The Hazards of Chess

by Bill Wall


We have all read about the benefits of chess such as it can raise your IQ, it helps prevent Alzheimer’s, it exercises both sides of the brain, it increases your creativity, it improves your memory, it increases problem-solving skills, it improves reading skills, it improves concentration, it teaches planning and foresight, etc.  (see But what about the hazards of chess?  It is possible that chess is harmful to the mind, body and soul.  Here are a few items to consider when playing chess or problems a chess player may encounter.



Heavy drinkers included Joseph Henry Blackburne, Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Tal, Igor Ivanov, Aleksander Wojtkiewicz.


Arrested chess players

Many chess players have been arrested.  Players include Alexandre Deschapelles (1780-1847) for being involved in the French insurrection of 1832, Armand Blackmar (1826-1888) for publishing seditious music, George Mackenzie for desertion during the Civil War, Canadian champion Albert William Ensor for counterfeiting, James Mortimer for refusing to reveal the author of a libelous article, Joseph Blackburne, arrested as a French spy for sending chess moves in the mail, Ossip Bernstein, arrested by the secret Bolshevik police and ordered executed by a firing squad, William Winter for sedition, Norman Whitaker for attempted extortion, Ludek Pachman for incitement to anti-German demonstrations, Pal Benko for trying to defect to the West, Bobby Fischer (twice), Garry Kasparov.  In 1982, Boris Gulko and his wife were arrested for protesting at the Moscow Interzonal in Moscow.  They were trying to immigrate to Israel.  In 1987, Grandmaster Tony Miles (1955-2001) was arrested at 10 Downing Street in London after trying to get in after midnight to talk to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about payments owed to him by the British Chess Federation.    He was eventually hospitalized for two months from a mental breakdown.  In 1988, International Master James Sherwin was arrested on stock manipulation charges.  In 1993, a chess player in San Antonio got so mad at a tournament director for poor pairings and bad tournament conditions at a hotel that he tore down and ripped up all the pairing sheets that were posted for the next day.  The police were called and he was arrested.  In 2001, Vaughn Bennett, executive director of the Olympic Chess House, was arrested for unlawful trespassing onto the grounds of the U.S. Chess Center in Washington, DC.  In May 2003, Grandmaster Alex Sherzer, 31, was arrested in Mobile, Alabama for allegedly attempting to solicit sex from a 15-year-old-girl he met on the Internet and who was living at a juvenile detention center.  In 2004, the FIDE vice president, Zurab Azmaiparashvili, was arrested by a group of security agents during the final ceremonies of the 36th Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Spain.  He was approaching the stage to get the attention of FIDE President Ilyumzhinov about some awards that had not been given out when the security people stepped in front of him.  The Calvia police said that he hit them, so they arrested him.  In 2005, GM Vladimir Akopian was arrested at the Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), having been mistaken for an individual of the same name wanted by Interpol for murder.  In April 2005, Grandmaster and former World Junior Champion Maxim Dlugy was arrested in Moscow and charged with attempting to defraud a metals plant in Russia of $9 million in bonds.  He was transferred to a prison in Perm, central Russia.  He faced up to 10 years in prison.  All the charges against him were later dropped.  In July 2006, two chess players tried to smuggle cocaine in a wooden chess set in Trinidad, but were caught and arrested.   The cocaine, which weighed 6.8 kilograms, was valued at $3 million.  In July 2009, Gregory Alexander, an assistant to GM Susan Polgar, was arrested in San Francisco for computer fraud and aggravated identity theft in stealing email messages between USCF board members.    In 1914, all the Russian chess masters were arrested at the Mannheim, Germany Congress when World War I broke out. The arrested players included Alexander Alekhine and Bogoljubow. Alekhine was released after 6 weeks. (source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep 8, 1914, p. 9)   In 1918, Lorenz Hansen, a Danish naturalized citizen, was arrested by the Federal authorities, charged with using a secret code and spying. The secret code turned out to be the moves in a correspondence game sent by post card. (source: American Chess Bulletin 1918, p. 61) In December 1927, Dr. Joseph Eljas, President of the Reval, Estonia Chess Club, was invited to a chess tournament in Leningrad. As soon as he entered Russia, he was arrested by the Cheka. The Cheka, claiming his notebooks, filled with chess problems, were a secret cipher. He was charged for spying for a foreign power. (source: New York Times, Dec 8, 1927, p. 37) In February 1937, 13 chess players were arrested in Danzig for talking Socialistic politics in between moves. The police charged them with trying to keep alive the forbidden Social Democratic party. (source: Decatur Herald, Feb 13, 1937, p. 3) In 1951, James Bolton, age 22, the New England chess champion, was arrested by the FBI for evading the draft. (source: New York Times, March 4, 1951, p. 60) In May 1981, Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) was arrested in Pasadena, California because he matched the description of a man who had just committed a bank robbery in that area. He was held for two days, and then released on $1,000 bail.  In 1986, grandmaster Aleksander Wojtkiewicz (1963-2006) was arrested and sent to prison in Latvia for dodging the Soviet Army draft. While in prison, he studied chess and found a novelty in the Sicilian Defense, Accelerated Dragon variation. The new move was coined the “Prison Novelty.”

