Koltanowski, George

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KOLTANOWSKI, GEORGE (1903–2000), U.S. chess master. Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Koltanowski won the Belgian championship six times and prizes in international tournaments. Endowed with a magnificent memory, he concentrated on simultaneous blindfold play, sharing supremacy with Miguel *Najdorf. In 1937 in Edinburgh he set the world record for blindfold chess, where the player commits the game to memory and does not look at the board or touch the pieces while opponents play in the normal way. Koltanowski played 34 opponents simultaneously while blindfolded without losing a game, making headlines around the world. His record still stands in the Guinness Book of Records.

When World War ii broke out, he was in Guatemala on a chess tour of South America, so he remained there. In 1940, the United States consul in Cuba saw him giving a chess exhibition in Havana and granted him a U.S. visa. In 1947 Koltanowski moved to San Francisco, where in 1948 he became the chess columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. It carried his syndicated chess column every day for the next 52 years. Publishing an estimated total of 19,000 columns, Koltanowski wrote the only daily newspaper chess column in the world and the longest-running daily chess column in history.

In 1950, in San Francisco, he played 50 games in an event lasting nine hours, winning 43, drawing five, and losing two. He turned most of his attention to touring, teaching chess, writing books and articles, and directing tournaments. Although he played in at least 25 international tournaments, Koltanowski became better known for touring and giving simultaneous exhibitions and blindfold displays. In 1960 in San Francisco he set another world record when he played 56 opponents consecutively while blindfolded and did not lose a single game. He also gave hundreds of charitable performances worldwide, particularly for schoolchildren. In the 1960s, he hosted Koltanowski on Chess, a series of half-hour broadcasts about chess, aired nationally on public television. It was the first such program of its kind. In the 1970s he seized upon the chess mania inspired by Bobby *Fischer and established chess clubs in countless schools, community centers, and at San Quentin Prison.

He served as president of the United States Chess Federation 1975–78 and was awarded the title of International Master in 1950 on the basis of his prewar results; in 1960 he was awarded the title of International Arbiter; and in 1988 he was given an honorary Grand Master title by the fide (World Chess Federation). He was one of the three original inductees into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame (1986).

Koltanowski spoke eight languages. The books he wrote in English include Practical Chess (1947), Adventures of a Chess Master (1955), tv Chess (1968), With the Chess Masters (1972), Checkmate (with M. Finkelstein, 1978), and Chessnic-dotes (1978). He also wrote books in Flemish, French, and Spanish.

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]