The next time you’re in St. Louis—a wonderful city full of ribs and frozen custard and woods and blues—visit the U.S. and World Chess Halls of Fame, housed under one roof just a few blocks from Forest Park. It’s an interesting place with fantastic galleries and a learning center and a quirky gift shop; it’s fun for the whole family, if you’re into the whole chess thing.
In March, the World Chess Hall of Fame will honor four new members during a ceremony that will also kick off the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Championships. The 2017 inductees are: Paula Kalmar-Wolf, Alla Kushnir, Viktor Korchnoi, and Edward Lasker. These four will join the Hall’s 27 members, including José Raúl Capablanca, Bobby Fischer, Alexander Alekhine, Emanuel Lasker, and Vera Menchik. Here are a few fast facts about the Hall’s four new members, all of whom are Jewish:
Paula Kalmar-Wolf was an Austrian chess master who didn’t begin playing chess until she was in her thirties. She finished third in the 1927 Women’s World Chess Championship, and second in the tournament in 1930 and 1931. She died in 1931 from diabetes. Her second husband was Heinrich Wolf who died in 1943 on account of the Nazis.
Alla Kushnir was one of the top female players in the world in the 1960s and 1970s, losing three world championships to Nona Gaprindashvili (1965, 1969, 1972), the first female grandmaster who was the strongest player of her generation. In 1973, Kushnir, who was born in the Soviet Union, immigrated to Israel, where she died in 2013. She led Israel to the 1976 Women’s Chess Olympiad.
Viktor Korchnoi, who died last year, holds the title of the best ever to never win a world title, like Dan Marino, Barry Bonds, or Karl Malone. He vied for ten world championships, reaching three title matches. He represented the Soviet Union until 1976, and then became a Swiss citizen. He lost those three title matches to Anatoly Karpov (1974, 1978 1981), barely losing the first two. His father was Jewish and his mother Catholic. Koirchnoi once said he grew up “never having any furniture except vegetable crates and, of course, a piano, for [my mother] was a teacher.”
Edward Lasker, a German immigrant who represented the U.S., was a top player in the early 20th century, winning five U.S. titles. (He is a distant relative (perhaps third cousins once removed) of Emanuel Lasker, who is one of the top players in history, having held the title for 27 years. An engineer by trade, Edward Lasker also published books on Go, American checkers, and, of course, chess.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.