Arrested for playing chess

You can get arrested for playing chess.  Perhaps the first arrest associated with chess was in 1624.  On August 30, 1624, playwright Thomas Middleton (1580-1627) was arrested in London after producing a play, A Game of Chess, that satirized the proposed marriage of Prince Charles with a Spanish princess.  The play was performed in the Globe Theater in London.  Its nine performances, from August 5-14, 1624, was the greatest box-office hit and the most talked about dramatic work of early modern London.  After Middleton’s arrest, the play was censored and was not allowed to be shown again.  In 1973, the police raided a chess tournament in Cleveland, Ohio.  They arrested the tournament director and confiscated the chess sets on charges of allowing gambling (cash prizes to winners) and possession of gambling devices (the chess sets).   In 1988, undercover police arrested a chess player at a park in New York City after he won a marked $5 bill against a cop posing as a construction worker during a blitz game.  The chess player was jailed for 3 days, his medication was confiscated, and he had a heart attack.  The arrest was finally tossed out by a judge.  Five years later, the city settled the wrongful arrest lawsuit out of court for $100,000.  In 1989, the police raided a chess tournament in Los Angeles.  The L.A.P.D. vice officers raided a nightly chess tournament held at Dad’s Donuts.  They cited three men for gambling after finding $1.50 on the table.  The police staged the raid after an undercover detective tried unsuccessfully to join a blitz chess game.  The detective then pulled out his badge and said “all of you are under arrest,” as the L.A.P.D. swooped in.  In 1971, Trevor Stowe, a chess antique dealer, was arrested and charged in court in London for indecent exhibition on display in his window.  Each of the 32 pieces showed couples in sexual positions.  Stowe had to pay $132 in fines and court costs.  In 1991, Arkady Flom, a 64-year-old grandfather, was arrested in Manhattan after a young man sat down to play chess with him in the park.  The young man played so poorly that Flom would give him pointers in exchange for $2.  The young man agreed.  They played for 20 more minutes and the young fellow paid his money.  As soon as Flom put the money in his pocket, four NYPD officers approached him, slapped him in handcuffs and read him his rights.  He was arrested for promoting gambling in the second degree and for possession of a gambling device, his chess set. He was jailed for 3 days, his medication was confiscated, and he had a heart attack.   Five years later, he received a $1 million settlement in a false arrest suit against New York City as the judge ruled that a chess game was not “gambling” since it was a game of skill rather than chance and the chess board was not “gambling equipment.”  In 1992, police in New Rochelle, NY arrested a player who refused to put away a chess board and pieces at a library.  Louis Taylor, 41, was reading a chess book and set up his own chess pieces and board in the library.  A librarian told him to put his game away.  When he refused, the police were called who cuffed Taylor and charged him with trespassing.  In July 2010, Oakland school board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge was arrested when she refused to stop playing chess at the intersection of Broadway and 14th Streets.   In October, 2010, seven players were arrested for playing chess in a playground in Inwood Hill Park, New York (Manhattan).  The chess tables in the park were off limits to adults if not accompanied by a child.  The charges were finally dismissed in April, 2011.


In 1948, grandmaster David Bronstein (1924-2006) survived an assassination attack during the first chess Interzonal in Saltsjobaden, Sweden.  On the last day, Bronstein was playing Tartakower when, suddenly, a Lithuanian made a lunge at Bronstein to kill him.  Several spectators grabbed the would-be assassin.  The attempted killer wanted to murder a Russian because he claimed the Russians were responsible for sending his sister to Siberia and murdering her.



Chess has been banned from time to time, and chess players have been punished for playing chess.  In 1649, Tsar Alexei (1629-1676) banned chess in Russia. Players caught playing chess were whipped and put in prison.  In 1971, when Mark Taimanov (1926- ) returned to the USSR after losing to Bobby Fischer 6-0, he was banned from playing outside the country for several years and was stripped of his title ‘Honored Master of Sport.’ He was a concert pianist and was not allowed to give any more performances. He was also banned from writing any articles and was deprived of his monthly stipend.  In the 1980s, the Soviet Union banned cosmonauts from playing chess in space with each other (they can play against ground control personnel) after a fist fight once broke out between cosmonauts after one of the cosmonauts lost his game to the other cosmonaut.  In 1993, chess was banned from American River College in California because of disruptive behavior on people playing in the cafeteria and library. Campus police ordered some chess players to stop playing chess. The players refused and the campus police confiscated the chess board and pieces.  In 1994, chess was banned in Afghanistan by Taliban edicts. Players caught playing chess were beaten or imprisoned.  In 1996 chess and other clubs were banned from some high schools in Salt Lake City, Utah. Most of the school board is Mormon which condemns homosexuality. Rather than let gay high school students form an organization, they banned all nonacademic clubs. School board members said federal law gave them only two options: allow all extracurricular clubs or eliminate them all. Some 30 clubs, including the chess club, are banned for 1996-97.  In 2005, Fair Haven Union High School in Vermont banned chess after the school banned all games.  The administration said that they did not want to have students play cards in school, so they banned all games, including the chess club.  Despite that, the school tied for 1st place in the Vermont State Scholastic Chess Championship in 2006.  In 2007, a team of home-schooled students who won the 2006 Arizona Scholastic Championship was banned from the 2007 championship.   Rules were changed to not allow home-schooled students from participating.  Only public and private schools were allowed to participate in the event.  During the middle ages, chess was banned at Oxford University in England.  It was called “noxious, inordinate and unhonest,” according to National Geographic.



After a number of irregularities were found by financial auditors, government prosecutors are investigating the Bulgarian Chess Federation for corruption.  Three-time Bulgarian Champion Grandmaster Kiril Georgiev called the Federation a “money laundering machine.”  The Bulgarian Chess Federation has been charged with inflated financial spending, organization of false or nonexistent tournaments, unreasonable travel expenses, etc.  It has also been alleged that Silvio Danailov, president of the Bulgarian Chess Federation, was involved in a scheme to defraud other national Chess federations of significant cash. The scam was supposedly accomplished by registering in Delaware a corporation with the name “European Chess Union LLC”. That entity then opened a bank account in Europe and convinced members of the real European Chess Union (a Switzerland-based organization) to send their membership fees and other payments to the wrong account. (, June 2015)


Some chess players, such as Bobby Fischer, suffered from delusions, a common symptom of paranoid schizophrenia.   In a recent poll of chess players at major chess tournaments, players were asked what their rating was and if they thought their rating should reflect their true current strength.  All of the players knew their actual ratings, yet 75% of them thought their rating underestimated their true playing ability.  The magnitude of their overconfidence was stunning: On average, these competitive chess players estimated that they would win a match against another player with the exact same rating as their own by a two-to-one margin — a crushing victory. But the most likely outcome of such a match would be a tie.  Most of the players had delusions of grandeur.  (source: “Why losers have delusions of grandeur,”  by Daniel Simons, New York Post, May 23, 2010)  Paul Morphy suffered from delusions of persecution.  He imagined himself persecuted by people who wished to render his life intolerable.  His delusions centered on the husband of his elder sister, the administrator of his father’s estate, who he believed was trying to rob him of his patrimony.


