Death On The Chess Board

It filled me with sadness when first reading the report of the death at the board of fellow Senior Kurt Meier during his last round game at the 2014 Olympiad. Reports have been slow in coming even in this age of instant access. I was mortified this morning to read about the death of another player after the conclusion of the tournament. Reports are that he was found dead in his hotel room.

I have spent the morning reading all the reports that could be found. I have a personal interest in this not only because I am a Senior, but because I collapsed at the board during a chess tournament, with paramedics having to be called. This was at the 32nd Continental Open in Sturbridge, Massachusetts in 2002. Upon regaining consciousness I saw FM Miles Ardaman hovering over me. Knowing Miles to be a psychiatrist, I feared the worst. I refused to be transported to a hospital, but did see a doctor a few days later. After checking me out and talking with me about what may have possibly caused the collapse, he surmised I had become dehydrated. I traveled to the Continental directly from the US Open in New Jersey where after playing in the normal schedule, with games each evening. The first two games at the C.O. were also at night, but the third, and my last, was a morning round. I had coffee, but hardly any water because I feared spending too much time going to the restroom. It was a mistake I have not repeated. For quite some time I had been sitting with a full bladder trying to make time control. When I stood up quickly and took a few steps, my heart could not make the adjustment, which happens as one ages. I also learned of a heart murmur. Often I wonder why I am still alive…

Most Seniors have some kind of health problem, and I am not an exception, as there is a problem with my heart. My father lived many years with a machine in his body, a pacemaker. I have chosen to not be a member of the Borg, part man and machine. During the two decade run of the Atlanta Chess and What Other Game Center more than one player had to be taken away in an ambulance, none of whom were young.

With this in mind I have written extensively on my blogs, the BaconLOG and now the Armchair Warrior, concerning the dangers faced by Senior chess players. I have also spoken out about the problems faced by Senior players. Unfortunately, my words have fallen on dear ears.

I have written about several measures that could be instituted in order to lessen the chances of a death at the board during a Senior tournament. One of the major problems has been that organizers schedule a Senior chess tournament as if it were a tournament for younger players. Most weekend tournaments have five rounds with the first beginning Friday night. Since the last round is over sometime Sunday evening, that means five games of chess are played in about forty eight hours. That is a lot of chess for even younger players. It is simply too much for a Senior. Even when I was in my twenties a five round tournament would leave me what the Legendary Georgia Ironman calls a, “wiped out Waldo.” I began taking a half-point bye in the third round Saturday night in order to continue playing. I will no longer play a serious, long game at night.

For a Senior tournament I have suggested having no more than four rounds, with two each day. I have also suggested a break of at least two hours between the games. Bob Mahan, the man behind the Chess For Seniors Association ( had the audacity to tell me that would mean a delay in the time the organizers and TD’s would get home from an event, which shows the thinking by even some Seniors when it comes to the safety of the players.

There are many stories in the press concerning the deaths at the Olympiad, including one on Chessbase, where one finds this:
“There was momentary chaos in the hall when Meier collapsed, which was explained by Morgan Lillegård, head of communication for the Chess Olympics, in The Local: “People in the hall thought the defibrillator was a weapon. Panic spread because the thought there was an armed person. I can definitely confirm there was no weapons. This is a misunderstanding. It is in itself dramatic enough that someone had a heart attack.”

The Guardian comments that Meier is not the first player to die in the middle of a match: in 2000 Vladimir Bagirov, a Latvian grandmaster, had a fatal heart attack during a tournament in Finland, while in the same year another Latvian, Aivars Gipslis, suffered a stroke while playing in Berlin, from which he later died. To this we add that Johann Zukertort died from a cerebral hemorrhage suffered during a game in Simpson’s Divan, in a tournament which he was leading at the time. José Raúl Capablanca died of a stroke in March 1942 while watching a skittles game at the Manhattan Chess Club.

Other players who died during a chess tournament or game: Gideon Stahlberg (1908-1967), Vladimir Simagin 1919-1968), Cecil Purdy (1906-1979), Ed Edmundson (1920-1982). The following players died very shortly after a game or event: Frank Marshall (1877-1944), Efim Bogoljubov (1889-1952), Herman Steiner (1905-1955), Paul Keres (1916-1975), Alexei Suetin (1926-2001).”

