Some of the people who died during a chess tournament are Johann Zukertort (1888), Gideon Stahlberg (1967), Vladimir Simagin (1968), Cecil Purdy (1979), Vladimir Bagirov (2000), Ed Edmundson (1982), Aivars Gipslys (2000), and an unnamed Uzbekistan player along with Kurt Meier (2014).
Some of the people who died shortly after a chess tournament were Frank Marshall (1944), Efim Bogoljubov (1952), Herman Steiner (1955), Paul Keres (1975), and Alexei Suetin (1926-2001).
Chess contrary to the knowledge of the major population is a very stressful game, it warrants some preparation and conditioning.
This is why it is no wonder that some individuals have suffered the finishing blow during their games making the experience notable.
I have been curious if there any chess-related death out there so I did the research, I was surprised with the sheer number of findings. Which is why I decided to create an article in order to raise awareness and express some historical facts for you guys.
As you can see there are a handful of people who have died while they are playing a tournament, an environment where the pressure is on. Some however didn’t get their final moments during their tournament but after the said event (on their return trip).
But what I want to establish is a timeline, with the exact year when somebody has died and as long as it is chess-related. It doesn’t have to be during or after a tournament, as long as chess is within the bounds of someone dying then I want to include it here.
What are the chess-related deaths?
#1 Earl Ulf of Denmark
Around the year 1035 King Canute of Denmark, England, and Norway, is said to have ordered an earl killed after a disagreement about a chess game.
By one account, the king made an illegal move that angered Earl Ulf, who knocked over the board and stormed off, after which the king sent someone to kill him.
#2 Unknown Essex player
In 1251, a chess player in Essex lost a chess game, which angered him so badly that he stabbed his opponent to death.
#3 Ivan the Terrible
On March 18, 1584 (old style), Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) died of a stroke while playing chess against his adviser, Bogdan Belsky. He was 53.
#4 Colonel Johann Gotlieb Rall
On December 26, 1776, Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall was playing chess in Trenton, New Jersey when General George Washington crossed the Delaware River and attacked Rall and his Hessian troops.
Rall was struck by a musket ball and died later that day of his injuries. A note was found in his coat pocket that a spy gave him earlier of Washington’s plans, but Rall failed to read it during his chess game.
#5 Unnamed man from Bordeaux
In 1853, a young man from Bordeaux died while playing chess in a café in Paris. (source: New York Times, Feb 4, 1853)
#6 Vanhargen von Ense
On October 10, 1858, the German writer, diplomat, and soldier, Vanhargen von Ense (born in 1785), died while playing a game of chess with his niece. (source: New York Times, Nov 3, 1858)
#7 Mr. U. G. Flower’s wife
In May 1860, Mrs. Lafayette Lee and Mr. U. G. Flowers sat down to play a game of chess in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
During the game, Mr. Lee, who was standing behind Mr. Flowers looking on, pulled out a pistol and shot his wife after a quarrel about Mrs. Lee wishing to visit her mother.
He then aimed his pistol at Mr. Flowers, but Mr. Flowers pulled out his own pistol and shot Mr. Lee 5 times, killing him. Mrs. Lee was in critical condition but survived. (source: Nashville Union, June 2, 1860)
#8 Charles II, Duke of Brunswick
On Aug 19, 1873, Charles II, Duke of Brunswick, was playing chess at the Beau-Rivage Hotel Geneva, Switzerland, suddenly got up, went to his room, and died. He was 68.
#9 Howard Staunton
On 22 June 1874, Howard Staunton was found dead on his desk while writing one of his famous papers about chess for the Illustrated London News. The death is caused by a sudden heart attack, likely due to the stress of publishing his works.
#10 Johann Zukertort
On June 20, 1888, Johann Zukertort (1842-1888) 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 a 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.
#11 Matthew Wilson
In Feb 1892, Matthew Wilson, a well-known portrait painter, died while playing chess at the Brooklyn Chess Club. He was 77 years old. His portraits included President Arthur and Lincoln. (source: New York Times, Feb 24, 1892)
#12 General Hiram Barden
In March 1893, General Hiram Barden died while playing chess at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, DC. He was the inventor of the Berdan range finder, torpedo, and rifle. He was 69. (source: New York Times, April 1, 1893)
#13 James Edward Ryan
In January 1894, James Edward Ryan died of a heart attack after leaving his chess club. He was a principal at a public school in New York. (source: New York Times, Jan 14, 1894)
#14 George Stanfield
In October 1898, George Stanfield, age 45, died suddenly of a heart attack while playing chess at the Fulton Chess Club. (source: New York Times, Oct 28, 1898)
#15 N.T. Elliot
In May 1902. N. T. Elliott, chairman of the Asheville County Commissioners, died while playing chess at the Hotel Oakee in Asheville, North Carolina. (source: Asheville Daily Gazette, May 16, 1902.