Many chess players are introverted and suffer from depression.  Grandmaster Lembit Oll suffered from depression and later committed suicide.  Mikhail Chigorin suffered from depression in his later life and burnt his chess pieces before he died.


Die travelling to or from a chess tournament

You can die traveling from or to a chess tournament.  On February 17, 1940, former New England chess champion Harold Morton (1906-1940), died in a car crash in Iowa when he hit a truck. His passenger, chess master I.A. Horowitz, survived. The two were giving simultaneous chess exhibitions throughout the country.   Guillermo Garcia (1953-1990), a Cuban grandmaster, died in a car wreck on his way to the airport to catch a plane to play in the Chess Olympiad in Novi Sad.  On October 27, 2003, Esam Aly Ahmed (1964-2003), an International Master and Egypt’s top chess player, died of malaria after returning home from the All Africa Games chess tournament in Nigeria.  He was bitten by an infected mosquito and was incorrectly diagnosed in Egypt after becoming ill.  In 2007, Grandmaster Maxim Sorokin (1968-2007) died a week after a traffic accident while on his way from Elista, Kalmykia, returning from a chess tournament, to Volgograd.  On December 9, 1983, Janos Flesch (1933-1983) died in a car wreck in Whitstable, England. He was returning from the Kasparov-Korchnoi match in London to a tournament in Ramsgate when he became involved in a car accident. He and his wife died in the crash.  In 1935, Agnes Stevenson, one of the top women chess players in the world, was killed after she walked into the propeller of the plane she had been flying on. She was on her way to Warsaw to take part in the Women’s World Chess Championship when the plane made a refueling stop at Poznan. She left the plane to have her passport inspected. On returning to the plane, she stepped in front of the plane and the rotating propeller hit her.  In September 1961, chess master Norman Whitaker (1890-1975), chess expert Glenn Hartleb, and a 16-year-old boy were driving in Arkansas when they got into a car wreck, killing Glenn Hartleb.  Apparently, Whitaker and Hartleb were too tired to drive, and they allowed the 16-year-old to  drive.  He lost control, hit a bridge abutment and overturned the car.  On August 20, 1999, Ken Horne, a Las Vegas chess organizer, flying home in his own airplane from the US Open Chess Championship in Reno, died after his aircraft crashed.  He died along with his wife after the plane crashed into a house in North Las Vegas.  In April, 2013, six members of the Melbourne Chess Club in Australia were returning from a chess tournament in Canberra when their car rolled off the freeway.  Two of the chess players died.  International Master James Morris (1994- ) was seriously injured in that accident.



Sometimes, chess players go out of the way to disturb their opponent.  In a 1977 match, Boris Spassky positioned himself in a curtained booth behind his opponent’s chair, emerging, when it came time to play his turns, in, variously, a sun visor, swimming goggles, and a ski mask. His rival, Viktor Korchnoi, lost four games in a row before he recovered.


Drop Out of School

Many chess players drop out of school.  Among those that dropped out of school include Bobby Fischer, Lisa Lane, Walter Browne, Magnus Carlsen.  Those that dropped out of college include Wesley So.  Sultan Khan never attended school and was illiterate.



Some chess players are known for their eccentricity.  Eccentric players include Paul Morphy, Aron Nimzowitsch, Carlos Torre, and Bobby Fischer.  Viswanathan Anand described Vassily Ivanchuk as the most eccentric chess player in the world.


Chess players may become addicted gamblers.  In December 2011, two Vietnamese men were arrested for gambling on chess at a local café.  Gambling is illegal in Vietnam except in casinos.  The two men had been gambling on chess since 2009, betting up to $50,000 per game.  In September 2013, police confiscated chess sets, chess gear, tables, and chairs along Market Street in San Francisco.  Police said the games had begun to attract illegal gambling and drug sales, and were getting complaints by nearby merchants.  David Janowski would take all his chess winnings and gamble it all away in the casinos.


Heart Attack While Playing Chess

You can die of a heart attack while playing chess.  Players who died of a heart attack or stroke while playing chess include Vladimir Bagirov (right after time control and his flag fell), Efim Bogoljubow, Jose Capablanca, Ed Edmundson (died of a heart attack while playing chess on a beach in Hawaii), Aivars Gipslis (had a stroke and died while in a chess tournament in Berlin), Ivan the Terrible, Paul Keres (on his way home from a chess tournament in which he won), Paul Leonhardt, Cecil Purdy, Vladimir Simagin, Gideon Stahlberg, Howard Staunton (died of a heart attack while writing his last chess book), Herman Steiner (died of a heart attack during a round of the California State Championship), and Alex Suetin.  Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) died of a stroke while playing chess at Simpson’s, a London coffee-house. While playing chess game with Sylvain Meyer, Zukertort fainted. Instead of calling for medical help, he was taken to the British Chess Club in an unconscious state. They then took him to Charing Cross Hospital where they diagnosed the problem as a cerebral attack. He never regained consciousness, and died at 10 a.m. the next day. The cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage. At the time, Zukertort was also in the middle of a tournament at the British Chess Club and was in 1st place.  GM Adorjan and Stewart Reuben had heart attacks while playing chess, but survived.  In 1923, a spectator watching the Ed Lasker – Frank Marshall chess match died of a heart attack.  In May, 1931, Andors Wachs of Hungary had just checkmated his opponent at a chess club in Hungary. He then dropped his head on the table and died of a heart attack.  In 1944, Al Horowitz’s opponent died of a heart attack in Kansas City just after Horowitz made a spectacular move.  In 1952, Juan Quesada, Cuban chess champion, died of a heart attack during an international tournament in Havana.  On July 31, 1965, E. Forry Laucks (1897-1965), founder of the Log Cabin Chess Club, collapsed of a heart attack and died after the 6th round of the U.S. Open in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  In 1970, Charles Khachiyan, President of the New Jersey Chess Association, died of a heart attack while playing chess at the Montclair Chess Club in New Jersey.  On January 17, 2010, Dale S. Lyons of Milton, Vermont, died of a heart attack while attending a chess tournament in New Hampshire. He suffered a fatal heart attack between the 3rd and 4th rounds of the Portsmouth Open. He was 60 years old.  During the 2014 chess Olympiad in Norway, Kurt Meier of Seychelles  died of a heart attack in the last round.


