George Koltanowski (also "Georges"; 17 September 1903 – 5 February 2000) was a Belgian-born American chess player, promoter, and writer. He was informally known as "Kolty". Koltanowski set the world's blindfold record on 20 September 1937, in Edinburgh, by playing 34 chess games simultaneously while blindfolded, making headline news around the world. He holds the current record with 56 games, set in 1960.
1 Early life
2 Chess career
3 Blindfold chess
4 Simultaneous blindfold chess
5 Later years
6 Blindfold Knight's Tour
8 External links
Born into a Polish Jewish family in Antwerp, Belgium, Koltanowski learned chess by watching his father and brother play. He took up the game seriously at the age of 14, and became the top Belgian player when Edgar Colle died in 1932.
He got his first big break in chess at age 21, when he visited an international tournament in Meran, planning to play in one of the reserve sections. The organizers were apparently confused or mixed up about his identity and asked him to play in the grandmaster section, to replace an invited player who had not shown up. Koltanowski gladly accepted and finished near the bottom, but drew Grandmaster Tarrasch and gained valuable experience.
He thereafter played in at least 25 international tournaments. He was Belgian Chess Champion in 1923, 1927, 1930, and 1936. However, Koltanowski became better known for touring and giving simultaneous exhibitions and blindfold displays.
Based upon his results during the period 1932–37, Professor Arpad Elo gave Koltanowski a rating of 2450 in The Rating of Chess Players. Koltanowski was awarded the International Master title in 1950 when the title was first officially established by FIDE, and he was awarded an honorary Grandmaster title in 1988. However, Koltanowski's record as a tournament player was not especially distinguished. He showed up for the 1946 U.S. Open in Pittsburgh, but was eliminated in the preliminary section and did not qualify for the finals.
In those years, the U.S. Open was played in round-robin preliminary and final sections. However, the next year, Koltanowski returned, not as a player but as the director, introducing the Swiss system to the U.S. Open. He directed the 1947 U.S. Open in Corpus Christi, Texas, using the Swiss system for the first time ever in a U.S. Open chess event. After that, he traversed the country, holding Swiss system tournaments everywhere. Before long, the Swiss system was adopted as the standard for most chess tournaments in America.
Koltanowski thereafter toured the United States tirelessly for years, running chess tournaments and giving simultaneous exhibitions everywhere. After his failure in the 1946 U.S. Open in Pittsburgh, he never played tournament chess again, except for two games as a member of the U.S. team in the 10th Chess Olympiad (Helsinki 1952), getting a draw with Soviet Grandmaster Alexander Kotov, one of the strongest players in the world, and a draw with Hungarian International Master Tibor Florian, in a game which Koltanowski appeared to be winning.
On 4 December 1960, in San Francisco, California, Koltanowski played 56 consecutive games blindfolded, with only ten seconds per move. He won fifty and drew six games. Koltanowski still holds the record in the Guinness Book of Records.
Simultaneous blindfold chess
In Edinburgh in 1937 Koltanowski set a record by simultaneously playing 34 games of blindfold chess. Later, both Miguel Najdorf and J?nos Flesch claimed to have broken that record, but their efforts were not properly monitored the way that Koltanowski's was. Najdorf played 40 games at Rosario, Argentina in 1943 and 45 games in S?o Paulo in 1947. Flesch played 52 games in Budapest in 1960.
Koltanowski will not be remembered as a player, but as an exhibitor, writer, promoter and showman. Possessed of an incredibly powerful memory, Koltanowski would give exhibitions, playing several games blindfolded simultaneously. Strangely, what wowed the spectators the most was not that he would win all the games, even though blindfolded, but that after the games were over, he would recite the complete moves of the games without looking at the board, something which any competent master can do.
Many of Koltanowski's relatives died in the Holocaust. Koltanowski survived because he happened to be on a chess tour of South America and was in Guatemala when the war broke out. In 1940, the United States Consul in Cuba saw Koltanowski giving a chess exhibition in Havana and decided to grant him a U.S. visa.
Koltanowski met his wife Leah on a blind date in New York in 1944. They settled in San Francisco in 1947. Koltanowski became the chess columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, which carried his chess column every day for the next 52 years until his death, publishing an estimated 19,000 columns. Koltanowski wrote the only daily newspaper chess column in the world.
The FIDE named him International Arbiter in 1960.
Later on in the 1960s, he[clarification needed] played a newspaper game against grandmaster Paul Keres. Following a system similar to that adopted in the Kasparov versus The World match, readers would vote on moves and send them into the Chronicle. Koltanowski would select the move actually played, and would award points and prizes to his readers for their selections. However, after about only 25 moves, Keres abruptly stopped the game and declared himself the winner by adjudication. Koltanowski disagreed and showed analysis which seemed to give him at least an even game. Keres, an Estonian, may have been ordered by his Soviet handlers to stop playing.
Koltanowski had his own organization, the Chess Friends of Northern California, which resisted the USCF rating system and dominated Northern California Chess through the mid-1960s. Koltanowski later decided "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em". He won election as President of the United States Chess Federation in 1974. He also directed every US Open from 1947 until the late 1970s. He was appointed as the "Dean of American Chess".
Perhaps Koltanowski's most remarkable accomplishment was that he made his living entirely from chess. He wrote many books; his best-known work is Adventures of a Chess Master, published by David McKay Co. in 1955. In it, he recounts primarily his tours giving blindfolded simultaneous exhibitions. He also wrote books on the Colle System which he sold by mail order. He taught a system which would enable even rank beginners to get out of the opening with a playable game. This saved his students the trouble of memorizing vast amounts of chess opening theory. However, he never played this opening himself against strong opponents.
Koltanowski died of congestive heart failure in San Francisco in 2000 at the age of 96.