Congress and Chess by Bill Wall


On June 18, 2014, the first Congressional Chess Tournament was held at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC to raise awareness of the game’s educational benefits.  The event was attended by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov.  Participants included Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO).  Another participant for a few moves was Senate Chaplin Barry Black.


Other political leaders who played chess include:


John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), former US President.  His chess set is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  John Quincy Adams may have lost the Presidency because he played chess.  Andrew Jackson supporters charged that John Quincy Adams wasted money and used public funds to buy gambling devices for the presidential residence.  These gambling devices were an ivory chess set and a pool table.  Adams had paid for the chess set with his own money.  Andrew Jackson won big in 1828.


Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884), former Senator from Louisiana.  He was also the Confederate States Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and Attorney General.  He was a good friend of Paul Morphy’s father, Judge Alonzo Morphy.


Robert N. Bodine (1837-1914), U.S. Representative from Missouri.


Bob Brady (1945- ), U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania.


Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928- ), former National Security Advisor.  His book on foreign policy was called “The Grand Chessboard.”


Charles F. Buck (1841-1918), congressman from Louisiana.  In 1885 he was the president of the New Orleans Chess Club.  He refereed the Steinitz-Zukertort World Championship Match in 1886.


Aaron Burr (1756-1836), US Vice-President under Jefferson 1801-1805.


John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), former US Vice-President.


Jimmy Carter (1924- ), former US President.  He wanted to become a chess master after leaving the White House. He bought several chess books and a chess computer, but eventually gave up in frustration. “I found that I didn’t have any particular talent for chess,” he lamented. “I hate to admit it, but that’s a fact.”


Salmon P.Chase (1808-1873), Governor and Senator from Ohio, and Supreme Court Chief Justice.  He played several games of chess with US President James Garfield when they got together.


Henry Clay (1777-1852), former Senator from Kentucky and Secretary of State.


Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), former US President.


Bill Clinton (1946- ), former US President.  He played for the Georgetown University’s chess team in 1968. He met with Garry Kasparov and was a keen supporter of the Chess-in-Schools program.


Bainbridge Colby (1869-1950), former Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.  He was a former member of the Manhattan Chess Club.


John Conyers (1929- ), congressman from Michigan.


Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), former US President.


William Crawford (1772-1834), who served as US Senator from Georgia, US Secretary of War 1815-1816, Secretary of the Treasury 1816-1825, and presidential candidate in 1824.


John L. Crittenden (1786-1863), who was Governor of Kentucky, US Representative and Senator from Kentucky, and US Attorney General.

George M. Dallas (1792-1864), former US Senator from Pennsylvania and US Vice President. Under James Polk.


Charles Dawes (1865-1951), former US Vice President under Calvin Coolidge.


Bob Dole (1923- ), former U.S. Representative and Senator of Kansas.


Bob Ferguson was Washington State Attorney General and a chess master.


Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), former US President.


Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), former Supreme Court Justice.


Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).


James Garfield (1831-1881), former US President.  He was probably the strongest chess player of all the US presidents.


Al Gore (1948- ), former US Vice-President.


Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), former US President.


John W. Griggs (1849-1927), governor of New Jersey.  In 1895, he was elected president of the New Jersey Chess Association.  He was also President of the Paterson Chess Club.


L. Irving Handy (1861-1922), congressmen from Delaware.


Warren Harding (1865-1923), former US President.


Vicky Hartzler (1960- ), Congresswoman from Missouri.


Rutherford B Hayes (1822-1893), former US President.  His chess set is in the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Ohio.


Thomas Hendricks (1819-1885), former US Vice-President under Grover Cleveland.  In 1885, he and President Grover Cleveland visited the Eden Musee in New York City to see Ajeeb, the chess automaton.   Hendricks played Ajeeb and lost in a smothered mate.


Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), former US President.


James W. Huffman (1894-1980), former Senator from Ohio.


Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), former US President.


Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), former US President.


Nancy Kassebaum (1932- ), former senator from Kansas.  She headed the National Advisory Committee for the Chess for Peach Initiative in 2005.


Henry Kissinger (1923- ), former National Security Advisor and former Secretary of State.


Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), former US President.


James Madison (1751-1836), former US President.


John Marshall (1755-1835), former Supreme Court Justice.


James Monroe (1758-1831), former US President.


Glenn Nye (1974- ), Congressman from Virginia.


Barack Obama (1961- ), US President. 


Jim Oberweis (1946- ) is a member of the Illinois Senate.  He has been a candidate for Governor of Illinois, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Representative.  He served as President of the Illinois Chess Association for two years, was an Illinois delegate to the USCF, and trustee of the American Chess Foundation and the Chess Trust Fund.


George Pataki (1945- ), former governor of New York.


David Paterson (1954- ) former governor of New York.


Richmond Pearson (1852-1923), congressman from North Carolina.


T.S. Plowman, congressman from Alabama


James Polk (1795-1849), former US President.


Josiah Quincy III (1772-1864), congressman from Massachusetts.


John Randolph (1773-1833), Virginia Congressmen.


Bob Riley (1944- ), former governor of Alabama.


Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), former US President.


Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), former US President.


Leo Ryan (1925-1978), congressman from California.      


Rick Santorum (1958- ), former senator from Pennsylvania.


Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947- ), former governor of California.


John Shafroth (1854-1922), congressman, Senator, and governor from Colorado.


Harold Stassen (1907-2001), governor of Minnesota.


Robert Taft (1889-1953), former Senator from Ohio.


William Howard Taft (1857-1930), former senator from Ohio and US President.


Harry S Truman (1884-1953), former US President.


Cyrus Vance (1917-2002), former Secretary of State.


Ann Wagner (1962- ), Congresswoman from Missouri.


Earl Warren (1891-1974), former California governor and Supreme Court Chief Justice.


George Washington (1732-1799), former US President.


William Weld (1945- ), former governor of Massachusetts.


George Wellington (1852-1927), Senator from Maryland.


Henry Wilson (1812-1875), former US Vice President under Grant.



In 1897, an international chess match (The Parliamentary Cable match) between teams representing the House of Representatives at Washington, DC, and the House of Commons at London was played by telegraphic cable starting on Monday, May 31, 1897.  Each side had five players.  The match ended up drawn after two days of play, each side scoring 2.5 points.


The chess match was arranged by Sir John Henniker Heaton (1848-1914), a baronet and British Conservative Member of Parliament (MP).  Chess was his favorite recreation.  In March, 1897, he wrote to the U.S. Speaker of the House, Thomas Bracket Reed (1839-1902), asking in an informal way if the chess players of the 55th U.S. Congress would like to play a friendly chess match with members of the House of Commons.  Reed referred the matter to U.S. Representative Richmond Pearson (1852-1923) of Asheville, North Carolina and Richard Cutts Shannon (1839-1920) of New York, both chess players.  Shannon served as team captain.


A meeting was called inviting all known chess players in the U.S. House of Representatives.  There were 60 members of Congress who said they played chess (the House of Commons had more than 300 members who played chess).  At this meeting, a committee was appointed to select the players and arrange the details.  The committee consisted of Richmond Pearson, chairman; General Joseph Wheeler (1836-1906) of Alabama; General David B. Henderson (1840-1906) of Iowa; Judge David DeArmond (1844-1909) of Missouri; Richard C. Shannon; Robert G. Cousins (1859-1933) of Iowa; and Claude A. Swanson (1862-1939) of Virginia.  On May 27, 1897, a preliminary tournament was held in which 18 members of Congress participated.   The top 5 players would represent the Washington D.C. team.


Prior to the match, Harry Pillsbury (1872-1906) coached the members of the House of Representatives.



