Friday, February 24, 2012

What US presidents have in common (Part 1)

ASIDE from being born leaders and a strong will to excel most American presidents play chess in their spare time.

Whatever role chess may have played in their political ascendancy no one will ever really know, but from the first, George Washington, to the 44th, Barack Obama, there are stories about their indulgence in the sport with varying degrees of skill and passion.

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George Washington (1732-1799), 1st US President, played chess and owned an ivory chess set that is now housed in the US National Museum in Washington, DC When asked by an associate what entertaintment he had, George replied “I read, my lady, and write, and play chess….”

John Adams (1735-1826), 2nd US President, taught his son, John Quincy Adams, to play chess. He wrote in his autobiography that his evenings were devoted to music, cards, chess, and backgammon.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd US President, collected chess sets. Friends gave him chess sets or he gave them chess sets as presents. When he moved into Monticello, he was concerned about his ivory chess sets that had disappeared in the move.

James Madison (1751-1836), 4th US President, was a chess player who played several games against Thomas Jefferson.

James Monroe (1758-1831), 5th US President, was a chess player and purchased chess books from Thomas Jefferson. The James Monroe Museum in Virginia has a chess set that belonged to him.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), 6th US President, was a chess player who collected chess sets. He said that chess was the best way to occupy time during long sea

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), 7th US President, was described as an excellent chess player. He would sometimes observe his houseguests play chess and frequently directed the moves for one side or the other.

Martin Van Buren, 1782-1862), 8th US President, probably played chess, since his son was an avid player from an early age.

James K. Polk (1795-1849), 11th US President, wrote to Samuel Laughlin in 1844 : “From what Cave Johnson writes, I think the recent occurrances (sic), on the chess-board, have decidedly improved my prospects.”

Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), 13th US President, played chess but thought that chess was too sedentary and that sitting all day playing chess would make you crooked.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th US President, played an occasional game with Judge S. H. Treat, Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in the White House.

Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), 17th US President, may have played chess and was also a checkers player.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), 18th US President, played chess at his army outposts and sometimes traveled 10 miles from his post to find a chess player.

Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893), 19th US President, wrote about playing chess in his diary. He said “Somehow my faculties are so dull that nothing but chess seems to excite the attention…”.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881), 20th US President, was a strong chess player. An article in Chess Life in 2003 suggests that Garfield was perhaps the strongest chess player who was President.

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), 22nd and 24th US President, was a chess player. In 1893, Cleveland consented to become a patron for the New York Chess Congress and presented to the winner of the tournament a gold medal.

Due to space limitations, I will write a concluding article on the rest of the American presidents who play(ed) chess next week.

As mentioned in my previous article on Nobel chess playing laureates, is there a correlation between great achievement and early exposure to chess?


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 24, 2012.

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