Mental Illness

The “highs” and “lows” a chess player experiences during a chess game, combined with the anxiety, tension and stress of high-level chess, and the roller coaster of emotions that go with a high-level chess game, repeated over and over again may have some effect on the mind and perhaps cause mental illness.  Chess players who suffered mental illness may have included Paul Morphy, William Steinitz, Harry Pillsbury, Akiba Rubinstein, Carlos Torre, Estonian player Ilmar Raud (1913-1941), Raymond Weinstein, Bobby Fischer, Tony Miles.  Some sources say that chess has nothing to do with mental illness.  Players just make the moves the voices in their heads tell them to.



Sometimes chess players are molesters.  In 2001, John Smith, was arrested for molesting boys as a chess coach in Masssillon, Ohio.  In September 2005, chess master Robert Snyder was arrested in Fort Collins, Colorado on charges of molesting three chess students of his.  Two boys were age 13 and one boy was age 12.  He later escaped and was featured on America’s Most Wanted in 2009.  He was later captured in Belize after someone recognized him from the TV show.  He was released from jail in 2008 and was supposed to register as a sex offender, but he never did.   He was featured on America’s Most Wanted in November, 2009.   A girl had recognized him as a chess teacher in her school in Belize and notified the authorities.  US Marshals tracked him down in Belize and arrested him.  In April 2014, chess master David Harris was arrested in Providence, Rhode Island, and charged with indecent solicitation and third-degree sexual assault.  More investigation continues since Harris was involved with chess in schools.  Police were still looking at his contact with other children that he taught chess to.  In May 2015, Miro Nowak, a chess coach in Sydney, Australia,  was arrested for indecently assaulting one of his primary school students.  (source: Sydney Morning Herald, June 13, 2015)



Sometimes chess players are killed or murdered.  Paolo Boi was poisoned by jealous rivals.  Nicholas Rossolimo was robbed and pushed down a flight of stairs and died at his chess studio.  Abe Turner was stabbed 9 times at the Chess Review offices and died.  Simon Webb (1949-2005), British International Master, was stabbed to death in the family kitchen by his son during an argument.  In 2000, Laurence Douglas of Puoghkeepsie, New York, stabbed Craig Williams to death over a chess game.  Williams had just beaten Douglas in a chess game that had a $5 wager.  Williams took a $5 bill from Douglas after the game.  Douglas then pulled out a knife and stabbed Williams 16 times.  In 1264, a court case was opened when a man stabbed a woman to death with his sword after a quarrel over a chess game.  In 1959, a Soviet scientist killed another Soviet scientist at a Soviet research station in Vostok, Antarctica after a chess game argument. The losing player got so mad that he killed his opponent with an axe. After the incident, the Soviets banned chess at their Antarctic stations.  (sources: The Antarctic Legal Regime, p. 67; Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica; The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica)  In 1993, a person was shot and killed while playing chess with a friend outdoors in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the first recorded killing of a chess player by sniper fire.  On November 13, 1994, grandmaster Igor Platonov (1934-1994) returned home to his apartment in Kiev after a chess tournament, when two thieves ambushed him and murdered him.  The killers were never caught.  In 1995, International Master Gilles Andruet, a former French champion, was murdered in Paris over gambling debts.  He was found dead in a plastic bag.  In 2015, Steve Dillard, “Mr. Kentucky chess” was beaten and stabbed to death by one of his former foster kids.  Dillard directed over 3,000 chess tournaments, more than any other American, and was given a life achievement award by the US Chess Federation for his efforts.(source: The Courier-Journal, March 15, 2015).  In 1897, William Wilson, age 55, a prominent member of the Franklin Chess Club in Philadelphia and bookseller, was robbed and killed in his store.  An internationally ranked chess player, Thomas Elberling, age 11, was killed by his father in a murder-suicide. (source: MailOnline, Sep 9, 2014)