#16 Lester R. Brooks
In November 1902, Lester R. Brooks, a millionaire grain and lumber magnate, died while playing chess with his physician. (source Williamsport Sun-Gazette, Nov 13, 1902)
#17 General Thomas E. Moss
In October 1905, General Thomas E. Moss, the former attorney general of Kentucky, died while playing chess with his son-in-law in Manila, Philippines. He was 66. (source: The Watchman, Sumter, SC, Oct 18, 1905)
In 1915, Ajeeb, a chess automaton was set up at Coney Island by James Smith and Emma Haddera.
One player lost to it and was so angry he took out a gun and shot at the torso of the automaton. It killed its hidden operator, Sam Gonotsky, which was covered up.
In another incident with Ajeeb, a Westerner emptied his six-shooter into the automaton, hitting the operator in the shoulder (source: New York Times, January 1929)
#19 James Dunlop
In 1921, James Dunlop, a member of a chess club that met regularly at a Glasgow restaurant, died while playing chess. He was 65. (source: Glasgow Sunday Post, Feb 6, 1921)
#20 Ed Lasker’s spectator
In 1923, a spectator watching the Ed Lasker – Frank Marshall chess match in New York died of a heart attack. The excitement was too much for him.
#21 Andor Wachs
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.
#22 Daniel Noteboom
In 1931-1932, Dutch Master Daniel Noteboom (1910-1932) attended the Hastings Chess Congress, held in December-January.
The weather was so cold that he caught pneumonia at Hastings and then died a week after the tournament on January 12, 1932.
#23 Adolf George Olland
On July 23, 1933, Adolf George Olland, a Dutch chess master, died of a heart attack while playing in the 1933 Dutch chess championship at The Hague.
He was 66. His last game was White against Hamming. Olland made his 25th move, then he collapsed, his head fell on the chessboard and the pieces rolled off the table. The arbiter declared the game as won by him.
#24 Paul Leonhardt
On December 14, 1934, Paul Leonhardt (1877-1934) died of a heart attack while playing chess at a chess club.
#25 Jose Capablanca
On March 8, 1942, Jose Capablanca (1888-1942), died after watching a skittles game at the Manhattan Chess Club.
The cause of death was given as “a cerebral hemorrhage provoked by hypertension.” He died at Mount Sinai Hospital, the same hospital that Emanuel Lasker died a year earlier.
Capablanca’s body was given a public funeral in Havana on March 15, 1942.
#26 Al Horowitz’s opponent
In 1944, Al Horowitz’s opponent died of a heart attack in Kansas City just after Horowitz made a spectacular move. Horowitz was giving a simultaneous exhibition.
#27 Efim Bogoljubov
On June 18, 1952, Efim Bogoljubov (1889-1952) suffered a heart attack after concluding a simultaneous chess exhibition in Triberg, Germany.
#28 Juan Quesada
In 1952, Juan Quesada, Cuban chess champion, died of a heart attack during an international tournament in Havana. He was 40.
#29 Herman Steiner
On November 25, 1955, Herman Steiner, age 50, died of a heart attack after a California State Championship game in Los Angeles. He was defending his state championship title and finished his 5th round game (a 62-move draw against William Addison).
He then said he felt unwell, so his afternoon game was postponed. About two hours later, around 9:30 pm, Steiner had a heart attack while being attended by a physician.
By agreement of the players, the 1955 California State Championship tournament was canceled.
#30 Soviet scientist
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.
#31 Michael L. George’s spectator
On June 1, 1960, an American sailor, Michael L. George, got into a fight at a Greenwich Village bar, Chumley’s at 86 Bedford Street, when a spectator criticized the sailor’s chess game after he lost.
The sailor struck the spectator (Clinton Curtis, a freelance editor from Miami) with a broken beer bottle, which cut his jugular vein, and he died.
The sailor was eventually acquitted of murder and charged with accidental death instead. (source: New York Times, June 2, 1960)
#32 Abe Turner
In 1962, Abe Turner was found stabbed to death in the basement of an Upper West Side building where he had been working as a clerk for Al Horowitz for the magazine Chess Review.
