Jacqueline Piatigorsky had a tremendous influence on twentieth-century American chess through her efforts as a philanthropist and her legacy as one of the top American woman players of the 1950s and 1960s. Jacqueline Piatigorsky: Patron, Player, Pioneer presents her story through artifacts donated and lent by the Piatigorsky family.
Through her sponsorship of the legendary Piatigorsky Cup tournaments, creation of the Piatigorsky Foundation, and her representation of the United States in the first Women’s Chess Olympiad in 1957, Jacqueline Piatigorsky had a profound influence on twentieth-century American chess. Jacqueline’s legacy impacted chess on the local, national, and international levels. Many ideas that are taken for granted today, such as student chess organizations, were innovations in her time and passions of hers. Her activities also helped establish the West Coast as a thriving center of chess culture rivaling that of New York.
Jacqueline was born in Paris, France, to the famed Rothschild banking family. A nurse taught her to play chess at an early age, when Jacqueline was recovering from a childhood illness. In her 1988 memoir, Jump in the Waves, she wrote that her nurse, Miss Coque, told Jacqueline that:
“…with a chess set, it is impossible to be bored.”
More than a salvation from dullness, the game soon became both a passion and a refuge to Jacqueline. Though she wrote of feeling neglected by her parents and oppressed by a nanny during her childhood, chess offered her an opportunity to forge her own identity independent of her famous family name.
In 1937 Jacqueline married Gregor Piatigorsky, a world-renowned cellist. The two immigrated to the United States with their daughter Jephta at the outset of World War II, first settling in Elizabethtown, New York, where their son Joram was later born. Though she had not received any formal chess training, her desire to compete led her to participate in correspondence chess tournaments sponsored by Chess Review.
Of this period in her life, Jacqueline said:
“But my real love was chess. Chess was part of my blood. Of course, in the winter there was no one to play with in Elizabethtown, so through a chess magazine I started to play by correspondence, entering tournaments in which one played six games at the same time. That was perfect for me. I had a small pocket set which I always carried with me and I studied each position in great depth. Before mailing out a move I was so anxious not to make an error that even alone in the woods my heart was beating hard. I went over each variation again and again. I had to win.”
After another series of moves, Jacqueline and her family settled in Los Angeles, California. There, Gregor joined the faculty of the music department at UCLA, while Jacqueline became further immersed in the world of chess. At an auction, she met International Master (IM) Herman Steiner, who after learning of her skill, encouraged her to compete in tournaments over the board. He was instrumental in the flourishing of her playing career on the national level, recommending that she be invited to the 1951 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship. After his death in 1955, Jacqueline took over the management of his chess club, the Hollywood Chess Group, and renamed it the Herman Steiner Chess Club in his honor.
Jacqueline soon rose to the top of the field of women’s chess and participated in the U.S. Women’s Championships six times in the 1950s and 1960s. Her best result occurred in 1965, when she won second place behind Gisela Gresser. She also defeated her rival, Woman International Master Mona May Karff in such a captivating manner that the New York Times printed their game.
Jacqueline took part in another historic first for women’s chess in 1957, representing the United States in the inaugural Women’s Chess Olympiad in Emmen, the Netherlands, with teammate Gisela Gresser. Jacqueline played on second board, and the team won a bronze medal in the historic competition. Later that same year, she took her first step in the arena of chess promotion, serving as the chairperson for the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, which was held in Los Angeles and sponsored by the Herman Steiner Chess Club.
During the mid-to-late 1960s, Jacqueline participated in tournaments less frequently. However, over the course of the same decade, she dedicated herself more fully to chess promotion, first co-sponsoring a match between former child prodigy Grandmaster (GM) Samuel Reshevsky and rising star GM Bobby Fischer. Also sponsored by the American Chess Foundation, the match was held in both New York and Los Angeles. The match ended prematurely over a disagreement over the start time for one of the games—Jacqueline had wanted a Sunday game to begin earlier both so that she could attend one of Gregor’s concerts and accommodate the travel needs of out-of-town audience members. Fischer declined to play at the earlier time, and the game was declared a forfeit. Fischer refused to play the remainder of the match, which was a disappointment to Jacqueline and the other tournament organizers. In the wake of this event, she formed a close friendship with Samuel Reshevsky, who became her coach.