Chess players can be murders.  IM Raymond Weinstein killed an 83-year old man in a nursing home with a razor.  Claude Bloodgood (1924-2001) stabbed his mother to death.  In 1960, a U.S. sailor was arrested in New York for murder after he got in a fight with a spectator who criticized his chess game.  The sailor struck the spectator with a broken beer bottle, which struck his jugular vein.  The sailor was eventually acquitted of murder and was charged with accidental death instead.  In January 1979, Patrick McKenna, a prisoner in Nevada, strangled his Las Vegas cellmate, Jack J. Nobles, after an argument over a chess game.  McKenna has been on death row in Nevada since 1979.  From 1992 to 2006, Alexander Pichushkin (1974-  ) went on a killing spree in Moscow.  Pichushkin claimed he killed 63 people (48 confirmed) and his aim was to kill 64 people, one for each square on a chessboard.  In 1994, Martin Wirth of Fort Collins, Colorado, shot to death Vernie Cox after the two argued over a chess game.  Cox died of two gunshot wounds to the chest.  Witnesses said that Wirth had lost a chess game with Cox, knocked over the chess board and some furniture, then began to argue with his opponent.  Wirth went across the street to his home and returned with a gun and shot Cox to death.  In 2003, Simon Andrews of Falls Township, Pennsylvania, stabbed to death Jerry Kowalski during a chess game.  Authorities said that Andrews was disturbed by Kowalski’s constant talking during their chess games.  Andrews then pulled a knife from under a sofa-bed mattress and stabbed Kowalski in the neck.  Andrews was sentenced from 15 to 30 years in state prison.  In October 2008, David Christian of Iowa City got in a fight with Michael Steward while playing a game of chess at the rooming house where they both lived.  He was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.  Christian choked Steward to death.  In February 2009, a man killed a friend with a sword after a chess game in Alameda, California.  An argument broke out during their game, and the two started wrestling.  Joseph Groom retreated to his bedroom and returned with a sword, which he used to stab Kelly Kjersem once.  Kjersem later died.  In October 2009, David Christian of Iowa City, Iowa, was arrested after killing his neighbor, Michael Steward, after the two got into a fight over a chess game.  He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  In January 2014, an Italian man, Saverio Bellante, who had been living in a rented home in Dublin, killed his landlord over a game of chess.  He was arrested for the killing after stabbing his landlord, Tom O’Gorman, multiple times.  O’Gorman was a minister.  Bellante told police that they were fighting over a chess game.  Bellante was then asked by O’Gormon to leave the house following an argument over a chess move.  Instead, Bellante found a kitchen knife and stabbed O’Gormon, then beat him over the head with a dumbbell.  Bellante was also accused of eating the heart of his victim.  In 2013, a Chinese player murdered his best friend and then killed himself so they could play chess in the afterlife.  In September 2014, an internationally ranked chess player, Thomas Elberling, age 11, was shot and killed by his father in a murder-suicide in New Jersey. Thomas was ranked #5 in the USA for his age group.


Nervous System

Woman Grandmaster Natalia Pogonina said that “playing chess every day professionally wrecks one’s nervous system.”


Paranoid schizophrenia

Some chess players exhibit the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.  They believe they are being watched by someone and that perhaps that someone is trying to influence the outcome of the match.  Akiba Rubenstein suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, as well as an abnormal fear of people and society.  In 1978, Anatoly Karpov had a parapsychologist in the audience against his world championship match with Korchnoi in Baguio, Philippines.  Korchnoi claimed the parapsychologist was distorting his brain waves.  Korchnoi then hired his own psychics to counteract the negative vibrations.  During the match, Korchnoi also accused Karpov of cheating by receiving different flavors of yogurt during the game.  The different flavors were part of coded instructions that Karpov followed.  The arbiter treated the accusation seriously and imposed a fixed time of sending yogurt to Karpov.    The flavors had to be in writing from Karpov to the arbiter.



Many chess players live and die in poverty.  Those who died in poverty include Carl Schlechter (1874-1918), leading Austrian player, died from pneumonia and starvation in Budapest, Hungary, during the war-imposed famine in Central Europe. He never mentioned to any of his acquaintances that he needed food or money. He was found in a room without any money, heat or food.   Louis-Charles Mahe de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840), strongest player of the 19th century, died of a stroke.  He died penniless in London, having been forced to sell all his possessions to satisfy creditors.  Howard Staunton died in poverty.  William Steinitz died penniless in an insane asylum.  Lionel Kieseritzky (1806-1853) died penniless at a charity hospital for the insane in Paris.  He was only 47.  He was buried in a pauper’s grave.  Only one person came to his funeral, a waiter at the Café de la Régence.  Emanuel Lasker, world chess champion for 27 years, died penniless in New York.  Frederick Yates died in debt.  Others who died in poverty include Henry Bird, Harry Nelson Pillsbury, James Mason, Richard Reti, and Akiba Rubinstein.  Fred Waitzkin wrote in Searching for Bobby Fischer, “Professional players in the United States are bitter about their poverty and lack of recognition.”