Sir Julian Pauncetote (1828-1902), British ambassador at Washington, acted as umpire for the British side.  John Hay (1838-1905), United States Ambassador to England, acted as referee for the U.S. side.  Ladislaus Hengelmuller von Hengervar (1845-1917), Ambassador from Austria-Hungary, was chosen as the referee for the match.


The order of play was as follows:

Board 1 – Horace Curzon Plunkett (UK) vs. Richmond Pearson (USA)

Board 2 – John F. Shafroth (USA) vs. John Howard Parnell (UK)

Board 3 – A. Strauss (UK) vs. Robert N. Bodine (USA)

Board 4 – Thomas S. Plowman (USA) vs. Llewellyn Archer Atherley-Jones (UK)

Board 5 – F. W. Wilson (UK) vs. Levin Irving Handy (USA)


Richmond Pearson, a NC Republican, was considered the strongest chess player in Congress (although his game doesn’t prove it) and a member of the Washington Chess Club.  He graduated from Princeton and was a lawyer.  In the following years, he served as ambassador to Genoa, Persia, Greece, and Montenegro.


John F. Shafroth (1854-1922) of Denver, Colorado was once president of the Denver Chess Club, and chess champion of Denver.  He was a U.S. Representative, Senator, and Colorado Governor.  In 1897, he was a Silver Republican, and changed to the Democratic Party in 1903.


Robert Bodine (1837-1914) of Paris, Mississippi was a lawyer and said to be well versed in the chess openings.  He was a member of the Washington Chess Club.  He was a Democrat.  He was defeated in the election of 1899 as his opponent successfully campaigned that the people should not elect someone to go to Congress and play games (chess).


Thomas S. Plowman (1843-1919) of Talladega, Alabama was a bank president and was mayor of Talladega.  He was a Democrat.


Levin Handy (1861-1922) of Newark, Delaware was a writer and journalist.  He had a good reputation as a chess player.  He was a member of the Washington Chess Club.  He was a Democrat.


Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854-1932) was the brother of Irish writer Lord Dunsany (1878-1957), another chess player and chess champion of Ireland.  Horace defeated Steinitz in two games while at Oxford.  Horace was a member of the Oxford Chess Team.


John Howard Parnell (1843-1923) was the brother of Charles Stewart Parnell, founder and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.  He was a member of the Dublin Chess Club and is referenced many times in James Joyce’s Ulysses.


Arthur Strauss (1847-1920) was a partner in a leading firm of tin merchandise.


Llewellyn Atherley-Jones (1851-1929) was the son of Ernest Jones, a poet and agitator.  He was a member of the Oxford Chess Team and played in the British Amateur Championship, held in London in 1889.


F.W. Wilson was a journalist and President of the Newspaper Society of the United Kingdom.


The results were:

Board 1 – Horace Curzon Plunkett (UK) vs. Richard Pearson (USA)  (1-0)

Board 2 – John F. Shafroth (USA) vs. John Howard Parnell (UK)  (1-0)

Board 3 – A. Strauss (UK) vs. Robert N. Bodine (USA)  (0-1)

Board 4 – Thomas S. Plowman (USA) vs. Llewellyn Archer Atherley-Jones (UK)  (0-1)

Board 5 – F. W. Wilson (UK) vs. Levin Irving Handy (USA)  (1/2-1/2)


UK total: 2.5  USA total: 2.5  - drawn match



On board 1, Plunkett, playing a Bishop’s Gambit, defeated Pearson in 16 moves.  Plunkett used only 5 minutes for all his moves.


On board 2, Shafroth defeated Parnell, who complained of not feeling well, after 59 moves.


On board 3, Bodine, playing a Ruy Lopez, defeated Strauss after he threatened mate in 3.  Bodine even asked his opponent if he wanted to take a move back, since it led to mate.  Strauss let the move stand, and he soon resigned on the 25th move.