Despite her early setback, Jacqueline’s interest in chess promotion was not dampened, and she established the Piatigorsky Foundation, which had as its goal to boost chess culture in the United States. At the time, the idea of a philanthropic chess organization was so novel that the Internal Revenue Service denied the group’s first application for not-for-profit status. However, she persevered and the Piatigorsky Foundation became renowned for its support of American chess both on elite and local levels.
The Foundation’s first and most famous venture was the organization of the 1963 Piatigorsky Cup tournament. This competition attracted the best American and international players. Jacqueline organized it at the urging of Gregor, who said that in the United States there was, “too much emphasis on physical sports and not enough on the intellectual…A country like ours has an obligation not to be second to anyone.” However, it was Jacqueline’s attention to detail and persistence that made the event legendary. The competition was held again in 1966, and its success prompted the Los Angeles Times to name Jacqueline its “Woman of the Year.”
During the 1960s and 1970s, the patronage of the Piatigorsky Foundation was especially prolific. In addition to the aforementioned competitions, the organization sponsored chess programs directed toward women, senior citizens, public school students, and veterans. It also promoted chess to children in juvenile detention facilities, underserved communities, and in schools for children with physical disabilities, impaired vision, and deafness. These activities on the local level were complemented by the Foundation’s efforts on the national level: organizing the 1968 Interzonal Playoff at the Steiner Chess Club and providing financial support for Bobby Fischer’s World Chess Championship run, the U.S. Chess Championship, and the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship.
Jacqueline took a special interest in promoting chess among the young. After learning that “due to lack of organization, lack of financial support, and lack of qualified representatives, the United States had no entrant in the 1965 World Junior Championship,” she established the United States Junior Invitational Championship, now known as the U.S. Junior Closed Championship. The Foundation also directed the California Junior Championship and provided money to students who wanted to participate in the National High School Championship. On the local level, the Foundation ran the Tournament of Champions, as well as the Christmas Tournament, designed to promote chess in public schools.
After this burst of activity in the 1960s and 1970s, Jacqueline began to focus more energy on her newfound passions, sculpture and tennis. The Piatigorsky Foundation was dissolved in 1985; however, its visionary influence is still felt today. Jacqueline passed away in 2012 at the age of 100 after a long life full of great achievements. The World Chess Hall of Fame is proud to celebrate her legacy in this exhibition made possible by generous loans and donations from the Piatigorsky family.
— Emily Allred, Assistant Curator
World Chess Hall of Fame
Piatigorsky Cup Tournaments
The 1963 and 1966 Piatigorsky Cup tournaments rank among the strongest chess competitions ever held on American soil. They are on a short list that includes New York 1924, New York 1927, Dallas 1957, and the 2013 Sinquefield Cup. Organized by Jacqueline Piatigorsky and the Piatigorsky Foundation, these landmark competitions were created with the goal of promoting chess in the United States. By bringing together world-class players in elegant settings, Jacqueline hoped to prove that the United States could support chess on an elite level.
Held during the Cold War, when tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were high, the Piatigorsky Cups represented a triumph of diplomacy. Jacqueline and Gregor Piatigorsky faced a daunting task in trying to have Soviet players compete in both events, something that had happened only once before in 1954, when the Soviet Union and United States played a team match in New York. That the Piatigorskys succeeded was a testament to their hard work and persistence, and resulted in Tigran Petrosian competing in both events. This was the first time a reigning World Chess Champion had participated in an individual competition in the United States since Alexander Alekhine played in Pasadena, California, in 1932.
Both the 1963 and 1966 tournaments were double round-robin competitions in which all participants played against each other twice. Jacqueline produced an elegant trophy for the events that featured a “love cup” designed by Tiffany & Co. as its centerpiece. The cup is flanked by two Régence-style chess pieces, while the base has plaques with spaces for the names of the winners. The 1963 event, held at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, included eight competitors from five different nations and offered a prize fund of $10,000.1 The two Soviet players, Tigran Petrosian and Paul Keres, triumphed over the rest of the field and shared the top prize. The exciting competition attracted a large audience.