Chess players have been robbed.  In 1622, Gioacchino Greco was robbed of all his money (5,000 crowns) that he won in Paris from playing chess while on his way to London.  In 1978, grandmaster William Lombardy was attacked and robbed in New York City by a mugger who had a knife.  Tendons in two fingers were severed and he underwent a long operation to repair the severed tendons.  In 1990, grandmaster Gregory Kaidanov and his wife had their luggage stolen from the trunk of a car while he was having dinner at a restaurant in New York City.  The next day, he was attacked by a gang and robbed of his money, airline tickets, and 10 years of chess analysis.  In the 1940s, a tournament director of the U.S. Championship had his car stolen in Manhattan during the tournament.  The car was recovered a day later.  In the 1990s, grandmaster Maurice Ashley was robbed and mugged twice in New York.  In 1992, Grandmaster Artur Yusupov returned to his Moscow apartment from a chess tournament to discover several burglars robbing his apartment.  A struggle broke out and Yusupov was shot in the stomach.  He was rushed to the hospital and was in critical condition, but survived.  At the 1994 chess Olympiad in Moscow, the Macedonian team captain was beaten into unconsciousness and robbed twice.  The first time, he was robbed of $7,000 inside a bank that was across the street from the playing center.  A U.S. player was mugged, and robbers threatened his life if he did not come back the next day with more money.  Other chess players reported that thugs pounded on their hotel doors in the middle of the night and threatened them.  In January 2003, grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric, age 79, was attacked in his sleep and beaten up by masked burglars in his Belgrade home.  The armed robbers broke into his home at 3 am, beat and tied him up, the stole his money and jewelry of his late wife.  They also took his chess trophiesGligoric suffered a black eye.  In July 2005, Canadian grandmaster Pascal Charbonneau and his chess-playing friends were robbed and mugged at gunpoint at the World Open in Philadelphia.  In 2006, Anatoly Karpov was working on a manuscript for a new chess book when it was stolen in Brussels.  One thief distracted him while the other attacked from behind and stole his briefcase with the 300 page manuscript.  On January 5, 2007, grandmaster Farhad Tahirov, age 19,  was kicked and punched by a gang of eight thugs during the 82nd Hastings International Chess Congress.  He was robbed of a thousand British pounds.  It happened as we walked along Harold Road in Hastings at about 8 pm.  On February 18, 2007, Teimour Radjabov had all of his possessions stolen from a hotel room while playing in the Morelia-Linares chess tournament in Mexico.  The burglary occurred in Patzcuaro, Mexico only a few days before the start of the tournament.  Radjabov and his father left for a quick dinner and returned to their room within 30 minutes.  All of their valuable items were stolen.  They reported the crime, but got neither help from the local authorities, nor even a police investigation.  In 2007, the Rochester Chess Center was the official vendor at the World Open in Philadelphia.  They had 21 expensive chess clocks stolen during the event.  It was later discovered that some of the chess clocks were being used to pay off gambling debts from backgammon and poker at the tournament.  In December 2007, the tournament director’s laptop was stolen at the 34th Eastern Open in Washington, D.C.  It had occurred shortly after round 3, when the 6-month-old laptop was stolen from the director’s room.  Generous chess players at the event contributed $600, which was matched by a generous donor to pay for a new laptop.  In 2008, grandmaster Leonid Timoshenko had a precious diamond he was carrying stolen.  The diamond was part of a trophy won by the Ukrainian National Chess Team in the 2008 Chess Olympiad.  The diamond and trophy was in his checked bag on the airplane, but when he landed, his bag was open, the trophy was broken and the diamond was stolen.  He was forced to check the cup into baggage at Frankfurt on his flight to Kiev.  On the previous flight from Dresden, he was allowed to take the trophy onboard as a carry-on piece.  In October 2008, an antique chess set from the 17th century was stolen after thieves broke into a Brisbane home.  The 32-piece chess set was a hand carved ivory chess set made up of eight individual sections of ivory.  In 2009, a chess player who had just finished a tournament at the Marshall Chess Club was mugged after leaving the club.  In 2009, thieves stole bags from chess players during the World Open in Philadelphia.  The players would set their bags down in an area with computers attached to the Internet for hotel guests to use.  Thieves would then make off with the bags.  In April 2010, five chess pieces were stolen from the Christchurch Cathedral Square.  The large public chess set was a popular attraction in Cathedral Square.  The pieces were stolen over the Easter weekend.  On October 4, 2011, grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk and his wife were robbed at gunpoint in Sao Paulo, Brazil as they were sitting in the taxi form their hotel to the airport.  Two men with guns took two suitcases and a handbag and ran.  They missed his laptop computer by his feet and his passport in the inside pocket of his jacket, but got his wife’s passport which was in the handbag.  Ivanchuk said that the most valuable item stolen was his chess set, which he had for many years.  On June 15, 2014, several ax-wielding thugs went on a rampage in a Chinese chess hall in Hotan City, Xingiang.  Four people were injured during that attack.  In 1994, the captain of the Macedonian chess team was robbed of $7,000 inside a bank in Moscow during the 1994 Moscow Chess Olympiad. He was later robbed again and beaten into unconsciousness. An American chess player was mugged during the event and the robbers threatened his life if he did not come back the next day with more money.



Some chess players are scam artists.  In 2008, a man was arrested by Boston police on a warrant of receiving stolen property.  He was supposed to have been running an extracurricular chess program for elementary school students, charging $63.50 per student, but it was a scam.  In 2007, $73,000 was donated on behalf of a chess program and team at an elementary school in Washington, DC. It turned out that the school business manager who handled the funds was a thief and scam artist. The business manager ripped off most of the $73,000 that was supposed to go to the chess program. The person used the school’s ATM card more than 100 times to steal from the chess fund. When the pillage was discovered, the school security and the police were immediately notified, but the authorities did little or nothing until an anonymous tipster told the D.C. government’s inspector general about the missing money. Before the plundering, the money was used to fund 12 Washington D.C. kids to Nashville to take part in the national scholastic chess tournament. The children of the chess team never competed in another tournament after the theft of their funds.  In December 1906, Nicolai Jasnogrodsky (1859-1914), a chess master, was arrested for scamming and swindling 10 citizens of Bay City, Michigan out of $10,000 to marry a rich rabbi’s daughter. (source: New York Times, Dec 3, 1906, p. 6)



Many chess players are not well-adjusted members of society.  They have the inability to relate to society in a constructive manner.   The vast majority of professional chess players do not make a lot of money.  Most people would not want their livelihood dependent upon chess.  Unless you are Magnus Carlsen, imagine the stress you feel if winning a chess tournament was necessary for your livelihood.



Chess brings on a lot of stress, especially when playing in a high-stakes tournament game.  It is the only game where your heart can be beating like you are running sprints when you are sitting down and barely moving a muscle.    Chess can lead to an immense amount of stress, which can be bad for a competitor’s physical health as well.  Stress has killed many chess players that have had heart attacks or strokes while playing chess.  Chess is different at the professional level, where success and failure are won and lost by the finest margins and where winning can mean funding and a future, and losing can mean poverty and unemployment.  Elite completion for chess players can be stressful because the outcome is so important to the competitors.  (source: “How the stress of playing chess can be fatal” by Andrew Lane, The Conversation, Aug 20, 2014)



Chess could lead to suicide.  It may have the highest suicide rate of any sport.  In 1905, Pillsbury attempted suicide by trying to jump out of his 4th floor hospital window in Philadelphia (he had syphilis).  This was reported in the Washington Times, which went on to comment, “The tremendous mental strain which chess masters undergo in the great tournaments, aided and abetted by excessive use of stimulants to keep them keyed to the proper pitch, is too much for the human brain, no matter how abnormally brilliant.”  Chess players who committed suicide include Rudolf Swiderski (took poison, then shot himself in the head), William Henry Russ (shot himself, then jumped into a river to drown himself), Curt von Bardeleben (threw himself out of the window of his boarding home), Karen Grigorian (jumped to his death from the highest bridge in Yerevan), George Mackenzie (took an overdose of morphine), Hans Minckwitz (threw himself under a train), Lembit Oll (jumped to his death from his 5th story apartment), and Alvis Vitolins (jumped onto the frozen ice of a river from a railway bridge).  On July 26, 2006, Jessie Gilbert (1987-2006), a rising British female chess star, fell through a window in her room at the Hotel Labe in Pardubice in the Czech Republic. She won the Women’s World Amateur Championship when she was 11. She may have committed suicide.  She was only 19.  In April 2015, a 10 year old New Jersey boy jumped to his death over a chess game loss. (source: New York Daily News, April 2, 2015)

