Deaths at the Chess Olympiad

by Frederic Friedel
8/16/2014 – Sad news from in Tromsø: on the final day the Swiss-born CM Kurt Meier, playing on board two for the Seychelles, collapsed with a heart attack during his game. In spite of immediate attention he died later that day in hospital. That same evening another player, who we are told was from Uzbekistan, was found dead in his hotel room. What a tragic end to the 2014 Chess Olympiad.

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End of Olympiad marred by deaths

On Thursday (August 14) the news service News in reported that a member of the chess team from the Seychelles had collapsed and died on the last day of the Chess Olympiad in Tromsø. It happened during a game when the player suddenly seemed to suffer a seizure and fell to the floor. Two ambulances arrived quickly but they were unable to revive him. Most of the games were over when the player collapsed. State broadcaster NRK reported that several of his teammates witnessed his collapse and many people in the hall began to cry. The organizers said they were setting up a crisis team that would be available for anyone feeling a need for support. A moment of silence was observed during the closing ceremony of the Olympiad.

We have learnt that the deceased player was Candidate Master Kurt Meier (photo above by David Llada, taken during round seven), who was aged 67 and originally from Switzerland. He had married a Seychellois national and along with his wife and son formed part of the archipelago’s selection of ten players competing at the Olympiad. Meier had contributed most points for Seychelles on the men’s side. He was playing on the second board for the Seychelles against the team from Rwanda when the heart attack occurred. His son was playing on the board next to him.

There was momentary chaos in the hall when Meier collapsed, which was explained by Morgan Lillegård, head of communication for the Chess Olympics, in The Local: “People in the hall thought the defibrillator was a weapon. Panic spread because the thought there was an armed person. I can definitely confirm there was no weapons. This is a misunderstanding. It is in itself dramatic enough that someone had a heart attack.”

The Guardian comments that Meier is not the first player to die in the middle of a match: in 2000 Vladimir Bagirov, a Latvian grandmaster, had a fatal heart attack during a tournament in Finland, while in the same year another Latvian, Aivars Gipslis, suffered a stroke while playing in Berlin, from which he later died. To this we add that Johann Zukertort died from a cerebral hemorrhage suffered during a game in Simpson's Divan, in a tournament which he was leading at the time. José Raúl Capablanca died of a stroke in March 1942 while watching a skittles game at the Manhattan Chess Club.

Other players who died during a chess tournament or game: Gideon Stahlberg (1908-1967), Vladimir Simagin 1919-1968), Cecil Purdy (1906-1979), Ed Edmundson (1920-1982). The following players died very shortly after a game or event: Frank Marshall (1877-1944), Efim Bogoljubov (1889-1952), Herman Steiner (1905-1955), Paul Keres (1916-1975), Alexei Suetin (1926-2001).

Second death

On Friday, August 15th, News in reported that after the Olympiad had ended police were called to the Radisson Blu Hotel when a body was discovered. The dead person's nationality, age and sex were not immediately revealed, only that the the Tromsø Police Department said that no foul play was involved, attributing the death to “natural” causes. We have learnt that the second death was of a player from Uzbekistan, but were not able to find out who it was.

Fox News report on the deaths in Tromsø


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All you need to know about the Olympiad

  • Full information on the games, the venue, the atmosphere and what's happening on and off the chessboard – 68 pages in PDF, 45 MB in size.
  • All practical details you need to know before and after your arrival, including information about money, the climate, arriving at Oslo and Tromsø Airports, lost or delayed luggage, check-in at the hotels, the accreditation desk, information offices and the opening ceremony.

All ChessBase reports on the 2014 Olympiad in Tromsø

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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