Bobby Fischer participated in the 1966 tournament, ensuring that the top American talent of the period was represented in the competition. It also meant that the field of ten players in the 1966 event contained one World Chess Champion (Petrosian) as well as two future ones (Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky). Fischer had declined an invitation to the first Cup, still unhappy about his aborted 1961 match against Samuel Reshevsky, which Jacqueline had cosponsored. However, by 1966 the sore feelings had subsided, and his presence and play made this Cup an electrifying event. After a strong start followed by a disastrous performance mid-tournament, Fischer mounted an amazing comeback to tie with the tournament leader, Spassky, in the standings. Their game in the penultimate round attracted a record 900 spectators and served as a preview of the excitement the two would generate six years later in their epic 1972 World Chess Championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland. The two played to a hard-fought draw. Spassky then won his last game against Jan Hein Donner, who was at the bottom of the standings, while Fischer’s game against Petrosian ended in a draw. Spassky achieved a narrow victory over Fischer, winning $5000 from the $20,000 prize fund and a smaller version of the Piatigorsky Cup trophy.2
The Piatigorsky Cups were not only elite tournaments, but they also broke new ground in making chess competitions more spectator-friendly. The 1963 event followed traditions that had existed for decades, with wall boys moving the pieces on large demonstration boards for the audience. Periodically these same wall boys would manually adjust clocks mounted next to the demonstration boards, giving the audience a rough idea of how much time each player had used.
This formula worked reasonably well, but Jacqueline, known for her attention to detail, wanted to improve this system for the second event. She aimed to ensure that everyone that attended the tournament would be able to see the action, even if they were seated in the back of the playing hall. To this end, she developed a projector system that would make the moves of each game clearly visible. By the time of the second tournament, held in Santa Monica, California, in 1966, she had designed and perfected the setup. This innovation, as well as her creation of electric wall-mounted clocks that kept precise measurements of each player’s time, turned out to be both novel and necessary in the second competition. The second Piatigorsky Cup consistently drew crowds of 600 to 700, peaking at 900 spectators near the end of the event.
Though Jacqueline had originally intended to hold the tournaments every two to three years, the difficulties of gaining the participation of players from around the world led her to stop organizing the event after 1966. Nevertheless, she succeeded in holding two brilliant and beautiful tournaments that are still fondly remembered.
—IM John Donaldson
1 $10,000 in 1963 is equivalent to over $76,000 today (Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator)
2 $5,000 in 1966 is equivalent to over $36,000 today, while $20,000 is equivalent to over $144,000 today (Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator)
Artifacts Featured in the Exhibition
Though best known as a cellist, Jacqueline’s husband Gregor also earned attention for the beautiful collection of chess sets that he displayed at the Piatigorskys’ Los Angeles, California, home. The collection featured gorgeous sets from many of the locations where he traveled while performing as a musician.
This beautiful set from the Piatigorskys’ collection features cloisonné decoration. Cloisonné is a technique of decorating metalwork in which metal bands are shaped into compartments which are then filled with enamel, and decorated with gems or glass. These green and red pieces are adorned with geometric and floral motifs.
Published after the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup, this article celebrates the immense organizational efforts undertaken by Jacqueline Piatigorsky in supporting the competition and American chess. Robert Cantwell, the author of the piece, also details her lifelong passion for chess, which began with her learning the game from a nurse during her childhood. In the photograph accompanying the story, Jacqueline poses with the chess set collection that her husband Gregor Piatigorsky, a famous cellist, formed during his travels.
Introduction for Los Angeles Times 1966 Woman of the Year Award
December 20, 1966
For her efforts in organizing the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup, one of the strongest chess tournaments ever held on American soil, the Los Angeles Times awarded Jacqueline Piatigorsky their “Woman of the Year” award. This manscript records the speech celebrating her achievements on behalf of American chess. Jacqueline’s attention to detail was legendary. She not only organized the tournament, but she also ensured that the playing hall was in immaculate condition for the competition and designed a special projector system that allowed audience members to follow the games from a distance.
This whimsical chess set from the collection of Jacqueline and Gregor Piatigorsky pits mythical creatures of the sea, followed by a retinue of fish, against the crew of a ship. Waves crash around the base of the lighthouse and a ship struggles to stay upright in the choppy sea—two features that convey the intensity of their battle. Sets like this were works of art meant for display rather than use in play. The Sports Illustrated spread shows the Piatigorskys’ chess set display in their home.
Jacqueline Piatigorsky was born in Paris to the famous Rothschild family, but immigrated to the United States in 1939 due to the encroachment of Nazi forces on France. She and her family settled in Elizabethtown, New York. There she took up playing in correspondence chess tournaments as a means of dealing with the isolation of her new home. She used this postal chess recorder, which has space for six different games, to record the progress of her contests.