Travel hazards

On December 15, 1906, Frank Marshall was traveling by train in Louisiana, giving simultaneous chess exhibitions.  On his way to another chess event, his train collided with a freight train in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.  Marshall survived, badly bruised, with cuts on his hand and a sprained ankle.  In 1928, chess master Norman Whitaker was on his way to The Hague to play in the Amateur World Chess Championship.  He was traveling by train when the train wrecked and derailed, killing 9 people and severely injuring his wife.   In November 1977, Viktor Korchnoi was injured in a car wreck in Switzerland and had to postpone his semi-final match against Boris SpasskyKorchnoi suffered a broken hand and other minor injuries when his vehicle collided with a Swiss Army truck.  In February 2007, former FIDE president Florencio Campomanes suffered injuries from a car accident, and had to be put in intensive care.  He was on his way to the airport after attending the FIDE Presidential Board in Antalya, Turkey.  In November 2008, FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was in a car accident in Moscow.  He suffered minor injuries and was taken to the hospital.  He was on his way to the airport to attend the opening ceremonies of the Dresden Chess Olympiad.  In October 2011, Grandmaster Eduardo Iturrizaga, the top player in Venzuela, got in a car wreck on his way to the airport to participate in a chess tournament in Barcelona.  He was unable to make it to the tournament.



Around 1120, King Henry I (1068-1135) of England and King Louis VI (1081-1137) of France got into a fistfight over a game of chess in Paris.  One story says that Louis threw the chessboard at Henry; another says that Henry hit Louis over the head with the chessboard.  Courtiers stepped in to stop the fight.  This episode supposedly was the start of events that kept England and France at war for almost 12 years.  In 1251, the first known court case involving chess and violence appeared.  It dealt with a chess player who stabbed his opponent to death.  A quarrel arose between two players of Essex over a chess match.  One of the players who lost was so angered that he stabbed his opponent in the stomach with a knife, from which he died.  In 1950, a chess player in Vancouver, British Columbia, was arrested for assault after cutting his chess opponent in the arm with a knife after he lost a chess game.  In 1957, two Poles, Alexander Piotrowski and Kazimierz Osiecki, were arrested for assault after they both got into a fight over a chess game, resulting in both players going to the hospital.   In 1992, Robert Bryan of England shot Matthew Hay over a chess game.  Bryan had ‘had enough’ after losing to Hay and was jailed for 10 years after admitting attempting to murder Mr. Hay by shooting him in the neck with a shotgun.  In March 1997, two teenagers got into a fight over a school chess game.  13-year-old John Slack was in critical condition.  His 15-year-old opponent was arrested on an assault charge.  In January 2008, Zachary Lucov was playing chess with Dennis Klien in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, when a scuffle broke out.  Luco pulled out a gun and Klein was shot in the elbow.  Lucov was arrested for aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.  In 1954, the Argentine Chess Federation called off its national chess tournament after a chess player punched one of the tournament directors.  In 1966, Mikhail Tal (1936-1992) was beaten up and hit on the head with a beer bottle during the 1966 Olympiad in Havana.  He was drinking and had been flirting with a woman in a bar when her jealous boyfriend got in a fight with Tal.  He missed the first five rounds of the Havana Chess Olympiad because of his injuries.  In one of the US Opens of the early 1970s, a chess player had just lost his game and, by himself, set up the pieces to analyze his game.  A player sitting next to him told him to leave the playing area, that this was not a skittles room.  Ignoring the player, the other person quietly replayed his lost game.  The player again told him to leave.  The lone kibitzer replied, “Who died and made you king?”  The player then swept all the pieces off the other guy’s board with his hand.  The kibitzer responded with a right hook that knocked the player off his seat.  A fight then started, which had to be broken up by the tournament director.  In 1971, Rona Petrosian, wife of Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984), after her husband lost his Candidate’s match against Bobby Fischer, walked up to Petrosian’s second, Alexei Suetin and slapped him hard in the face for failing to give accurate analysis during the adjourned games of the match.  In 1981, future grandmaster John Fedorowicz and grandmaster András Adorján got into a fistfight at the Edward Lasker Memorial on New York.  Fedorowicz was upset that Adorján beat him when Adorján was drawing all his earlier games.  Most of the blows landed not on each other, but on the tournament director, Eric Schiller, who was trying to break up the fight.  In 1989, during the French championship, IM Gilles Andruet and IM Jean-Luc Seret got into a violent fight over an argument whether Andruet resigned before Seret checkmated him.  After the fight, Andruet needed 8 stitches and had to withdraw from the tournament, despite the fact that he was in the lead after 10 of 14 rounds.  During the early 1990s, Rustam Kamsky, a former boxer and father of Gata Kamsky, would often go to chess tournaments with his son and threaten anyone who he perceived was disturbing the concentration of his son.  In 1994, Rustam threatened to kill grandmaster Nigel Short at a restaurant during a Kamsky-Short chess match.  In 2002, two players got into a fight at the World Open in Philadelphia when one of the players threw a basketball at another player between rounds.  On April 15, 2005, Garry Kasparov was hit over the head with a wooden chessboard while signing autographs.  It was a politically motivated attack.  The attacker said, “I admired you as a chess player, but you gave that up for politics.”  In 2005, junior champion David Howell of England (now a grandmaster) punched the organizer of the European Union Chess Championship when it turned out that Howell would not win a prize.  It turned out that titled players were not eligible for junior prizes.  In 2006, during the Turin chess Olympiad, UK grandmaster Daniel Gormally punched Armenian grandmaster Levon Aronian to the ground at a nightclub.  The two got in a jealous dispute over 19-year-old chess playing beauty Arianne CaoiliCaoili’s energetic dancing with Aronian provoked Gormally to fight.  In January 2009, a heated argument erupted at a Dubai chess tournament between an Iranian chess master and his Asian opponent.  The two then got into a fight after the Asian opponent said he was good in karate.  In January 2009, a Bridgeport, Connecticut man was stabbed with a plastic snow shovel after a dispute arose over a chess game.  On August 11, 2011, two people were stabbed at a Chuy’s Restaurant in Phoenix after police say a person got mad over a game of chess.  Officers at the scene said two people were playing a game, but when one person won the game the other person, a sore loser,  got mad and stabbed the winner twice.  The victim’s friend jumped in and tried to help, but he was also stabbed. (source: ABC, Aug 12, 2011)



