Bogart and Chess

by Bill Wall

Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on January 23, 1899 (Warner Brothers publicity changed it to December 25, 1899) in New York City. He was the son of a noted Manhattan surgeon. His mother was a popular illustrator.

Humphrey probably learned chess in 1912. His father taught him chess during their stay at their summer home in Canandaigua Lake, near Rochester, New York.

He played chess with other chess players in 1913 when he visited the chess clubs in New York City. Humphrey Bogart attended Phillips Academy in preparation for medical school. He was later expelled from school (perhaps spending too much time playing chess instead of studying).

In 1918 he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He is called to active service, but World War I is nearly over.

After his discharge from the Navy in 1919 he returned to New York City and continued to play chess. He was expert strength. He finally approached a friend of the family for employment and got a job as an office boy at a theater.

In 1920 he switched to acting and appeared in a play called Swiftly in 1922. He had minor roles on Broadway during this time.

He married his first wife, Helen Menken, in 1926, but divorced her after less than a year.

In 1928 Bogart married his second wife, Mary Philips. They were divorced in 1937.

In 1929, after the stock market crashed, Bogart hustled chess players for quarters in New York City parks and for dimes against all comers at Coney Island.

In 1930 Bogart traveled to Hollywood, but only had minor parts. He played chess and got involved in California chess organization during that time.

He returned to New York in 1931 and couldn't find a job. He earned money by hustling chess in an arcade windows, taking on all challengers.

He was known to have played chess in Times Square in 1933.

In 1935 Bogart was cast as a gangster in The Petrified Forest and it became a big hit in 1936. This role lifted him out of poverty and he no longer had to hustle at playing chess.

In 1938 he married his 3rd wife, Mayo Methot.

In 1942 he was the star (Rick Blaine) of CASABLANCA. It had several chess playing scenes. CASABLANCA was rated as the second best movie ever made by the American Film Institute. Casablanca won the Best Picture of 1943. It became one of the biggest money-maker movies ever. All the chess playing scenes in CASABLANCA was Bogart's idea. He wanted a character that was a chess player that drank too much. There were some chess scenes of Bogart studying a chess game while Peter Lorre looked on that did not make the film. The character Rick Blaine always beat police officer Captain Louis Renault (Claude Reins) at chess.

A blooper in the movie is that a knight disappears in the opening chess game.

After CASABLANCA Bogart was playing a lot of correspondence chess with GIs overseas or in veterans hospitals in 1942. In 1943 he was visited by the FBI who prevented him from playing any more correspondence chess. The FBI was reading his mail and thought that the chess notation he was sending to Europe were secret codes.

In May, 1945 Bogart divorced Mayo Methot and married 20 year old Lauren Bacall 11 days later (he was 45). She was also a chess player.

In 1945 Bogart and his new wife, Lauren Bacall, appeared on the cover of the June-July, 1945 issue of Chess Review magazine. He was playing Charles Boyer as Lauren Bacall looked on. Another picture of Bogart, Boyer, and Herman Steiner appeared in the magazine. Bogart was a tournament director for the United States Chess Federation and the California State Chess Association. He helped sponsor the August 1945 Pan American Chess Congress in Los Angeles and was selected as the Master of Ceremonies.

In June 1945, Bogart was interviewed by Silver Screen magazine. When asked what things mattered most to him, he replied that chess was one of those things that mattered most to him. He said he played chess every day between takes when he made movies.

In 1946 Bogart lost a match and $100 to the restaurateur, Mike Romanoff (1890-1972). That evening Bogart went home, then phoned Romanoff to play one more game ove the phone for another $100. Romanoff agreed, then lost in 20 moves. Bogart just happened to have former US chess champion Herman Steiner over his house, and Bogart's moves were really Steiner's moves.

The Romanoff's restaurant on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was Bogart's main hangout. Bogart owned the second booth from the left corner as you entered the restaurant. No one else could sit there. If Mike Romanoff was there, he and Bogart would always play chess at that table. Romanoff liked to call himself "Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitri Romanoff."

In 1947 Bogart was the highest paid actor in the world (making $500,000 a year). He started his own production company, Santana Pictures. One of Bogart's biographers said that Bogart rated his friends on their ability to play chess.

In 1949 Humphrey Bogart and Laurne Bacall had a son, Stephen. In 1952 they had a daughter, Leslie Howard.