The most interesting is, “Why chess is really an extreme sport,” by Stephen Moss, online at The tag line reads, “The deaths of two players at the Chess Olympiad in Norway shows that it’s time tournaments came with a health warning.” In the article he writes, ” Chess, though the non-player might not believe this, is in many ways an extreme sport.”

“At the Olympiad, participants were playing a game a day over a fortnight – 11 rounds with just a couple of rest days on which to recuperate. For up to seven hours a day, they would be sitting at the board trying to kill – metaphorically speaking – their opponent, because this is the ultimate game of kill or be killed. In some positions, you can reach a point where both sides are simultaneously within a single move of checkmating the other. One false step and you will have lost. This imposes enormous pressure on players.”

Stephen is a player, as can be learned from this, ” I spend a day at work, rush home, bolt down a meal, then go to my chess club and play a three-hour game which often makes me feel ill, especially if I lose. After that, usually around 10.30pm, I go home, go to bed, and frequently fail to sleep as my moves and mistakes revolve around my head.”

The author concludes with this paragraph, “So next time someone suggests a nice, quiet game of chess, or paints it as an intellectual pursuit played by wimps, tell them they’ve got it all wrong: this is a fight to the finish played in the tensest of circumstances by two players who are physically and mentally living on the edge. We all need to get fitter to play this demanding game, and society should recognise it for what it is – a sport as challenging, dramatic and exciting as any other. Such recognition would be a tribute of sorts to the two players who sadly played their final games in Tromso.”

It is a shame this may be what it takes for those in power to take notice and institute changes, especially in the way Senior chess tournaments are implemented.