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 the publication, who said he killed Turner (and dragged the body along a corridor to the safe) because Secret Service agents had told him to.
#33 E. Forry Laucks
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.
#34 Gideon Stahlberg
On May 26, 1967, Gideon Stahlberg (1908-1967) died of a heart attack during the 1967 Leningrad International chess tournament.
#35 Vladimir Simagin
On September 25, 1968, Russian grandmaster Vladimir Simagin (1919-1968) died of a heart attack while playing in a chess tournament in Kislovodsk, Russia.
#36 Charles Khachiyan
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.
#37 Kenneth Harkness
On October 4, 1972, USCF business manager Kenneth Harkness (1898-1972) died of a heart attack on a train in Yugoslavia on his way to a FIDE meeting in Skopje, Yugoslavia, where the chess Olympiad was to take place.
#38 Paul Keres
In 1975, Paul Keres (1916-1975) died of a heart attack in Helsinki, Finland, while returning home to Estonia from the World Class Championship in Vancouver, B.C.
He had just won the event despite a doctor’s orders not to play in the event due to the stress and his high blood pressure.
His airplane had taken off from Helsinki to Tallinn when Keres had his heart attack. The aircraft turned around and landed back in Helsinki and Keres was rushed to the hospital and died.
#39 Jack J. Nobles
In 1979, Patrick McKenna, a prisoner in Nevada, strangled his Las Vegas cellmate, Jack J. Nobles, after an argument over a chess game in which he lost. He has been on death row for over 36 years.
He was once considered Nevada’s most dangerous inmate. He was denied the latest in a long line of appeals. (sources: Crime & Capital Punishment blog; The Pacific Reporter, 1986, p. 616)
#40 Cecil Purdy
On November 6, 1979, Cecil Purdy (1906-1979) died of a heart attack while playing chess in the Sydney, Australia chess championship. His opponent was Ian Parsonage. His last words were, “I have a win, but it will take some time.”
#41 Ed Edmondson
On October 21, 1982, Ed Edmondson (1920-1982) died of a heart attack while playing chess on a beach in Honolulu, Hawaii.
#42 Jozef Gromek
On April 19, 1985, Jozef Gromek died during a blitz game in Poland. He was 53. In 1955, he had won the Polish chess championship.
#43 Unnamed Bosnian player
In 1993, a person was shot and killed while playing chess with a friend outdoors in Bosnia. It was the first recorded killing of a chess player by sniper fire.
#44 Vernie Cox
In 1994, Martin Wirth, 37, of Fort Collins, Colorado, shot to death Vernie Cox, 24, on his birthday 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 chessboard and some furniture, and 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. (source: Boulder Daily Camera, Aug 16, 1994)
#45 Igor Platonov
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.
#46 Benno Puder
In 1995, Benno Puder, died playing chess at a hotel in the French Alps.
#47 Nikolai Kopilov
On May 7, 1995, International Master Nikolai Kopilov died while giving a simultaneous chess exhibition in Voronezh. He was 76.
#48 Craig Williams
In September 1999, Laurence Douglas, 32, stabbed Craig Williams, 25, to death over a chess game in Poughkeepsie, New York. Williams beat Douglas in a chess game that had a $5 wager.
Williams took a $5 bill from Douglas after the game and Douglas then stabbed Williams 16 times. Douglas was sentenced to 12 years in prison. (source: Associated Press, May 12, 2000)
#50 Vladimir Bagirov
In 2000, GM Vladimir Bagirov (1936-2000) died of a heart attack when in a winning position in a tournament game in Finland.
He had just finished a move while under time pressure and his flag fell. As both players moved to a separate board to reconstruct the game, he collapsed and died.
#51 Aivars Gipslis
In 2000, Latvian grandmaster Aivars Gipslis (1937-2000) died of a stroke while playing chess in Berlin.
He was playing for a local Berlin chess club when he collapsed from a stroke during the chess game. He died in a German hospital after being in a coma for several weeks.
#55 Indian players
On Sep 25, 2001, five chess players died in a vehicle crash in India on their way to a chess tournament.
#56 Alexei Suetin
In 2001, Alexei Suetin (1926-2001) died of a heart attack after returning home from the Russian Seniors Chess Championship.
#57 Christopher Newton kill Jason brewer
In 2001, Christopher Newton, imprisoned for burglary, murdered his cellmate, Jason Brewer, 27, over a game of chess in an Ohio prison.