Jacqueline found success in her early correspondence tournaments. Largely a self-taught player, participating in chess by mail allowed her to study positions in great depth. In her 1988 memoir, Jump in the Waves, she wrote of fastidiously analyzing her games, going “over each variation again and again.” She was awarded this certificate by Chess Review, a magazine that sponsored correspondence tournaments, for her second-place finish in a competition.
Herman Steiner, a 2010 inductee to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, pictured on the right, was Jacqueline’s dear friend and coach. The two met at an auction in California in 1951. That same evening, Steiner encouraged her to participate in her first competition over-the-board at his club, the Hollywood Chess Group. With his support, Jacqueline soon improved her skill, becoming one of the top female players in America. Here the two appear together on a television show called Cavalcade of Books, which aired on a Los Angeles area station.
Jacqueline received this brilliancy prize trophy for her performance in her first tournament over-the-board at the Hollywood Chess Group. Though she wrote in her memoir Jump in the Waves that her overall performance in the competition had been middling, her beautiful combinations were impressive enough to earn her this prize. She soon began to participate in tournaments with increasing frequency, on the local, state, and national levels.
Jacqueline has just made the move 4.Ngf3 and awaits her opponent’s reply in this photo taken during the 1951 U.S. Women’s Championship held at the Marshall Chess Club. Though she tied for eighth place (in a field of ten players) Jacqueline attracted attention for this game, in which she defeated Owens in only ten moves. A writer for the New York Times noted that after quickly dispatching her opponent, she left to watch her husband, Gregor, perform Hayden’s cello concerto with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. Herman Steiner, Jacqueline’s friend and coach, sponsored her entry into the Championship even though she was still a newcomer to over-the-board competitions.
Jacqueline poses for a photograph while her opponent, Nancy Roos, contemplates her position during the 1951 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship at the Marshall Chess Club. The event was Jacqueline’s first championship, but it would not be her last—she participated in the events several more times during the 1950s and 1960s. Roos, who would later tie for first with Gisela Gresser in the 1955 U.S. Women’s Championship, was not only a talented player, but also a professional photographer whose work appeared frequently in Chess Review, Chess Life, and the California Chess Reporter.
Jacqueline won this prize in part for her opening round victory over defending champion Mona May Karff. This game proved to be very important for the final standings as Karff just missed finishing first, ending on 8 ½ - 2 ½, just behind Nancy Roos and Gisela Gresser who shared the title with 9-2 scores. Jacqueline, who missed the 1953 U.S. Women’s Championship, made a dramatic improvement over her performance in 1951, moving up from 8-9 (of 10) to 4th (of 12) with an excellent score of 8-3.
The 1965 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship was the apex of Jacqueline’s chess career in the United States. In this tournament, she placed half a point out of first, just behind Gisela Gresser. Her impressive finish in her game against rival Mona May Karff, 2013 inductee to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, led Al Horowitz, New York Times chess columnist and member of the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, to publish it in his column.
A crowd gathers at the 1955 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship to watch the newcomer to the competition, Jacqueline, compete against Mona May Karff, then a five-time U.S. women’s chess champion. The majority of the event was held at the Marshall Chess Club; however, this round took place at the Log Cabin Chess Club in West Orange, New Jersey. Though Jacqueline began competing in tournaments later in life than Karff, she still scored victories against Karff during the U.S. Women’s Chess Championships in the 1950s and 1960s.
In her 1988 memoir, Jump in the Waves, Jacqueline wrote, “Chess had an obsessional grip on me, chess was my friend, my support. Chess was a refuge from unfairness. It had become part of my blood. Still, today, when I am exhausted and sad, when hope disappears, my natural impulse is to flop in front of a chess board and start pushing pieces. Variations take form; rush forward, retreat, attack, defend—no an error, try again. Interest and vitality reborn flow into combinations, soon become storms, a typhoon in a teacup. It is ironic that chess and its combinations awake a
passion, bring life.”
Samuel Reshevsky, a 1986 inductee to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, offers Jacqueline congratulations on her first place finish in the 1963 Ladies Nevada State Chess Championship in this letter. The two became good friends after the 1961 Bobby Fischer – Samuel Reshevsky match and corresponded throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Jacqueline sent her games to Sammy for his input and her Piatigorsky Foundation provided him with generous financial assistance in the 1960s, supporting his participation in the Interzonal, Zonal playoff, and the 1968 Candidates Match against Viktor Korchnoi.
