Center in New York.  In the 1940s, U.S. chess champion Herman Steiner and International Master (later honorary grandmaster) George Koltanowski would visit his home in the evenings and they would play chess until 6 am the following morning.  He played chess with Janet Leigh.  He considered John Barrymore as the strongest chess player in Hollywood, followed by Humphrey Bogart, Charles Boyer, Charles Coburn, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Glenn Ford (1916-2006) was a chess player.  He played many games with Marlon Brando.

The Fonda family all played chess in real life and in film. In 1966, Henry Fonda (1905-1982) attended the second Piatigorsky Cup chess tournament in Santa Monica. In the 1976 movie, Futureworld, Chuck Brown (Peter Fonda) played chess with Traly Ballard (Blythe Danner). In the 1978 file, The Greatest Battle, General Foster (Henry Fonda (1905-1982)) had a chessboard and chess position in front of him in one of the scenes. When she was 21, Jane Fonda (1937- ) played chess with Susan Strasberg on the beach in Malibu. It was during these chess games that Jane was encouraged to take acting lessons and become an actress. Jane Fonda encourages chess playing among children and teenagers at risk. Jane played chess with her ex-husband, Roger Vadim (1928-2000) in the 1960s.

English journalist David Frost (1939-2013) played chess.  Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was the last person interviewed by David Frost, a week before he passed away.  In 1972, David Frost arranged to have Bobby Fischer fly to Bermuda for a celebrity lunch, at which Fischer chatted with economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

English actor, humorist, and novelist Stephen Fry (1957- ) plays chess.  He includes a philosophical conversation about chess in his novel ‘Revenge.’

Clark Gable (1901-1960) played chess.  There is a photo of him playing chess with Van Johnson during World War II.  He also greeted Max Euwe, Sammy Reshevsky, and Herman Steiner when they visited him on set in 1949.

Actor Cuba Gooding, Jr (1968- ) plays chess.  He was the main character in Life of a King, about a chess player.

Actor Woody Harrelson (1961- ) plays chess.  He played Garry Kasparov to a draw in 1999.

Actress Dee Hartford (1928)  played chess.

World-renowned Norwegian figure skater and actress Sonja Henie (1912-1969) was perhaps the strongest female chess player in Hollywood.

Film  director Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) played chess and added a few chess scenes in his movies.

Actor Bob Hoskins (1942-2014) played chess.

Rock Hudson (1925-1985) played chess.  He played chess with Sandra Dee between takes of the movie Come September.  He played chess at his New Port Beach home and his Hollywood Hills home during the 1950s.  He was a chronic browser for antiques and purchased several chess sets.

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) was a chess enthusiast.  While acting as a vicar in Krakow, Poland, and then known as Karol Wojtyla, he frequently played chess with other students.  His uncle was one of Poland’s leading chess problemists.

Actor Van Johnson (1916-2008) played chess.  He played June Allyson during takes on The Bride Goes Wild.  He played Clark Gable during World War II.

Actress, model, and fashion designer Kim Kardashian (1980- ) may play chess or wants to learn.  In 2013, she tweeted “I want to learn how to play chess.  Wondering if Levon Aronian can teach me!” 

American novelist Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) played chess.

Deborah Kerr (1921-2007) played chess.  She played chess with Clark Gable during the filming of ‘The Hucksters.’

Kevin Kline (1947- ) plays chess.  He improved his chess game for the film ‘Queen to Play.’

Film director Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was an addicted chess player.  He said that chess helped him develop patience and discipline.  As a young man, he played chess for money (usually a nickel a game) in Washington Square Park in New York. 

Actor Michael Landon (1936-1991) played chess.  He played with Dan Blocker on the set of Bonanza. 

Actress Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) played chess.  There is a picture of her playing chess with Laurence Olivier during the filming of “Forty Ninth Parallel” in 1941.

Boxer Lennox Lewis (1965- ) plays chess.  He funded an after-school chess program for disadvantaged youths, and one of them earned a university chess scholarship at Tennessee Tech.

Actress Sophia Loren (1934- ) plays chess.

Actor Peter Lorre (1904-1964) played chess.

Actor Tobey Maguire (1975- ) plays chess.   He plays Bobby Fischer in the 2014 movie, Pawn Sacrifice.

Singer and actor Dean Martin (1917-1995) played chess.  He played chess with John Wayne and Claude Akins.

