Short life of Chess Players

Chess players with short lives.  Here is a list of chess players whose life was cut too short. 

Georgy Agzamov (1954-1986).  Died at age 32.  He was the champion of Uzbekistan in 1976 and 1981.  He died as the result of an accident at Sevastopol. He took a short cut to go swimming and fell down between two rocks and became trapped.  Several people heard him yell for help, but he was too deep down in the rocks and died before a rescue team could get to him. At one time he was ranked number 8 in the world, with a 2728 rating.

Esam Aly Ahmed (1964-2003).  Died at age 39.  He was an International Master and Egypt’s top chess player.  He won the Arab Championships in 1996.  He died of malaria after returning home from the All Africa Games chess tournament in Nigeria. The 60-year old head of the Egyptian chess delegation, Mohammed Labib, died of the same disease the next day. Both were incorrectly diagnosed in Egypt after becoming ill. Both were bitten by an infected mosquito that gave them malaria.

Konstantin Aseev (1960-2004).  Died at age 43.  He was a Russian GM.  He died in St. Petersburg after a long illness.

Karen Asrian (1980-2008).  Died at the age of 28.  He was awarded the grandmaster title in 1997 and was one of Armenia’s leading GMs.  He won the Armenian championship in 1999, 2007, and 2008.  He died after losing consciousness, possible a heart attack, while driving.  He was able to pull his car into a courtyard in Yerevan, Armenia.

Gerardo Barbero (1961-2001).  Died at age 39.  He was awarded the GM title in 1987.  He died of cancer in Budapest.

Johann Bauer (1861-1891).  Died at age 29.  He won the master title at the Frankfurt Hauptturneier in 1887.  He died of tuberculosis.

Paul Rudolf von Bilguer (1815-1840).  Died at age 24.  He was a member of the Berlin Chess Club and one of the ‘Berlin Pleiades.’  He was the author of the ‘Handbuch des Schachspiels.’   The first edition was completed in 1843 by Baron Tassilo Von Der Lasa. 

Louis Charles Mahe de la Bourdonnais (1795-1840).  Died at age 45.  He was one of the world’s leading players in his day.  He died of dropsy (edema).

Gyula Breyer (1893-1921).  Died at age 28.  In 1912, he won the Hungarian championship.  He took 1st at Berlin in 1920.  He died of heart disease in Bratislava on November 9, 1921.

Donald Byrne (1930-1976).  Died at age 45.  He was awarded the International Master title in 1962.  In 1953, he won the U.S. Open chess tournament.  He died of lupus.

Rudolf Charousek (1873-1900).  Died at age 26.  He tied for 1st place at Vienna in 1896 and 1st place at Berlin in 1897.  He died of tuberculosis.

Billy Colias (1966-1993).  Died at age 27.   He was a FIDE Master from Indiana.  He died after undergoing chemotherapy for cancer with an accidental mix of Tylenol and alcohol.

Edgar Colle (1897-1932).  Died at age 34.  He won the Belgian championship in 1922, 1924, and 1926-1929.  He suffered from a gastric ulcer and died after undergoing a fourth operation for the condition.

Gordon Thomas Crown (1929-1947).  Died at age 18.  In 1946, he took 2nd place in the British Boys Championship.  In 1946/47, he took 1st place in the Hastings Congress Premier Reserve section.  He was a diabetic and had to be rushed to the hospital suffering from peritonitis after being diagnosed by a doctor earlier as an upset stomach.  Complications set in and he died on November 17, 1947, during an operation to save is life.

Berthold Englisch (1851-1897).  Died at age 46.  He was a leading Austrian chess master.  He was German champion in 1879.  He died of a brain tumor.

Alexander Evenson (1892-1919).  Died at age 27.   He was a Russian master from Kiev.  He was a lawyer and served on a military tribunal.  After the Russian revolution, he was arrested and shot in Kiev after the return of the anti-Bolshevik forces. 

Jan Foltys (1908-1952).  Died at age 43.  He was Czech champion in 1940.    He died of cancer.

Guillermo Garcia Gonzales (1953-1990).  Died at age 36.  He was awarded the GM title in 1976.  He died in a car accident.