Jacqueline Piatigorsky graces the cover of this book containing photographs of the first official California Women’s Chess Championship. In this photo, she competes against Lina Grumette, a professional publicist. The two players were good friends, and Grumette would later assist Jacqueline in many of her organizational efforts, including the 1961 Bobby Fischer – Samuel Reshevsky match and the 1963 and 1966 Piatigorsky Cups.
Jacqueline tracked the results of the competition in this program for the first Women’s Chess Olympiad. H.J. van Steenis, the President of the Royal Dutch Chess Federation, wrote a welcome to the competitors that indicated that organizers hoped that the competitors would “play good chess, feel at home in Emmen and that this tournament will contribute to the good 1957 Women’s Chess Olympiad Program understanding and friendship between all the countries participating in this international event.”
Jacqueline won this medal for her second-place finish in the 1957 Women’s Chess Olympiad. Though the first official Chess Olympiad for men had been held in 1927, the initial Women’s Chess Olympiad was not organized until 1957. Jacqueline represented the United States with teammate Gisela Gresser. The two placed highest in Group B, placing eleventh overall.
Played in round three of the preliminaries of the 1957 Women’s Chess Olympiad against Hungarian Womens International Master (WIM) Eva Kertesz, this game was one of the most interesting of the competition. Jacqueline found the beautiful move 22.Bxh6! and could have won with 24.Qh5! -__ a difficult move to discover without the help of a computer chess engine. The game is displayed on Jacqueline’s pocket chess set, which she used to follow games at tournaments.
Jacqueline Piatigorsky – Eva Kertesz
Women’s Chess Olympiad (Preliminaries) Emmen 1957
This flag, which identifies Jacqueline, can be seen in a photograph of her in the 1957 Women’s Chess Olympiad in the slideshow that accompanies this exhibition. The first Women’s Chess Olympiad was held in Emmen, the Netherlands, not far from the German border. Unlike Women’s Olympiads today, which are played on four boards with a reserve player, in Emmen each team had only two players and no reserves so both players played every match.
Jacqueline’s teammate was the legendary Gisela Gresser, the first American woman to earn the Master rating (2200) and a 1992 inductee to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. Despite learning the game in her thirties, Gresser won a still-record nine U.S. Women’s Championships, the last at the age of 63. The two teammates both won individual bronze medals with the United States the top finisher in the Group B finals.
Peter Fleck, Jacqueline’s banker, passes along an amusing article from a Dutch periodical that records the first Women’s Chess Olympiad. The article contains images of the players, including Jacqueline and teammate Gisela Gresser seated with Mevrouw Gaarlandt, the burgemeester of Emmen. Fleck, who was born in the Netherlands but lived in New York, translated Jacqueline’s response to the question, “What do you do besides play chess?” She responded, “I think about chess.”
A handwritten note at the bottom of this letter indicates that Jacqueline authorized the Piatigorsky Foundation to provide $800 (equivalent to $1900 today) for a seminar for skilled junior players during the 1983 U.S. Open conducted by Bruce Pandolfini and Lev Alburt. Pandolfini is known as one of this country’s most famous chess authors and teachers. His most famous student is Josh Waitzkin, the subject of the book Searching for Bobby Fischer, which was later made into a film.
Lev Alburt, a three-time U.S. Champion and a 2003 inductee to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, thanks Jacqueline for her support of seminars for junior chess players during the 1983 U.S. Open. The Piatigorsky Foundation also organized the U.S. Junior Closed Championship after Jacqueline discovered that the United States had not sent any competitors to the World Junior Chess Championship. In addition to its activities supporting chess for youth, the Piatigorsky Foundation supported the World Championship runs of Samuel Reshevsky and Bobby Fischer.
The Student Chess Club of Los Angeles quickly became an important institution for developing junior talent in the Los Angeles area after its founding in 1965. Among the top finishers in its first championship were future Grandmaster James Tarjan, as well as future National Masters Andy Sacks and Danny Krystall. Tarjan and Sacks are among the interviewees in the audio tour for this exhibition.