Sam “The Shank” Shankland

GM Sam Shankland has left blood on the board at the 2014 Olympiad! He bested Judit Polgar in the game today for his SEVENTH consecutive victory without a loss.
During a phone conversation with the Legendary Georgia Ironman I mentioned that if Sam were in the Mafia, his nickname would be “The Shank.”
Slang. a dagger fashioned from available materials by a prison inmate. (
The Shank has left seven opponents bleeding all over the board.
I searched for “Mafia nicknames,” then surfed over to The Mafia Name Generator (
The name it chose for GM Shankland was, “Giorgio the Brain.” How apropos. I give the games in honor of the streak by The Shank:
Ssonko, Mathias Allan (2138) – GM Shankland, Samuel L (2624)
41st Olympiad Open 2014 Tromso NOR (1.7), 2014.08.02
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4 4.Bc4 e6 5.Nge2 Nf6 6.O-O a6 7.a4 d5 8.exd5 exd5 9.Ba2 Bd6 10.d3 O-O 11.Nxd4 cxd4 12.Nxd5 Nxd5 13.Bxd5 Bxh2+ 14.Kxh2 Qxd5 15.Re1 Bd7 16.c4 dxc3 17.bxc3 Bc6 18.f3 Qh5+ 19.Kg1 Qc5+ 20.d4 Qxc3 21.Ba3 Rfe8 22.Be7 Qa5 23.Qc1 Rac8 24.Qf4 f6 25.Qg3 Kf7 26.Qd6 Qf5 27.a5 Bd5 28.Re2 Be6 29.g4 Qd5 30.Rae1 Rc6 31.Qxd5 Bxd5 32.f4 Rc3 33.g5 Rh3 0-1
GM Shankland, Samuel L (2624) – IM Martinez Romero, Martin (2387)
41st Olympiad Open 2014 Tromso NOR (2), 2014.08.03
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 Be7 8.O-O-O O-O 9.f4 h6 10.Bh4 e5 11.Nf5 Bxf5 12.exf5 Qa5 13.g4 exf4 14.Qxf4 d5 15.g5 hxg5 16.Bxg5 d4 17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Ne4 Be5 19.Qg5 Nb4 20.f6 Bf4+ 21.Qxf4 Rac8 22.Bd3 Qa4 23.Qf2 Rxc2+ 24.Bxc2 Rc8 25.Rd2 Qxa2 26.Kd1 Qa1+ 27.Ke2 Qxh1 28.Qg3 g6 29.Bd3 Nxd3 30.Kxd3 Rd8 31.Qf4 b5 32.Ng3 Qc6 33.Ke2 Rd6 34.Ne4 Re6 35.Rxd4 Qc2+ 36.Kf3 Qb3+ 37.Nc3 1-0
GM Shankland, Samuel L (2624) – IM Gluckman, David (2236)
41st Olympiad Open 2014 Tromso NOR (4), 2014.08.05
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nc6 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nd7 6.Nb3 a5 7.a4 Be7 8.c3 b6 9.h4 h6 10.Rh3 Ba6 11.Bxa6 Rxa6 12.h5 Ra8 13.Rg3 Bf8 14.Kf1 Ndb8 15.Be3 Qd7 16.Nc1 Kd8 17.Nd3 Kc8 18.Rc1 Kb7 19.Qb3 Ka7 20.Rg4 Na6 21.Qb5 Rd8 22.Rf4 Ncb8 23.Nd2 c6 24.Qb3 Qe8 25.Qd1 Be7 26.Qf3 Rf8 27.Rg4 g5 28.hxg6 fxg6 29.Qh3 h5 30.Rf4 Nc7 31.Nf3 Rg8 32.Rf6 Bxf6 33.exf6 Rf8 34.Bg5 Nd7 35.f7 Qxf7 36.Bxd8 Rxd8 37.Nfe5 Nxe5 38.Nxe5 Qe8 39.b4 Na6 40.Rb1 axb4 41.cxb4 Rc8 42.Qc3 Kb7 43.Rc1 g5 44.Kg1 g4 45.g3 Qf8 46.Nd3 Qf3 47.b5 Nb8 48.a5 h4 49.gxh4 Qf8 50.axb6 Qd6 51.Nc5+ Kxb6 52.Ra1 cxb5 53.Qa5+ Kc6 54.Qa8+ 1-0
GM Shankland, Samuel L (2624) – IM Hambleton, Aman (2458)
41st Olympiad Open 2014 Tromso NOR (5), 2014.08.06