Vugar Gashimov (1986-2014).  He died at age 27.  He was awarded the grandmaster title at the age of 15 years, 11 months.  He was in ill health including epilepsy, brain tumors, and high blood pressure.  He was being treated in a clinic in Heidelberg, Germany when he died on January 10, 2014.

Oscar Gelbfuhs (1852-1877).  Died at age 24.  He was a competitor at Vienna 1873.  He edited the chess column in the ‘Wiener Illustrirte Zeitung.’

Eduard Gerstenfeld (1915-1943).  He died at age 28.  He won the Polish championship twice.  One source says he died in the Lemberg Ghettor or the Belzed extermination camp.  Another source says hed was shot by the Nazis during the mass likking of Jewish people in Rostov-on-Don.

Jessie Gilbert (1987-2006).  Died at age 19.  In 1999, at the age of 11, she won the Women's World Amateur Championship, the youngest player to ever have done so.  In 2001 she won the bronze medal in the European Girls' Under 14 Championship.  On July 26, 2006, she may have committed suicide (it could have been sleepwalking) and jumped from an 8th floor Hotel Labe window in Pardubice while competing at the Czech Open.

Karen Grigorian (1947-1989).  Died at age 42.  He was Moscow champion in 1975 and 1979.  He was awarded the IM title in 1982.  He committed suicide by jumping from the highest bridge in Yerevan on October 30, 1989.

Alexander Ilyin-Genevsky (1806-1941).  Died at age 46.  He was one of the founding fathers of Soviet Chess.  Some sources say that he died in a Nazi air raid on a barge on Lake Ladoga on the 3rd of September, 1941, during the siege of Leningrad. Other sources say that he was arrested by the Soviet secret police during the purges and died in prison in 1941.

Anna Iodo (1987-2005).  Died at age 18.   She was a Woman FIDE Master from Russia.

Klaus Junge (1924-1945).  Died at age 21.  In 1941, he tied for 1st in the German Championship.  In 1942, he tied for 1st with Alekhine in Prague.  He was an officer in the German 12th SS-battalion and was killed in action in Welle, Germany during the defense of Hamburg on April 17, 1945.

Igor Kurnosov (1985-2013).  Died at age 28.  He was a Russian Grandmaster.  He was hit by a car as he was crossing the street in Chelyabinsk and died at the scene of the accident.  He was one of the top 20 GMs in Russia, rated 2680 at his peak.

Salo Landau (1903-1943).  Died at age 40.  For many years, he was the Dutch number two player, after Max Euwe.  In September of 1942, he tried to escape the Nazis by fleeing to Switzerland with his family, but they were caught in Breda, southern Holland. He was sent to a forced-labor camp in Gräditz.   He was gassed by the Nazis between October 1943 and March 1944, along with his wife and daughter in Auschwitz.

James Leonard (1841-1862).  Died at age 20.  He was a main contributor to the New York Clipper chess columd.  He was considered to be one of America’s great chess talents before the Civil War broke out.  He enlisted on the side of the Union in February 1862.  He was later captured by the Confederate Army and died of dysentery on September 26, 1862, while being held as a prisoner of war in Annapolis, Maryland.

Samuel Lipschuetz (1863-1905).  Died at age 42.  He was U.S. chess champion from 1889 to 1890 and from 1891 to 1894.  He traveled to Hamburg for treatment on his lungs, where he died after an operation.

Donald MacMurray (1914-1938).  Died at the age of 24.   He was a strong master in New York.  He died of stomach cancer.

Giovanni Martinolich (1884-1910).  Died at the age of 26.  He was the unofficial Italian champion in 1906. 

Vera Menchik (1906-1944).  Died at age 38.  She was Women’s World Champion from 1927 until her death in 1944.  A German air raid destroyed her London residence, killing her, her mother and her sister on June 27, 1944.

Tony Miles (1955-2001).  Died at age 46.  In 1976, he became Britain's first FIDE chess grandmaster.  He died of a heart attack at his home in Birmingham, England.

Paul Morphy (1837-1884).  Died at age 47.  Morphy was found dead in his bathtub in New Orleans.  According to the autopsy, Morphy suffered a stroke brought on by entering cold water after a long walk in the midday heat.