This flyer advertises the newly-formed Student Chess Club of Los Angeles, a subgroup of the Herman Steiner Chess Club. Established in 1965, the Club was one of the first juniors-only chess organizations in the country. Though the Piatigorsky Foundation was created with the aim of promoting chess generally in the United States, Jacqueline took a great interest specifically in youth chess. The Foundation sponsored many events for young chess enthusiasts in California, which included the state’s Junior Championship, the Tournament of Champions, and Christmas Tournament. The organization also supported chess activities for children living in underserved communities, as well as those for students with physical disabilities.
This thank you letter from 14-year-old Larry Christiansen exemplifies the Piatigorsky Foundation’s generosity. Besides its support of major events and world class players, the Foundation also helped rising young chess stars. This letter was written to Arthur Drucker, who assisted Jacqueline in running the Piatigorsky Foundation, shortly after Larry had won the 1971 National High School Chess Championship in New York City. A ninth-grader from Riverside, California, Christiansen was the first junior high student to win the event, and would later go on to become a three-time U.S. Champion. He was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 2008.
Designed by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr., the open, airy interior of the Steiner Chess Club provided a welcoming atmosphere for tournaments, as well as the group’s daily activities. This location opened on 8801 Cashio Street in Los Angeles, California, in 1961. Its simple, elegant design embodied Jacqueline’s desire to elevate American chess through holding events and daily activities in beautiful environments.
Marcel Duchamp, one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century and a French Master, plays a game while his wife, Teeny, and Jacqueline watch at the Herman Steiner Chess Club. Duchamp had great respect for chess champions and, like the Piatigorsky Foundation, offered support to Bobby Fischer. Jacqueline organized events like the first Piatigorsky Cup, held the same year this photograph was taken, in order to elevate the status of the Herman Steiner Chess Club. These events attracted the attention both of the greatest chess players and celebrity chess enthusiasts.
Herman Steiner, pictured at left, was not only a great player but also a great chess promoter. Born in present-day Slovakia, Steiner moved at an early age to New York where he learned to play and developed into one of the best players in the country, representing the United States in the 1928 and 1930 Chess Olympiads. Soon after, with many chess professionals trying to eke out a living in New York City during the Great Depression, future U.S. Women’s Champion Mary Bain advised Steiner to seek his fortune in Los Angeles. This proved to be wise counsel as he soon became the columnist for the Los Angeles Times and founded a chess club, the Hollywood Chess Group. He also made connections in Hollywood and celebrities like Humphrey Bogart became fixtures at his events.
Herman Steiner’s influence on Jacqueline Piatigorsky was profound. An excellent teacher with a positive and upbeat personality, Steiner was the right match for Jacqueline whom he encouraged to play aggressively. Like many latecomers to the game she was prone to blunders, but Jacqueline could also play like a master at times, producing sparkling combinations and beautiful attacks that paid homage to her mentor. Jacqueline lost not only a great teacher but a dear friend with Steiner’s sudden death in 1955.
Instituted in 1962, the Caissa award was instituted by George Koltanowski and Paul Masson Vineyards in order to honor “a chosen few men or women who do a wonderful job of promoting the cause of Caissa.” Named for the goddess of chess, the award bears the likeness of Koltanowski, known as the “dean of American chess” and a member of the U.S. Hall of Fame. The award celebrates Jacqueline’s accomplishments as a co-sponsor of the 1961 Bobby Fischer – Samuel Reshevsky match, a supporter of the Steiner Chess Club, and financial contributor to the American Chess Foundation. The same year that she won this award, she organized the first Piatigorsky Cup.
The last competition the Piatigorskys hosted was the playoff for the final spot in the Candidates Tournament from the 1967 Interzonal. The Candidates Tournament would determine the challenger of the reigning world chess champion, Boris Spassky. Held in February-March 1968, it pitted American Samuel Reshevsky against Leonid Stein of the Soviet Union and Vlastimil Hort of Czechoslovakia. Each player faced the other four times and at the end of the competition they were tied at 4-4. Reshevsky advanced to the Candidates by virtue of his better tie-break from the Interzonal. The tournament utilized the same projector system of illustrating the games that had been used in the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup. The wall-boy in the background is future Grandmaster and U.S. Olympiad team member James Tarjan, who shares his memories of Jacqueline Piatigorsky and the Steiner Club in the audio tour for this exhibition.