On board 4, Atherely-Jones overstepped his time after the adjourned game was resumed the next day.  However, the US team refused to take advantage of the elapsed time and allowed 10 minutes grace to Mr. Atherley-Jones, who was in a completely lost game.  That allowed enough time for Atherley-Jones to come up with a swindle and win in 45 moves after a rook sacrifice.  Plowman missed a win earlier by not promoting a pawn to a queen with check.


On board 5, the game was drawn after 48 moves.


The two-day match was carried over the cables of the Anglo American Telegraph Company of London and the land-line system of the Western Union Telegraph Company of New York.   Two wires were used, one for sending the moves, and the other for receiving the moves.


It took around 7 seconds to transfer a character by cable 4,180 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.  Twenty moves were cabled in 21.5 minutes.  One move went to and from Washington in 14 seconds.


The match began at 2 p.m. Washington time (7 p.m. London time) and continued for 5 hours at a rate of 15 moves per hour.


The Washington DC end of the match was played in the House Foreign Affairs Committee room.  The London end of the match was played in one of the lobbies of Parliament House.


At the time, there was great interest and publicity surrounding this event.  For days, there were pages of text and pictures that appeared in the press in the United States and England.


The London Times offered a valuable trophy for the winners of the match.  Since the match was undecided, no trophy was awarded until another match was played.  Both sides expressed their wish that an annual chess match be played between the two Houses.  That never happened.  3 of the 5 U.S. congressmen that participated in this event were not-re-elected for the next term.


After the match, a gilt-bronze chess piece (rook) by the brothers Carlo and Alphonso (Arthur) Giuliano was made for each player to commemorate this historical chess match.  The brothers were the sons of Carlo Guiliano (1832-1895), the celebrated Italian jeweler of the Victorian era.


Plunkett,Horace - Pearson,Richmond, Parliamentary Cable match, 31.05.1897, board 1

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Kf1 Bb6 6.Nf3 Qe7 7.Nc3 c6 8.Bxf4 f6 [8...d6] 9.Qd3 Qd8? [9...d6] 10.Re1 [10.Bxg8 Rxg8 11.e5 10.e5] 10...Ne7 [10...g6] 11.e5 f5 12.Ng5 Rf8 13.Nxh7 Rh8 14.Qh3 Rxh7 15.Qxh7 Nd5 16.Qg8+ 1-0


Shafroth,John - Parnell,John, Parliamentary Cable match, 31.05.1897, board 2

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bd3 c5 5.dxc5 Bxc5 6.h3 [6.exd5] 6...Nc6 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Nge2 0-0 9.0-0 Nce7 10.Ne4 Bb6 11.Bg5 f6 12.Bd2 Qc7 13.c4 f5 14.cxd5 fxe4 15.Bxe4 exd5 16.Bd3 Qd6 17.Be3 Bc7 18.Ng3 Bf5 19.f4 b6 20.Rf3 Rad8 21.Rc1 Bb8 22.Rf2 Qg6 23.Nxf5 Nxf5 24.Qf3 Qf6 25.Bxf5 Qxf5 26.g4 Qf7 27.b3 Be5 28.Rd1 g6 29.Qg2 Bg7 30.Rfd2 Rfe8 31.Qf3 Qe6 32.Kf2 Bf6?! [32...d4! 33.Rxd4 Rxd4 34.Rxd4 Bxd4 35.Bxd4 Qe1+ 36.Kg2 Qe2+] 33.Rxd5 Bh4+ [33...Rc8 34.R5d3 Be7] 34.Ke2 Rxd5 [34...Kh8 35.Rxd8 Rxd8 36.Rxd8+ Bxd8 37.Qb7] 35.Qxd5 Qxd5 36.Rxd5 Bf6 [36...Re7] 37.Kf3 [37.Rd7] 37...Kf7 38.Rd7+ Re7 39.Rxe7+ Bxe7 40.Ke4 Ke6 41.Bd4 Bd8 [41...Kd6 42.b4 Kc6 43.Bc3] 42.f5+ gxf5+ 43.gxf5+ Kf7 44.Be5 a6 45.Kd5 b5 46.a4 bxa4 47.bxa4 Ba5 48.Kc6 Be1 49.Kb6 a5 50.Kb5 h5 51.Kc4 h4 52.Kb5 Bd2 53.Bc7 Kf6 54.Bxa5 Bf4 55.Bd8+ Kxf5 56.a5 Bg3 57.a6 Bb8 58.Kb6 Ke5 59.Kb7 1-0