Brewer would resign his chess game against Newton every time a pawn was lost or the position looked bad.
Newton tried to tell him not to give up and play the game out, but Brewer refused. After a month of playing chess and Brewer always resigning early without playing out the game, Newton finally had enough and strangled Brewer.
Newton was executed on May 24, 2007, by lethal injection in Ohio. He was the first murderer executed for killing someone over a chess game.
#58 Jerry Kowalski
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 the unlucky Kowalski in the neck, who bled to death. Andrews was sentenced from 15 to 30 years in state prison.
#59 Donal Hervieux
In 2004, at the Canadian Open, Donal Hervieux collapsed and died over the chessboard while playing a FIDE master during round 8.
#60 Bernard Papet
In July 2007, Bernard Papet, age 73, died right after completing his 10th round game in the Veteran’s French championship.
#61 Michael Steward
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. (source: KCRG News, Oct 13, 2009)
#62 Aleksey Valentikhin’s opponent
In December 2008, a man was so upset about losing a chess match, that he threw his opponent out the window.
It happened in Gloazov, Russian Republic of Udmurtia. 43-year-old Aleksey Valentikhin lost several games to a 60-year-old pensioner neighbor. He got so mad that Aleksey threw his opponent from his second-floor window.
The pensioner broke several bones and later died. Valentikham was sentenced to 6 years in prison. (source: Susan Polgar blog, April 24, 2009)
#63 Kelly Kjersem
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. (sources: Oakland Tribune, Feb 5, 2009; Mercury News, Feb 4, 2009)
#64 Dale Lyons
On jan 17, 2010, Dale Lyons of Portsmouth, NH died while playing chess. He was 60.
#65 Melbourne Chess Club
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.
#66 Chinese player
In 2013, a Chinese player murdered his best friend and then killed himself so they could play chess in the afterlife.
#67 Tom O’Gormon
In January 2014, an Italian man, Saverio Bellante, who had been living in a rented home in Dublin, killed his unlucky landlord over a game of chess.
He was arrested for the killing after stabbing his landlord, Tom O’Gorman, multiple times. O’Gormon 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.
#68 Kurt Meier and Uzbekistan player
In August 2014, Candidate Master Kurt Meier, 67, a Swiss-born member of the Seychelles chess team, died on the last day of the 41st Chess Olympiad, held in Tromso, Norway.
His son was playing on the board next to him and tried to revive him. Hours later, Alisher Anarkulov from Uzbekistan was found dead in his hotel room in central Tromso.
#69 Alan Wright
In 2015, Alan Wright, age 88, died on his way back from a chess match in England.
#70 Michael Uriely
In 2015, Michael Uriely died one day after participating in a chess game at the 2015 Mind Sports Olympiad.
#71 New Jersey boy
In April 2015, a New Jersey boy, age 10, jumped to his death after losing a game of chess.
#72 Walter Browne
In June, 2015, GM Walter Browne died in his sleep after finishing playing in the 50th National Open in Las Vegas.
#73 Craig Woolcock of Wales
In July 2015, Craig Woolcock of Wales killed himself after he quit his job as a customer services official to concentrate on chess, but failed to qualify for the British chess championship.
The unlucky player suffered from mood swings. (source: MailOnline, July 14, 2015)
#74 Emory Tate
On October 17, 2015, International Master Emory Tate died while playing in a chess tournament near San Jose. He was 56.
#75 Earl Smith
Earl Smith from 1983 to the year 2000, was a chaplain at San Quentin prison and played chess with inmates one day before or the day of their execution.
#76 U.S. Open participant
On August 5 2018 a US open participant suffered a heart attack at the end of the round, everyone was forced out of the hall midgame and didn’t get a chance to continue until much later. Eventually the administrators announced the player to be dead.
Do you think chess is a deadly game?
After seeing descriptions of these deaths you might think that chess is extremely fatal, but we’re missing something here. If you search for all the basketball deaths or football deaths, I bet there are more gruesome occurrences that can be found in the said sport.
It’s not like chess is fatal in itself, more like it existed way longer than any other game out there that gives it more chances to be affiliated with incidents.
For the most part it is not the game that is doing the killing, it is the old age, unhealthy lifestyle, or other people that are involve white chess is just a common denominator.
Do I believe that the stress from chess tournaments can to kill someone? yes, but I also believe that there are bigger factors that could have prevented those from happening. Which is why chess can be deadly but not fatal, sleep well and play chess.