Harold Morton (1906-1940).  Died at age 34.  He was a former New England chess champion.  He 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.

Mikhail Mukhin (1948-1977).  Died at age 29.  He won the USSR Junior championship in 1965. 

Gustav Neumann (1838-1881).  Died at age 42.  He was a German chess master.

Aaon Nimzovich (1886-1935).  Died at age 48.  He was one of the world’s top chess masters.  He died of pneumonia.

Daniel Noteboom (1910-1932).  Died at age 21.  He was a promising Dutch player.  He died of pneumonia.

Tom O’Gorman (1975-2014).  Died at 39.  He was a religious writer and former journalist in Ireland.  He was knifed to death in an attack over a chess game by his opponent, Saverio Bellante.

Lembit Oll (1966-1999).  Died at age 33.  He was Estonian champion in 1982.  He committed suicide on May 17, 1999 by jumping out of is 4th story apartment.

Julius Perlis (1880-1913).  Died at age 33.  He was an Austrian chess master.  He died in a mountain climb in the Alps. During a pleasure trip, he went astray and spent the night on a mountain. He died of extreme exposure to low temperatures during a climb in the Austrian Inntaler Alps (Hochtor-Ostgrat). He froze to death.

James Phillips (1942-1969).  Died at age 27.  He was New Zealand Champion in 1957, 1958, and 1965.    He committed suicide and drowned in Wellington Harbor in 1969.

Harry Pillsbury (1872-1906).  Died at age 33.  He was one of America’s strongest players.  He died of syphilis, which he may have caught from a prostitute in Saint Petersburg about 10 years before his death. In March, 1905, he tried to jump out a 4th story window at the Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia. He was stopped by several nurses and doctors. He died at Friends Asylum in Frankford, Pennsylvania. His obituary in the New York Times stated that he died from an “illness contracted through overexertion of his memory cells.”

Pertti Poutiainen (1952-1978).  Died at age 25.  He was Finnish champion in 1974 and 1976.  He was awarded the International Master title in 1976.  He committed suicide on June 11, 1978.

Ilmar Raud (1913-1941).  Died at age 27.  He was Estonian champion in 1934 and 1938-39.  He played for Estonia in the 1939 Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires, but refused to return home after the outbreak of World War II.  One of his brothers was killed when the Soviets annexed Estonia.  Ilmar died of typhoid fever in Buenos Aires on July 13, 1941 after being arrested and placed in a lunatic asylum. CHESS magazine reported that he starved to death.

Richard Reti (1889-1929).  Died at age 40.  He was one of the top players in the world during the early 20th century.  He died of scarlet fever.

Shanker Roy (1996-2012).  Died at age 36.  He was one of Bengal’s leading chess players and an International Master.  He committed suicide. He hung himself from a ceiling fan using his wife’s long scarf. He had been suffering from depression.

Vesna Rozic (1987-2013).  Died at age 26.  She was women’s Slovenian champion in 2007 and 2010.  She was awarded the Women’s International Master title.  She died of cancer.

Willam Henry Russ (1833-1866).  Died at age 32.  He was one of America’s leading compiler of chess problems.  He died in a hospital on January 3, 1866, after trying to commit suicide. He adopted an 11-year old girl and proposed to her when she was 21. When he rejected him, he shot her four times in the head. He left her for dead (she survived), then tried to commit suicide by jumping into the river to drown himself. However, the tide was out and the water was not deep enough. He climbed out of the river and shot himself in the head. He died 10 days later in a hospital, lacking a will to live.

Carl Schlechter (1874-1918).  Died at age 44.  In 1908 he challenged Emanuel Lasker for the world chess championship.  The match was drawn and Lasker remained world champion.  He died on December 17, 1918 of lung disease caused by the lack of proper nutrition, tuberculosis, pneumonia and the Spanish flu epidemic.

Quinton Smith (1994-2011).  Died at age 17.  He was competing in the K-12 Nationals in Dallas. During the tournament, he climbed to the roof of the Hilton Anatole (27 stories) and fell (or jumped) to his death. He laid on the ground for several hours before someone called the police. He had lost his first four games and was given a bye in the 5th round.