Strauss,A. - Bodine,Robert, Parliamentary Cable match, 31.05.1897, board 3

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.Nxe5 Be7 8.d4 0-0 9.c3 Be6 10.Qe2 [10.Nd2] 10...Re8 11.Be3 f6 12.Nd3 Nc4 13.Nd2 Nxe3 14.fxe3 Bd6 15.e4 Bf5 16.Qf3 Bg6 17.Nf4 Bf7 18.Nf1 c5 19.d5 f5 20.Ne6 Bxe6 21.dxe6 fxe4 22.Rxe4 Rf8 23.Qg4 Qf6 24.Rae1?? [24.Qe2] 24...Qf2+ 25.Kh1 Qxf1+ [25...Qxf1+ 26.Rxf1 Rxf1#]  0-1


Plowman,Thomas - Atherley_Jones,Llewellyn, Parliamentary Cable match, 31.05.1897, board 4

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.Nc3 d6 5.d3 Bg4 6.Be3 Be7 7.h3 Bh5 8.g4 Bg6 9.Qd2 a6 10.Ba4 [10.Bc4] 10...b5 11.Bb3 h6 12.a3 Qd7 13.Nd5 Bd8 14.Nxf6+ Bxf6 15.Bd5 Rc8 16.Qc3 Nd8 17.Bb3 0-0 18.Qd2 Ne6 19.Ke2 Qe7 20.h4 Nd4+ 21.Nxd4 exd4 22.Bxh6 gxh6 23.Qxh6 Bh7 24.Rag1 c5 [24...Bxe4 25.dxe4 Qxe4+ 26.Kf1 Bg7] 25.Bd5 c4 26.g5 Bg7 27.Qh5 Bg6? [27...Kh8] 28.Qg4 [28.Qxg6] 28...Rc5 29.Kd2 c3+ [29...Qc7] 30.bxc3 Rxc3? [30...Rxd5 31.exd5 Qc7] 31.h5 Qc7? [31...Bxe4 32.Bxe4 Rfc8] 32.hxg6 Rc8 33.gxf7+ [33.Bxf7+ Kf8 34.Bb3] 33...Kf8 34.Ke2 [34.Bb3] 34...Rxc2+ 35.Kf3 Qc3 36.Rd1 [36.Qe6] 36...Qxa3? [36...Qb2] 37.g6 [37.Qe6!] 37...R8c3 38.Qe6 [38.Rh8+ Bxh8 39.Qh4 Rxd3+ 40.Kg4] 38...Rc8 39.Kg2 [39.Rh7!] 39...Qc5 40.Qh3 [40.Rh7] 40...Be5 41.Qh7 Qc7 42.Qg8+ [42.g7+ Bxg7 43.Qg8+ Ke7 44.Qxg7] 42...Ke7 43.Rh7 [43.g7 Rxf2+ 44.Kxf2 Qc2+ 45.Kf3 43.f8Q+ Rxf8 44.Rh7+ Ke8 45.Bf7+ Ke7 46.Bb3+ Ke8 47.Qe6+ Kd8 48.Bxc2] 43...Rxf2+ 44.Kxf2?? [44.Kh1] 44...Qc2+ 45.Ke1 Bg3+ [45...Bg3+ 46.Kf1 Qf2#]  0-1