June 27, 2013

Upcoming Exhibition: Jacqueline Piatigorsky: Patron, Player, Pioneer

Posted in Exhibitions

Jacqueline PiatigorskyPatron, Player, Pioneer


Preview exhibition September 4-15, 2013, WCHOF First Floor Gallery

´╗┐Full exhibition October 25, 2013-April 18, 2014, WCHOF Third Floor Gallery


Jacqueline Piatigorsky’s position as one of the best female chess players of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as her support of the game as a patron, has cemented her reputation as one of the most important women in the American chess world in the twentieth century. Born in Paris to the Rothschild banking family, she learned chess at an early age while recovering from an illness. Though she had many interests, which included art, music, and tennis, chess was one of her main passions, described in her memoir Jump in the Waves as “part of her blood.”

In 1937, Jacqueline married Gregor Piatigorsky, a cellist born in the present-day Ukraine who studied at the Moscow Academy of Music. Gregor was an accomplished musician who had been the principal cellist for the Warsaw Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic. He also had an impressive solo career, and many composers including Sergei Profokiev and Igor Stravinsky created music for him to play. Gregor Piatigorsky would later teach at UCLA and the University of Southern California.

Jacqueline and Gregor fled Europe with their daughter Jephta in 1939 at the outset of the Second World War. After settling with her family in Elizabethtown, Connecticut, Jacqueline Piatigorsky began participating in correspondence chess tournaments, playing six opponents at a time. The Piatigorskys later moved to Los Angeles, California. There Jacqueline met Herman Steiner, a chess player and founder of the Hollywood Chess Group. Steiner encouraged her to begin playing chess competitively, and she began participating in tournaments over the board. She would later run his chess club after his death, renaming it the Herman Steiner Chess Club in his honor.

Jacqueline’s skill quickly led her to the top of the field of women’s chess, both in California and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. She competed many times in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, earning second place in 1965. In 1957, Piatigorsky also won a bronze medal in the Women’s Chess Olympiad in Emmen, Netherlands.

Jacqueline’s generosity as a philanthropist also increased her standing in the world of chess. She formed the Piatigorsky Foundation in the 1960s. The organization supported chess at both an elite level and in underserved communities. The Foundation was known for its sponsorship of the 1961 match between Bobby Fischer and Samuel Reshevsky, but became most famous for the Piatigorsky Cup Tournaments of 1963 and 1966, which attracted top players from the United States and around the world, including Tigran Petrosian, Paul Keres, Boris Spassky, and Bobby Fischer. The Piatigorsky Foundation also sent chess players to teach the game in schools in underserved communities, supported chess teams composed of players who were visually impaired, and provided financial assistance to high school chess teams. The Foundation also supported the U.S. Junior Invitational Tournament.

This fall, the World Chess Hall of Fame will present an exhibition about the fascinating life of Jacqueline Piatigorsky, featuring artifacts from her personal archive. Highlights include the Piatigorsky Cup, photos from the 1963 and 1966 Piatigorsky Cup tournaments, and artifacts and photos related to Jacqueline’s impressive career in women’s chess. These artifacts are part of the permanent collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, and are part of a generous and important donation by the Piatigorsky family.

—Emily Allred, Assistant Curator and Collections Manager