Maxim Sorokin (1968-2007).   Died at age 39.  He was a Grandmaster.  He died in a car wreck on his way from Elista, Kalmykia to Volgograd.

Daniel Starbuck (1856-1884).  Died at age 27.  He was considered one of the strongest chess players in the U.S. in the 1880s.  He died in Cincinnati of lung problems.

Leonid Stein (1934-1973).  Died at age 38.  He won three USSR championships.  He collapsed of an apparent heart attack in the Rossiya Hotel in Moscow.  Rumor has it that he was caught in bed with an 18-year-old daughter of a famous grandmaster.

Mikhail Steinberg (1952-1976).  Died at the age of 24.  In 1966, he tied for 1st with Anatoly Karpov in the USSR Schoolboys’ Championship.  In 1966, he won the European Junior Cup.  He died of leukemia.

Mark Stolberg (1922-1943).  In 1939, Stolberg was awarded the Soviet Master of Sports title.  In 1940, he participated in the 12th USSR chess championship as the youngest player.  He was later killed in a battle against the Germans on the Eastern Front near Novorossiysk during World War II.

Rudolf Swiderski (1878-1909).  Died at the age of 31.  He was a German master.  He committed suicide in Leipzig. He took some poison, and then shot himself in the head with his revolver. He had recently been convicted of perjury in connection with a love affair and he was to face legal proceedings.

Elena Tairova (1991-2010).  Died at age 18.  She became a woman grandmaster at age 14 and an International Master at age 15.  She died of lung cancer.

Abe Turner (1924-1962).  Died at age 38.  He was an American chess master.   Turner was found stabbed to death in the basement of an Upper West Side building where he had been working as a clerk for Chess Review magazine. He had sustained nine wounds and his body had been placed inside a safe. He was found by the superintendent of the building later that afternoon. After the body was discovered, the police arrested a clerk-typist employed by Chess Review, who said he killed Turner (and dragged the body along a corridor to the safe) because Secret Service agents had told him to.

Arnoldus van den Hoek (1921-1945).  Died at age 23.  In 1942 he took 2nd place in the Dutch chess championship.  In 1943, he won the top section at the Wijk aan Zee tournament.  In late 1943, he was deported to do forced labor in a German military plant in Watenstedt, a suburb of Brunswick.  He was killed there by an Allied bombardment on January 14, 1945 at the slave labor camp.

Norman van Lennep (1872-1897).  Died at age 25.  He earned the master title by winning the Hauptturnier of the 9th congress of the German Chess Federation, Leipzig 1894.  On September 29, 1897, he committed suicide by jumping overboard a ship in the North Sea.

Cecil Valentine De Vere (1845-1875), died at the age of 29.  In 1866, he won the 1st British Chess Association Challenge Cup.  He died of tuberculosis.

Alexei Vyzmanavin (1960-2000).  Died at age 40.  He was awarded the GM title in 1989.  He died of a heart attack.

Ian Duncan Wells (1964-1982).  He died at age 17.  He was awarded the posthumous title of FIDE master in 1982.  In January, 1992, after taking 5th place in a Junior tournament in Rio de Janeiro, he went swimming at the Cocacabana Beach, got into difficulties, brought ashore by lifeguards and died 6 days later in a coma on January 25, 1992.

Peter Winston (1958-1978?).  In 1967, he scored 12-0 in the New York Elementary School Championship. He won the event again in 1968. In 1969, as an 11-year old, h e played in the Open section of the New York High School championship and tied for 1st place. In 1969, he won the New York Junior High School Championship. He tied for 1st place with Larry Christiansen in the 1974 US Junior Championship. He disappeared in mysterious circumstances in January 1978, perhaps a suicide.

Alexander Zaitsev (1935-1971).  Died at age 36.  He was awarded the GM title in 1967.  He died on October 31, 1971, from thrombosis (blood clot) after an operation to correct a limp by lengthening one of his legs.

Lothar Zinn (1938-1980).  Died at age 41.  He was East German champion in 1961 and 1965. 

Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888).  Died at age 45.  He died of a stroke while playing chess at Simpson’s, a London coffee-house. While playing a 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. He was scheduled to play a match with Blackburne on June 23, 1888 and Bird on June 26, 1888.