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.Ngf3 cxd4 6.Bc4 Qd7 7.O-O Nf6 8.Nb3 Nc6 9.Qe2 a6 10.a4 Bd6 11.Rd1 O-O 12.Nbxd4 Nxd4 13.Rxd4 Qc7 14.Bg5 e5 15.Rh4 Bf5 16.Bxf6 gxf6 17.Bd3 Bg6 18.Rg4 Rfe8 19.Nh4 e4 20.Bxe4 Bxh2+ 21.Kh1 Bf4 22.Qf3 Bg5 23.Nxg6 hxg6 24.Bxb7 Rab8 25.Bc6 Rec8 26.Bd5 Kg7 27.g3 Rxb2 28.Bb3 Qe5 29.Rd1 Rc3 30.Qd5 Qxd5+ 31.Rxd5 f5 32.Rgd4 Rb1+ 33.Kg2 Bf6 34.Rd2 Re1 35.Rd7 Be7 36.Ra7 Rc6 37.Rdd7 Kf6 38.a5 g5 39.Rdb7 Rd6 40.Rb6 Ra1 41.Rxd6+ Bxd6 42.Rxa6 Ke7 43.Ra7+ Kd8 44.Bxf7 Bb8 45.Ra8 Kc7 46.Ra6 f4 47.gxf4 gxf4 48.Kf3 Ra3+ 49.Kg4 Rc3 50.Rf6 Rxc2 51.Rxf4 Kd8 52.Rf5 Ba7 53.f3 Rc3 54.Bd5 Bf2 55.a6 Ra3 56.Rf6 Ra5 57.Be4 Ke7 58.Rc6 Ra4 59.Kh3 Ra3 60.Kg2 Be3 61.Kf1 Bd4 62.Ke2 Re3+ 63.Kd2 Ra3 64.Bd3 Be5 65.Rc2 Kd6 66.Ke2 Bd4 67.f4 Ke7 68.Rc6 Kd7 69.Bb5 Ke7 70.Rc4 Bb6 71.Ra4 Re3+ 72.Kd2 Ba7 73.Bd3 Kd6 74.Rb4 Re7 75.f5 Bc5 76.Rg4 Be3+ 77.Kc3 Rc7+ 78.Rc4 Ra7 79.Re4 Rc7+ 80.Bc4 Bg5 81.Re6+ Kc5 82.f6 Bf4 83.Re7 Rc8 84.f7 Bd6 85.Re8 Rc7 86.f8=Q Bxf8 87.Rxf8 Kb6 88.Kb4 Rc6 89.Rb8+ Ka7 90.Rb7+ Ka8 91.Rh7 Kb8 92.Bb5 Rf6 93.Kc5 Rg6 94.Bc6 1-0
FM Vazquez, Guillermo (2323) – GM Shankland, Samuel L (2624)
41st Olympiad Open 2014 Tromso NOR (6), 2014.08.08
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.Bg5 Qb6 6.Bd3 Qxd4 7.Nf3 Qg4 8.O-O Bxd3 9.Qxd3 e6 10.Nbd2 Be7 11.c4 Bxg5 12.Nxg5 Ne7 13.Qb3 b6 14.cxd5 cxd5 15.Rac1 Nbc6 16.f4 Rc8 17.Qd3 Nf5 18.Ndf3 O-O 19.Nh2 Qg3 20.Qd1 Nxe5 21.Rxc8 Rxc8 22.fxe5 Qe3+ 0-1
IM Vakhidov, Jahongir (2471) – GM Shankland, Samuel L (2624)
41st Olympiad Open 2014 Tromso NOR (7), 2014.08.09
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 d5 3.e3 c6 4.c4 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Bd3 Bg6 7.O-O Nbd7 8.Ne5 Bxd3 9.Qxd3 Be7 10.f4 O-O 11.b3 Bb4 12.Bd2 Bxc3 13.Bxc3 Ne4 14.Bb4 Re8 15.a4 f5 16.a5 a6 17.Nf3 Ndf6 18.Rfc1 h6 19.Ne5 Nd7 20.Rc2 Nxe5 21.dxe5 dxc4 22.Qxc4 Qd5 23.Qxd5 exd5 24.h3 h5 25.Ra4 Kf7 26.Ba3 Rad8 27.h4 Re6 28.Rb4 Rd7 29.Rb6 Rg6 30.Bb2 c5 31.Rc1 Rxb6 32.axb6 Ke6 33.Ba3 d4 34.Bxc5 d3 35.Bb4 d2 36.Rd1 Rd5 37.Bxd2 Nxd2 38.Rc1 Nxb3 39.Rc7 Rd7 40.Rc3 Nd2 41.Rc8 Ne4 42.Re8+ Re7 43.Rh8 Kd5 44.Rxh5 g6 45.Rh6 Re6 46.h5 gxh5 47.Rxh5 Rxb6 48.g4 fxg4 49.e6+ Kd6 50.f5 Rb1+ 51.Kg2 Rb2+ 52.Kg1 g3 0-1
Shankland, Samuel L (2624) – Polgar, Judit (2676)
41st Olympiad Open 2014 Tromso NOR (8), 2014.08.10
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Nbd2 b6 5.a3 Bxd2+ 6.Qxd2 Bb7 7.e3 a5 8.b3 d6 9.Be2 Nbd7 10.Bb2 O-O 11.O-O Qe7 12.Qc2 c5 13.Rfd1 h6 14.Rac1 Rfc8 15.a4 cxd4 16.Nxd4 Nc5 17.Ba3 Nfe4 18.Nb5 d5 19.f3 Nf6 20.Qb2 e5 21.cxd5 Nxd5 22.e4 Nf4 23.Bc4 Rd8 24.Kh1 Rxd1+ 25.Rxd1 Rd8 26.Qc2 Rxd1+ 27.Qxd1 Qg5 28.Qd2 Nxe4 29.fxe4 Bxe4 30.Bf1 Bc6 31.Bc1 Qg4 32.Nc3 g5 33.Qc2 Kg7 34.Be3 Qe6 35.Kg1 Bb7 36.Nb5 Nd5 37.Bf2 Nf4 38.Nc7 Qg4 39.Bxb6 Nh3+ 40.Kh1 Qf4 41.Qc4 Qd2 42.Qe2 Qc1 43.Ne8+ Kf8 44.Nd6 Bd5 45.Be3 Qb1 46.Qd3 Qe1 47.Qe2 Qb1 48.Nc4 Qxb3 49.Qd3 Qxd3 50.Bxd3 Nf4 51.Bxf4 exf4 52.Nxa5 f3 53.gxf3 Bxf3+ 54.Kg1 Bd1 55.Bb5 Ke7 56.Nc4 Bf3 57.a5 f6 58.a6 Kd8 59.Kf2 Bh1 60.Ne3 1-0