Many chess players become cheaters or act unethically.  Here are a few incidents of chess cheaters.

There was a cheating scandal at the 5th American Chess Congress.  In January 1880, at the 5th American Chess Congress in New York, Preston Ware, a wealthy banker of Boston, testified to the tournament committee that his last-round opponent, James Grundy of England, offered him $20 if he agreed to play for a draw in their game that had been adjourned.  A draw would give Grundy, who needed the money, at least 2nd place prize money.  Ware agreed, but complained that Grundy then reneged on the deal and went on to win the game in 64 moves, and tied for 1st place (with George Mackenzie).  1st place was $500 and 2nd place was $300.  Grundy lost the playoff match with Mackenzie to take 2nd.  When Grundy admitted his guilt, he was forbidden from ever again taking part in an American tournament.  Grundy played in other tournaments, but under false names.  Ware was suspended for one year from playing chess.  Preston Ware didn’t need the money, but agreed to the shady deal because he wanted his friend, Captain George Mackenzie, to take first place.

In 1967, Grandmaster Milan Matulovic of Yugoslavia was playing against Istvan Bilek in the 9th round at the Interzonal in Sousse, Tunisia.  Matulovic moved his bishop, pressed his chess clock, and soon realized he had made a mistake.  So he took back his bishop move, moved his king, and only then said “J’Adoube” (“I adjust” – which is said before adjusting pieces on a square).  Matulovic then wrote his move on his score sheet as if nothing happened.  Bilek went to the tournament director to protest, but Matulovic replied, “But I said j’adoube!”  There was an argument, but the tournament director, having only Bilek’s word against Matulovic, refused to require Matulovic to make his original move with his bishop, as the rules of chess state.  Bilek protested three times to the tournament director, but was ignored.  The game ended in a draw.  After this incident, even the Yugoslav players shunned Matulovic.  Ever since this incident, Matulovic has been referred as “J’adoubovic.”

In 1968, at a tournament in Athens, two Greek players were trying to qualify for International Master at the event.  During the opening ceremony, invited players to the tournament were asked to draw or lose their games to the Greek players.  In return, they would be paid a sum of money or points would be thrown in their direction by other accommodating players.  Some players cooperated, others refused.  The two Greek players did get their International Master title.

There have been cheaters in correspondence chess (more than just using a chess computer for your moves).  In 1985, Nick Down, a former British Junior Correspondence champion, entered the British Ladies Correspondence Championship as Miss Leigh Strange and won the event (and 15 British pounds along with the Lady Herbert trophy).  He then signed up to represent Britain in the Ladies Postal Olympiad.  He was later caught when one of his friends mouthed off about it and Nick confessed.  The whole thing had been cooked up by Nick Down and a group of undergraduates at Cambridge, where Nick was a student.  Nick returned the Lady Herbert trophy and was banned from the British Correspondence Chess Association for two years.

In 1993, an unrated black player named John von Neumann was playing at the World Open in Philadelphia and scored 4/5 out of 9 in the Open section, including a draw with a grandmaster (Helgi Olafsson)  and a win against a 2350-rated player.  He wore a large pair of headphones and  seemed to have something in his pocket that buzzed at critical points of the game.  When quizzed by Bill Goichberg, the tournament director, von Neumann was unable to demonstrate very much knowledge about simple chess concepts, and was disqualified and received no prize money.  It appeared he was using a strong chess computer to cheat and play his games.  It was alleged that he was entering moves on a communication device whose signal was being sent up to a hotel room where an accomplice was operating a chess computer. Von Neumann has never been seen or heard from since.  John von Neumann is the same name as the noted mathematician and pioneer in artificial intelligence.

In 1994, at Linares, Spain, Garry Kasparov made a move against Judit Polgar, momentarily letting go of the piece (in violation of the “touch move” rule), then made a move to another square once he realized his original move was a blunder.  Kasparov went on to win the game.  Judit Polgar waited a day before issuing her complaint instead of during the game.  A videotape of the incident proved that Kasparov did let go of the piece.

In 2001, Grandmaster Alexandru Crisan was accused of faking his Elo rating of 2635 (number 33 in the world) by fixing chess matches for his own benefit and falsifying chess tournament results.

In 2006, the Indian player Umakant Sharma was caught communicating with accomplices through a Bluetooth device hidden inside his cap. In 2008, the Dubai Chess and Culture Club banned an Iranian player who was receiving moves via text message.

In 2013, Loris Cereda, a former mayor of a town in Italy, was banned from all chess tournaments sponsored by the Italian Chess Federation for cheating.  He was accused of using a tiny camera in his glasses and using an earpiece while playing his chess games.  He was alleged to have been receiving advice from someone with access to a computer.

In 2015, Georgian chess champion Gaioz Nigalidze was expelled and banned from the Dubai Open Chess Tournament after being caught with an iPod Touch behind a toilet bowl with a chess app open on the device that matched the chess position he was playing with his opponent. (source: “The Return of the Cheat,” by Simon Parkin, The New Yorker, April 17, 2015)

For more dangers in chess, see