They may have been chess champions, but these players met a-pawning and sorry ends…


1. Yuri Yeliseyev

Yuri Yeliseyev was a high achiever. By the time he was 17, in 2013, he’d already scaled the heights of his sport – chess. He was granted grandmaster status, ranking 42nd of the world’s 1,540 chess grandmasters.

But then, tragedy struck for Yuri Yeliseyev. He’d started scaling heights quite literally. Yuri had got interested in Parkour, an urban-based sport which involves climbing onto man-made structures and jumping from one to another.

On Saturday, 26 November 2016, he attempted to climb from the twelfth-floor window of a Moscow apartment block onto a neighbouring balcony. Sadly, the young chess genius and parkour enthusiast slipped, lost his grip, and fell to his death on the stony pavement beneath.

Yuri lost his life. The world lost a bright and original mind.

And yet, Yuri Yeliseyev isn’t the only chess champion to die in unusual and unfortunate circumstances…

2. Georgy Agzamov

Georgy was ranked eighth in the entire world. He’d just competed in a tournament in the city of Sevasatpol on the Crimean peninsula back in 1986 when he decided to go for a walk. Perhaps he wanted to clear his head after all that intense concentration. But he wasn’t paying enough attention to where he was going. Somehow, he managed to fall off a cliff and get stuck between two large rocks at the bottom of the precipice below. Luckily, several passers-by heard his cries for help. Unluckily, by the time rescue teams got to him, Georgy Agzamov was dead.

3. Alexander Alekhine

Many consider Alexander the best chess player ever. But he died while staying at a hotel in Portugal in 1946, when he was just 53-years-old. The official story goes he choked to death on a ham sandwich. But some believe he was murdered. Alexander had defected from Russia in 1925 and become a French citizen. During the war, he supported the Nazi occupation of France. One theory is he was assassinated by the French Resistance, in revenge for his high-profile defence of Nazi rule and his collaboration with it. Another theory is he was assassinated by the Soviet state security police, the KGB. Or, it might just have been the ham sandwich.

4. Kurt Meier

Swiss-born Kurt Meier, 67, was very excited to be playing at the Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway, in 2014. He was representing his adopted nation, the Seychelles, as part of a 10-strong team that also included his 29-year-old son. The Seychelles team made it to the final. Kurt was playing the second board for the Seychelles opposite Rwanda, his son playing the board next to him. Everything was going well. But suddenly, mid-match, Kurt suffered a massive heart attack and died immediately. Later that same week, during the same Olympiad in Tromsø, another player died. He was Alisher Anarkulov, representing Uzbekistan. He’d dropped down dead in his hotel room from natural causes.

5. Vladimir Bagirov

Vladimr was another player who died mid-match. In 2000, he was competing at the Heart of Finland Open Event. In round four, he was trouncing his opponent. And he’d just made an impressive move when…he had a heart attack and died on the spot.

6. Jessie Gilbert

Jessie from Croydon won the Women’s World Amateur Championship when she was just 11-years-old. After, she won every title going, and had even been given a scholarship to study in New York under one of the world’s best players, Edmar Mednis. Then in July 2006, when she was just 19, Jessie went to Pardubice, a city 100km to the east of Prague, to play in the Czech Open. There, she fell from the window of her eighth-floor hotel room. A year later, an inquest into her death returned an open verdict. Some of Jessie’s friends came forward to say she was a sleepwalker, and fell to her death because the window had been left open on account of the hot weather that summer. Others have suggested it was suicide. Jessie had a history of self-harm, and is believed to have tried to kill herself before 2006.

7. Kelly Scott Kjersem

Kelly, 42, was an amateur player, but enjoyed the game with his friend Joseph Groom, 60. In February 2009, Kelly went round to Joseph’s home in Alameda, California, one evening for a game. But tragically, a row broke out over a particular move. Joseph reached for the 2ft decorative sword he had hanging on his wall and stabbed his opponent – his friend – to death.