Unlike the 1963 and 1966 Piatigorsky Cups, the 1968 Interzonal Playoff did not attract a large number of spectators, likely because only one game was played at a time. This event was not only the last major chess competition organized by the Piatigorskys, but also the swan song for the Steiner Chess Club. Jacqueline stopped supporting the Club in the late 1960s.
Isaac Kashdan, a 1986 inductee to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, served as the tournament director for many of Jacqueline Piatigorsky’s organizational efforts, including the 1968 Interzonal Playoff and both Piatigorsky Cups. The competition featured three-time Soviet chess champion Leonid Stein’s only appearance on American soil. Stein was one of the top ten players in the world throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Tragically he was never able to show his full potential, dying from a heart attack in 1973 at the age of 38. Czechoslovakian Vlastimil Hort was only 24 at the time of the Interzonal Playoff but already one of the best players in the world—a position he would occupy until the early 1980s when he left his homeland for Germany. Samuel Reshevsky’s qualification from this event surprised many as he was 56, long past the age when most players dream of competing for the World Chess Championship.
Jacqueline Piatigorsky co-sponsored the 1961 Bobby Fischer – Samuel Reshevsky match in order to promote the soon-to-open location of the Herman Steiner Chess Club on Cashio Street in Los Angeles, California. This letter, written by Alexander Bisno, a businessman and founding president of the American Chess Foundation, elaborates upon her reasons for supporting the event. The competition was to be held partly in New York, where it was supported by the Manhattan Chess Club, and Los Angeles, where the Herman Steiner Chess Club would host the two elite American players.
Jacqueline Piatigorsky, an unidentified man, actor José Ferrer, and Lina Grumette pose with Samuel Reshevsky and Bobby Fischer at the outset of their 1961 match. The Steiner Chess Club co-organized the match with New York’s Manhattan Chess Club. Though the match began in an exciting manner, it ended abruptly after Bobby Fischer disagreed with Jacqueline about the proposed start time for one of the games. Though this event ended prematurely, it did not dampen Jacqueline’s enthusiasm for organizing tournaments. Two years later she would hold the 1963 Piatigorsky Cup, in which Samuel Reshevsky competed along with seven other top grandmasters.
Paul Keres and Tigran Petrosian prepare for their game, as the other competitors, seated in the background, watch from the back of the stage. In addition to offering the two Soviet players a spirited competition, the Piatigorsky Cup tournament afforded them a chance to enjoy American culture. In his book co-written by International Master Jeremy Silman, Pal Benko: My Life, Games, and Compositions, Pal Benko stated that Petrosian and Keres had hoped to visit Disneyland during their stay in the United States. However, the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, was also in the country at the time, and had been denied free entry to the park. The two players abandoned their plans to visit in order to avoid upsetting Soviet officials.
When asked by a reporter why he chose to participate in the Piatigorsky Cup, Tigran Petrosian responded, “Keres and I came to Los Angeles because, like every chessplayer [sic], we enjoy playing chess. The better the opposition, the better I like it, and the Piatigorsky Cup promises to be one of the best international events. All seven opponents are hard and good players.”
“This game was played in the tenth round when my position in the tournament was far from brilliant,” stated Tigran Petrosian in First Piatigorsky Cup: International Grandmaster Chess Tournament in the United States (1963). He won this critical game and played strongly the rest of the way to finish the tournament in a tie for first with Paul Keres. Tigran Petrosian’s strong defenses earned him the nickname of the “Iron Tiger.”
Made in Switzerland, this clock was a favorite of United States Chess Federation (U.S.C.F.) tournament players during the 1950s and 1960s. Though this one belonged to Jacqueline Piatigorsky, the same style of clock was used by the players in the 1963 Piatigorsky Cup tournament, as can be seen in the photographs of Paul Keres and Tigran Petrosian on view in this exhibition.
Paul Keres said of his experiences in the Piatigorsky Cup: “It is always easy to explain or to alibi losses, but my opponents played very well and I think that I may have lost these games without any illness. Playing in the First Piatigorsky Cup Tournament and sharing top place with the World Champion is a wonderful experience. I enjoyed not only the fighting chess, but especially the friendly atmosphere and the extremely well-organized event. Many fine and famous players will win and have their names engraved upon this Cup in years to come. I am deeply happy to share this honor with the winners to follow.”
