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George Koltanowski 17th September 1903 - 5th February 2000
George Koltanowski famous for his chess exhibitions (especially blindfold chess and the knight's tour) and chess journalism has died at the age of 96 in San Francisco USA.
Georges Koltanowski was born September 17th 1903 in Antwerp (he later shortened his first name to George). Rather confusingly the booklet "50 Shortcuts to Chess Victory" by him says he was born in Eastern Europe but he himself corrected this mistake, although it seems likely his parents were. In Chessnicdotes he says that "I was born at No. 42 Loos Straat in Antwerp, Belgium." Then he writes that he learned Flemish and French at school, so apparently these languages were not spoken at home. However in later years he frequently emphasized that he considered himself first and foremost to be an American.
He learned chess at the age of 14 and was the top Belgian player after the death of Edgar Colle in 1932. His international career that started at the age of 21 when he played in the Meran 1924 tournament. There he played and drew against Siegbert Tarrasch. It finished nearly 30 years later with an Olympiad appearance for the USA in 1952 and a match against Grob the following year. In truth he played little internationally after moving to the States and his main active period was in the 1930s. His style is hard to categorise and against strong opponents it seems he usually played queen pawn openings with white such as the Colle in the hope of hanging on. He did get an excellent position against Alekhine at Hastings 1936-7 with the opening and was a pawn up when the draw was agreed. He beat Akiba Rubinstein in a Scheveningen event in Antwerp 1931 which was organised to compensate the Belgian players who couldn't travel to the Olympiad of that year. His best results were wins in Antwerp 1932, and Barcelona 1934 and 1935. He competed in strong events such as Ramsgate 1929, London 1932, Hastings 1935-6 and Hastings 1936-7 and Ostend 1937. He was Belgian Chess Champion 1923, 1927, 1930 and 1936. He was awarded the title of IM in 1950 on the basis of his pre-war results. In 1988 he was given an honorary GM title by FIDE. He was awarded the title of International Arbiter in 1960.
He held various records for simultaneous
blindfold play at which he was highly skilled. In Edinburgh 1937 he played 34
boards scoring +24 =10 in 13.5 hours. This record is still recognised by many
as the official record because strict monitoring of the effort was made which
was not the case in other efforts such as that by Najdorf a few years later.
Koltanowski,G - Burnett,A [C55]
Koltanowski's speciality was to conduct a blindfold knight's tour (hard enough in itself) by calling out telephone numbers or cities placed on the 64 squares of the board by the audience. He would study these for a few moments before embarking on his blindfold exhibition. He expanded this later to 192 squares by putting three boards together and jumping to the next board on the completion of each board. He attributed this skill to his study of memory games whilst he was very ill for a couple of years as a child and confined to bed for much of this time.
At the outbreak of war he found himself in Guatemala staying in Central America until towards the end of the war when he moved to the States. Afterwards he turned to touring, teaching and writing books and articles. He was a very active tournament director and was one of the three original inductees into the US Chess Hall of Fame. The USCF also gave him the title of "The Dean of American Chess." The previous "Dean of American Chess" was Hermann Helms who himself lived into his 90s. He was President of the USCF 1975-78.
He was still active into his 90s and a reader of TWIC into the year 2000 (he certainly followed the Hastings Premier this year). I received a lovely booklet from him celebrating 50 years editing the daily chess column in the San Francisco Chronicle in May 1997. In the end after 52 uninterupted years he had written over 19,000 columns for the paper. There is a lengthy obituary in the issue of Monday, February 7, 2000. Their website is: http://www.sfgate.com/news/. His column was syndicated to other newspapers also.
Tom Dorsch reports that Koltanowski died of complications resulting from congestive heart failure. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Leah Koltanowksi who is 93. The met on a blind date in 1944 in New York. They moved to the Bay Area in 1947.
Books in English include Colle System, Chess Chats, With the Chess Masters, Blindfold Chess Genius, Practical Chess, My Castles in Spain, Chessnicdotes-I and II, TV Chess, En Passant, In the Dark, Chess Annual, Adventures of a Chess Master, Practical Play of the Max Lange Attack, San Antonio (1972 international tournament) and Checkmate. He also wrote books in Flemish, French and Spanish. In addition he made radio broadcasts and films on the game. His books showed an enthusiasm for the game, however sometimes historical accuracy was not allowed to get in the way of a good tale. His priority was always to enthuse others about the game with his exhibitions, stories and books.
Finally a tribute to him in the form of an acrostic in honour of him by one of his friends:
GEORGES KOLTANOWSKI (1903-2000)
International Career Record [those events I could find] 1924 Meran 11th place 5 points [1st Grunfeld 10.5. Speelman, Rubinstein, Colle and Tarrasch played.] 1924 Paris 4-7th place 8 points 1925 Antwerp Match Colle +0 -4 =3 1926 Spa 9th 4.5 points [Samisch and George Thomas 1st=] 1927 London Team Tournament 8.5 points 1928 Hague Team Tournament 9.5 points 1928/9 Hastings 4th 5.5 points [1st= Colle, Marshall, Takacs 6 points. Ahead of all the Brits.] 1929 Ramsgate 4-5th 4.5 points [1st Capablanca 5.5; 2nd= Rubinstein, Menchik 5; Level with Maroczy] 1930 Antwerp 5-6th 1.5 points 1932 Antwerp 1st 4.5 points [Above Flohr] 1932 London 7th 5 points [Alekhine 9; Flohr 8. Behind Kashdan, Sultan Khan, Maroczy and Tartakower.] 1934 Sitges 3-4th 9.5 points [1st Lilienthal 10.5. 2nd Rey. Level with Tartakower above Spielmann and Prins.] 1934 Barcelona 1st-3rd 6 points [Shared with Lilienthal and Tartakower] 1935 Barcelona 1st-2nd 8 points [Level with Flohr above Grob and Thomas] 1935 Mollet 1st-2nd 8 points 1935 Rosas 2nd 7.5 points [Behind Flohr above Grob.] 1935/6 Hastings 4th 5.5 points [1st Fine 7.5 2nd Flohr 6.5 3rd Tartakower 6 above all the British players] 1936/7 Hastings 8th 3 points [1st Alekhine Behind Fine, Eliskases, Feigin, Vidmar, Tylor and Winter. Above Menchik, Thomas.] 1937 Birmingham 4th 6.5 points [Behind Eliskases, Prins, Winter.] 1937 Ostend 6th 4.5 points [Behind Fine, Grob, Keres, Landau, List ahead of Tartakower.] 1937 Zurich Match Grob +1 -1 =2 1940 Havana 2nd 6.5 [1st Kashdan 7.5/9, 3rd Planas 6 (and seven other Cubans)] 1940 Santiago de Cuba 1st 9.5/10, [2nd Diez 7; 9 Cubans played] 1952 Olympiad Helsinki [He played at least two games for the US including a draws against Kotov and Florian.] 1953 Zurich Match Grob +2 =3