Actor Jerry Mathers (1948- ), who played Beaver in ‘Leave It To Beaver,’ is a chess enthusiast.

Actor Ray Milland (1907-1986) played chess.  He played chess during breaks on the film Hostile Witness.  He usually had two chess sets in his dressing room at the studios.  He used one to play on, and another for a correspondence game he was involved with.

Musician Joni Mitchell (1943- ) plays chess.

Actor Robert Mitchum (1917-1997) played chess.  He used to play chess with John Wayne.

Singer, song-writer Moby (1965- ) plays chess.

Actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) many have played chess.  In Marilyn Monroe: The Final Years, by Keith Badman, there is a section on some of her spending habits.  She had purchased an expensive rosewood silver and gold chess set.  She also received a carved ivory chess set as a gift from a friend.

Singer Graham Nash (1942- ) and founding member of Crosby, Stills & Nash, played chess and participated in a celebrity chess tournament in 1988.

Singer and actor Ricky Nelson (1940-1985) played chess.  He played chess with Claude Akins.

Yoko Ono (1933- ), former wife of Beatle John Lennon, plays chess and has sponsored chess tournaments.  She once designed al all white chess set, calling it ‘Play It By Trust.’

Gregory Peck (1916-2003) played chess.  He taught Polly Bergen how to play chess during the making of Cape Fear in 1962.  He played chess with others on the set of The Guns of Navarone in 1961.  He often played chess with his wife, Veronique Passani.

Anthony Quinn (1915-2001) played chess.  He played chess with Gregory Peck on the set of The Guns of Navarone.  Quinn sometimes visited the Manhattan Chess Club in New York to play chess.

Basil Rathbone (1892-1967) played chess.

Singer Helen Reddy (1941- ) played chess.  She played in a celebrity chess tournament.

Actor Keanu Reeves (1964- ) is a strong chess player.  He learned chess as a boy.  He played on his high school chess team and hustled chess for a dollar a game  in Toronto.  To unwind, he says he plays chess with his computer.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947- ) is an avid chess player.  In 2002, he played a friendly games with Garry Kasparov.

Actor George C. Scott (1927-1999) played chess.  He played chess with director Stanley Kubrick during breaks on the set of Dr. Strangelove.  He played chess with Marlon Brando on the set of ‘The Formula.’

Actor Steven Seagal (1952- ) plays chess.  While visiting the Republic of Kalmykia, he played chess with FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

David O. Selznick (1902-1965) played chess

Actress Jessica Simpson (1980- ) plays chess.  He would usually drop by Roger Vadim’s house and they would play chess.

Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) played chess.  There is a picture of him playing former 6-time U.S. chess champion, Walter Browne.  There is another picture of him sitting at the chess board with former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov.

Actor Will Smith (1968- ) plays chess.  His father taught him how to play at age 7.  Will smith endorsed the Millionaire Chess Tournament held in Las Vegas, in early October.  He took some chess lessons from Chicago’s National Master Marvin Dandridge.

Drummer and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr (1940- ) plays chess.  When the other Beatles were rehearsing, Ringo played chess with one of the recording engineers.  He had a chess set, designed by Klaus Voorman, made of gold and silver, modeled on his hands, using different types of hand shapes for the various figures.

English musician Sting (Gordon Matthew Sumner, born Oct 2, 1951) plays chess.  In 200, he invited Garry Kasparov to play simultaneously against him and his band in New York City.  Kasparov won all 5 games easily.

French screenwriter, film director and producer Roger Vadim (1928-2000) played chess.  He often played chess with ex-wife Jane Fonda and producer David O. Selznick.

Actor Jesse Vint plays chess and won the World Celebrity Chess Championship in 1988, held at the Century Plaza in Los Angeles.  He has played chess against Anatoly Karpov.

Actor John Wayne (1907-1979) played chess well.  He had a chess board permanently set up on his 136-foot boat, The Wild Goose.  When he too friends for boat rides, he played chess.

Actor Guy Williams (1924-1989) played chess.  He played chess between takes during Lost in Space.  Living in New York, he used to go to Central Park to play chess and visited the Manhattan Chess Club.  A biography says that he competed in chess tournaments.

Veteran actor William Windom (1923-2012) was an enthusiastic chess player.  He was a life member of the United States Chess Federation (USCF) and rated 1540, last playing in 1991.  He was profiled twice in ‘Chess Life’ magazine.  He used to play and beat John Wayne.