In March, 1952 Bogart was in San Francisco and played a game with George Koltanowski. Koltanowski played blindfolded and defeated Bogart in 41 moves. Bogart had earlier played Sammy Reshevsky when Reshevsky was giving a simulteneous exhibition, and drew him at Romanoff's Restaurant in Hollywood.

In 1952 Bogart won the Best Actor Oscar for his character in The African Queen. He and Katherine Hepburn played chess while making The African Queen in Stanleyville. Bogart claimed to be the strongest chess player among the Hollywood stars. He did lose to Art Buchwald, columnist for the New York Herald, when they played.

Bogart died in his sleep on January 14, 1957. He had cancer of the esophagus. He appeared in over 75 films in 26 years. His chess playing buddy, Mike Romanoff, was his pallbearer.

Bogart - NN, Hollywood 1933
1.d4 Nf6 2.g4 Nxg4 3.f3 Nf6 4.e4 d6 5.Be3 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Qd2 Nc6 8.O-O-O O-O 9.Bd3 e5 10.d5 Nb4 11.Bc4 a5 12.a3 Na6 13.h4 Nh5 14.Nge2 f5 15.Bg5 Bf6 16.f4 exf4 17.Nxf4 Nxf4 18.Qxf4 fxe4 19.Bh6 Re8 20.Nxe4 Bg7 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 22.h5 Bf5 23.hxg6 Bxg6 24.Qh6+ Kg8 25.Rdg1 Qe7 26.Rxg6+ hxg6 27.Qh8+ Kf7 28.Rh7 mate 1-0

Bogart - Sydney Greenstreet, Hollywood 1942 result: 1-0 in favor of Bogart during the filming of "Casablanca."

Bogart - Charles Boyer, Hollywood 1945 result: 1-0 in favor of Bogart during the filming of "The Confidential Agent."

Bogart - Bacall, Hollywood 1951
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb6 g6 4.d3 d5 5.exd5 Qxd5 6.c4 Bb4 7.Nc3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 Qd6 9.a4 Bd7 10.Ba3 Qf6 11.Qe2 Nge7 12.Bxe7 Qxe7 13.Bxc6 Bxc6 14.Nxe5 Bxg2 15.Rg1 Bh3 16.Rg3 Be6 17.d4 c6 18.d5 cxd5 19.cxd5 Bxd5 20.c4 Be6 21.Re3 f6 22.Nd3 Kf7 23.Nf4 Rae8 24.Nxe6 Qb4+ 25.Kf1 Re7 26.Re1 Rhe8 27.Nd8+ Kf8 28.Rxe7 Rxe7 29.Qxe7+ Qxe7 30.Rxe7 Kxe7 31.Nxb7 1-0

Limbos - Bogart, Stanleyville, Congo
1951 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.Nge2 O-O 7.O-O c6 8.Bg5 Nbd7 9.Ng3 Qc7 10.Nh5 Nxh5 11.Qxh5 g6 12.Qh6 f5 13.Rfe1 Nb6 14.Re2 Bd7 15.Be7 Bxe7 16.Rxe7 Rf7 17.Rxf7 Kxf7 18.Qxh7+ Kf6 19.Re1 Qd6 20.g4 Rd8 21.f4 g5 22.h4 1-0

Koltanowski - Bogart, San Francisco 1952
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Ne2 Bg4 6.O-O Bd6 7.f3 Be6 8.Bf4 O-O 9.Nd2 Nc6 10.c3 Ne7 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.f4 c5 13.Nf3 Nf5 14.Qd2 Ne4 15.Qc1 Rac8 16.dxc5 Qxc5+ 17.Ned4 Nxd4 18.Nxd4 Rc7 19.f5 Bd7 20.Bxe4 dxe4 21.Qf4 Re8 22.Rae1 Re5 23.Rxe4 Rxe4 24.Qxe4 Bc6 25.Qe3 Re7 26.Qg3 Re8 27.f6 g6 28.Qh4 h5 29.Re1 Rxe1+ 30.Qxe1 Qd6 31.Nxc6 Qxc6 32.Qe7 Qc8 33.h3 Qc6 34.b4 Qxc3 35.Qe8+ Kh7 36.Qxf7+ Kh6 37.Qe7 Qc1+ 38.Kf2 Qf4+ 39.Ke2 Qc4+ 40.Kf3 Kg5 41.f7+ 1-0

Sammy Reshevsky - Bogart, Hollywood 1955 A drawn game in a simultaneous exhibition

It is not true that after this game, Bogart said, "Play it again, Sam."

Posted with permission of Bill Wall.

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