Shelby Lyman on Chess: Hollywood Hustle
Sunday, June 21, 2015
(Published in print: Sunday, June 21, 2015)

Among the chess curiosities of the ’30s and ’40s were the large number of Hollywood stars who played the royal game.

Their number seems to have been legion.

Included among them, according to Arnold Denker in his book The Bobby Fischer I Knew, were John Barrymore, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Charles Boyer, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, and many others.


Chess apparently appealed to the cosmopolitanism and intellectuality of the actors, as well as providing a distraction from numbing delays in filming.

No one was more enamored with chess than Bogart, who, according to the grandmaster columnist Larry Evans, had gained expertise playing “for chump change against all comers in penny arcades and parks.”


Paul Limbos, an amateur player who took on Bogart for a dollar a game one evening in Congo, where the actor was filming The African Queen, later recalled: “Both Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn tried their best to distract me from the game at hand. They continually poured my glass full of whiskey, but I just wouldn’t swallow the bait. Bogie never seemed to stop smoking. He must have gone through at least three packs just playing against me.”

Despite the antics of Bacall and Hepburn, Bogart ended up a $17 loser.

More here.

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