The most important game of the tournament for Paul Keres, this contest ended with his victory over Svetozar Gligoric. Keres needed to win to have a chance to catch up with Tigran Petrosian, who was leading him by half a point going into the last round. At the halfway point of competition, Gligoric had been tied with Keres and Miguel Najdorf for first. However, by this point in the event, Gligoric and Najdorf had slipped down in the standings, while Petrosian’s strong play led him to the top spot.
In the foreground, the two Soviet competitors, Tigran Petrosian and Paul Keres, play, while the Argentinian Oscar Panno can be seen seated in the background during his game against his fellow countryman Miguel Najdorf. Petrosian and Keres fought to a draw in their opening game.
The first round of the 1963 Piatigorsky Cup pitted the three pairs of competitors from the same nations against each other so that they would not meet in the final stage of the tournament. This is a long established practice in major events to protect compatriots from potential allegations of collusion. American players Pal Benko and Samuel Reshevsky, were also paired. Rounding out the field, Svetozar Gligoric and Fridrik Olafsson, the only representatives of their respective countries (Yugoslavia and Iceland), also faced off at the beginning of the strongest tournament held on American soil since the New York 1924.
An important record of the proceedings of the 1963 Piatigorsky Cup, the tournament book contains annotations of games primarily written by Samuel Reshevsky. The other players in the competition contributed notes to their key efforts. It also includes a foreward by the tournament’s director, Isaac Kashdan, as well as photographs of the competition’s exciting proceedings.
The program for the first Piatigorsky Cup contains the schedule of events, as well as biographies and photos of each of the players. It also includes the biography of Vikltor Korchnoi, reigning Soviet champion, who was the alternate for the tournament. When the Piatigorsky Cup was scheduled, the dates for the World Championship match between Mikhail Botvinnik and Tigran Petrosian were not known. There was a chance Petrosian would not be able to play in Los Angeles because of the potential for the events to overlap. Petrosian was ultimately able to participate, and so Korchnoi did not travel to Los Angeles for the competition.
Participants in the 1963 Piatigorsky Cup inscribed this copy of the program for Jacqueline Piatigorsky. Many of the competitors maintained warm relationships with her after the conclusion of the tournament and corresponded with her in the following years.
Additionally, the program features images of letters from Pierre Salinger, the press secretary during the administration of President John F. Kennedy; Governor Edmund G. Brown of California; and the mayor of Los Angeles, Sam Yorty. These political figures praised the Piatigorsky Cup tournament and predicted that it would have a positive legacy both in the world of chess and for the United States as a whole.
Boris Spassky, the winner of the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup, writes on his scoresheet, in the photo on the cover of this issue of Chess Life. The article within has a colorful description of the tournament, including one anecdote about a man who was arrested at the tournament’s entrance. Unhappy that the viewing area was already at capacity, he struck National Master (NM) Jerry Hanken, a tournament official. It also described how Jacqueline had created index cards with improvements for a third Piatigorsky Cup tournament, which ultimately was not realized.
Miguel Najdorf, Lajos Portisch, Bent Larsen, and Boris Ivkov watch Bobby Fischer and Wolfgang Unzicker analyze a chess game at a party held at the Piatigorsky home in Los Angeles. This issue of Chess Life features an article about the tournament drawn from the text of the competition’s bulletins.
Both of the Piatigorsky Cups had daily bulletins edited by Isaac Kashdan, which offered color and light annotations to the games. Copies of the bulletins were available for purchase, and chess enthusiasts from around the world purchased them. These issues of the bulletins recount the final two rounds of the tournament, which include Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky’s drawn game. The two players’ scoresheets for this game are also on view in this exhibition.
All artifacts are collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, gift of the Family of Jacqueline Piatigorsky, unless otherwise stated.
More information coming soon!
Jacqueline Piatigorsky was one of the most talented American women chess players of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as an important chess benefactor. This exhibition explores her activities in both arenas, bringing to light the immense impact she had on twentieth-century American chess. Containing interviews and readings of essays by those individuals touched by her chess philanthropy, including competitors in the Piatigorsky Cups, members of the Student Chess Club of Los Angeles, frequenters of the Herman Steiner Chess Club, and an employee of the Piatigorsky Foundation, this audio tour provides intimate insight into the personality and passion of one of the most important American chess supporters. Selections from Jacqueline’s 1988 memoir, Jump in the Waves, that detail her lifelong love of chess supplement the interviews. Please enjoy the audio tour and your visit to the World Chess Hall of Fame.
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