George Koltanowski (1903-2000), "The Dean of American Chess," was born in Eastern Europe and moved to Antwerp, Belgium as a child. Learning to play chess at the age of 14, he became the national chess champion of Belgium for the first of four times, at the age of 20 (1923, 1927, 1930 and 1936). His most noted tournament wins were Antwerp 1932, Barcelona 1934, and Barcelona 1935.
George Koltanowski was best known for his remarkable abilities in simultaneous blindfold play, becoming a phenomenon across Europe. In 1937, he played 34 blindfold games simultaneously against a strong group of chess players at the Edinburgh Chess Club in Scotland and won 24 games and drawing 10 and set a record for World Blindfold Chess Champion. He was at the 1939 Chess Olympiad in Argentina during the outbreak of World War II. Koltanowski, who was Jewish, chose to live in Central America during the war and moved to the United States in 1944. He claims chess saved his life, as some of his family members were killed in concentration camps during the war and had it not been for the Chess Olympiad he may have been killed too.
Affectionately known as "Kolty," he frequently toured the United States giving lectures and competing in blindfold chess exhibitions and performing his famous Knight's Tour, which he has his knight visit all 64 squares on the chess board exactly once. He wrote 16 books in English, 3 in Flemish, 2 in French and one in Spanish. His book, The Colle System, has been cited as one of the three best chess books in the world. He also contributed to many periodicals and newsletters promoting chess, and was the daily chess columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than 50 years (1948-2000) and wrote more than 19,000 columns.
Koltanowski organized matches and directed tournaments, including more than 20 U.S. Opens. In 1960, Koltanowski set another world record by playing 56 consecutive rapid-transit games blindfolded without losing a game. The same year he also became an International Arbiter. To add to all of this, George Koltanowski helped found the International Chess Federation, FIDE, he introduced the Swiss system to US chess tournaments, served as president of the U.S. Chess Federation (1975-1978), and was an original inductee into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. He was awarded the title of International Grandmaster in 1960 and given the title of "Dean of American Chess" by the USCF.
The Cleveland Public Library owns the personal archives of George Koltanowski. The George Koltanowski Collection contains his personal collection of chess writings, photographs, correspondence, awards, clippings and ephemeral items from chess tournaments and public speaking engagements.
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Click here to access the finding aid for the George Koltanowski Collection.