The Chess Handshake Challenge: Winners

by Frederic Friedel
7/26/2020 – How far away are you from the World Champion, in terms of handshakes? Have you shaken hands with someone who has shaken hands with him? How far from Boris Spassky? Capablanca? Morphy? We asked about this a couple of weeks ago, and it led to some fascinating historical research, all the way back to European experts/authors who lived in the 1500s and 1600s. And we have a winner!

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


In my previous article on the subject I proposed a Chess Handshake Competition: how many handshakes are you away from famous players? Say you played in a simul against Korchnoi (and conceded defeat with a handshake), then your handshake score, in my way of counting, for Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov, and many others is one.

Personally, I have met a lot of strong players: Kasparov, Karpov, Korchnoi, Spassky, Euwe, Botvinnik and Reshevsky (very important!). So it is tough for anyone to beat me. Here are some examples:

  • Emanuel Lasker: my handshake score is one (Reshevsky played Lasker in 1920)

  • Rubinstein, Janovsky, Drake, Fine, Capablanca, Aljechin, and many others: one, me-Reshevsky-them. Meeting Samuel was incredibly important!

  • Alan Turing: one. I met Donald Michie, who worked with Turing.

How about Steinitz or Morphy? I narrowed the latter down to four and still hoping for a three (or even two). The Duke of Brunswick (= Morphy + 1)? Ruy Lopez? François-André Danican Philidor?

So the deal was: try and find the shortest handshake chains between yourself and famous chess players. We promised to reward the most impressive chain with a ChessBase software package signed by at least one (contemporary) World Champion. Here is some of the feedback we received – at the bottom of the article and by email:

David Friedman (problem expert): For Garry Kasparov, for Anatoly Karpov, for Boris Spassky, and for Mikhail Tal my number is three: I played GM Alex Shabalov in the 2016 Ohio Chess Championship. Shabalov has played GM Boris Gulko, and Gulko has played Kasparov, Karpov, Spassky, and Tal. Of course, that also means that my number is no worse than four for Botvinnik, as at the very least Tal played against Botvinnik.

Julio Kaplan (former Junior World Champion, chess engine programmer) 6/24/2020: Looking at my score with players of my generation was of course pointless (0 with most of them) so I reached into the past, beginning with my boyhood heroes Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine. Immediately Reshevsky came to mind. What a career! He played long enough that I could actually face him once (Lone Pine 1977). He immediately gives me a score of 1 with most of the previous two generations of top players! And since you brought up politics, here's one for you youngsters (under 50) to figure out (too easy if you are my age): who gives me a score of 1 with Mao, Che Guevara and Mandela? [Frederic: Julio hasn't told us yet how he gets to these three – but I think know how he is linked to Mao, Che and Mandela: Julio used to hang out with Fidel Castro?]

Julio Kaplan @Frederic, well done, Fidel was the link. The chess connection is that Fidel hosted the opening ceremonies of the 1966 Chess Olympiad in Havana, where I shook his hand.

Peter Feher PhD: I am one handshake from Einstein (through Edward Teller), and one from Kasparov (through Adorjan). This is a very small world! Warm regards from Hungary.

Boisgilbert: Albert Pinkus->Emanuel Lasker->Henry Bird and many others->Paul Morphy.

Highbee: IM Femi Balogun played GM Magnus Carlsen, who played Anatoly Karpov, who played Boris Spassky, who battled Jose Raul Capablanca (in many games at Havana 1962). I shook hands with a friend (untreated player) who played Balogun, so I have successfully created a chain six handshakes away from Capablanca, my favourite.

MeisterZinger: @Highbee: Those handshakes between Spassky and Capablanca in Havana 1962 must have been amazing to see, since Capablanca had been dead for twenty years at that time... In any case: I have HN=1 for all world champions from Capa to Kaspy, other than Alekhine, by way of getting squashed in a simul game with Miguel Najdorf in 1971. HN=2 for lots of ancient luminaries by way of Najdorf having played Spielmann and Tartakower, and probably others. Incidentally, I suspect I can claim an odd twofer: best HN to a world champion combined with HN to someone who set off an atomic bomb! And not just any atomic bomb, but the first one ever; Joseph McKibben, "the man who pushed the button" (threw a switch, actually, but button sounds better) for the Trinity test, was an occasional professional contact a long time ago, and his daughter and my wife's sister were childhood friends. I'm not sure I ever shook Joe's hand, but mutual colleagues certainly did, so HN=1 for both.

soulblazer: 0: Magnus Carlsen, Alexandre Lesiège. 1: Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand, Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Ruslan Ponomariov (via Magnus). 3: Robert James Fisher (via Alexandre Lesiège), Kevin Spraggett, Abe Yanofsky, José Raul Capablanca.

Hayoung Wong: I shook hands with Jay Bonin at an unrated G/15 tournament (I lost badly with white). Bonin played Reshevsky. I also played a game with the late Eliot Hearst (met him at a Stuyvesant High School alumni association gathering). My routes, therefore, are: Bonin-Reshevsky-Lasker-Bird-Morphy-Staunton-Cochrane-Deschapelles-Lewis; Hearst-Reshevsky-Lasker-Bird-Morphy-Staunton-Cochrane-Deschapelles-Lewis; Hearst-Reshevsky-Lasker-Bird-Staunton-Cochrane-Deschapelles-Bernard-Philidor.

Frederic Friedel: Thanks @HubertKnott (Hayoung Wong), that gives me a handshake number of 7 to François-André Danican Philidor: Me - Reshevsky - Lasker - Bird - Staunton - Cochrane - Deschapelles - Bernard - Philidor. Now I'll try to extend it to Gioachino Greco and Ruy López de Segura.

Michael Jones: I'm not sure how many people in this discussion are also familiar with cricket, but even if you aren't you may nonetheless be interested in this article I wrote on the same concept (and this one).

Asa Hoffmann: Dear Frederic, I have met every world champion from Euwe to Carlsen. I also met Bronstein, Geller, Korchnoi and Averbakh. In the US, I played Fischer (hundreds of blitz games), Reshevsky, Fine, Lombardy, Bisguier, Evans, Benko, Larsen and Anand. I also played Rossolimo, Kupchik, Horowitz, Kevitz and Kmoch. I've played many players who were born in the 19th Century, among them Edward Lasker, Harold M. Phillips, I.S. Turover, and Herman Helms. My list of more modern players is too long to mention but I have played every strong player who ever visited New York in the last 60 years. I think anyone who can beat my record would be 100 years old! I am busy writing my memoirs. [Frederic: Asa wins a special prize, and will be the topic of a special article in the near future. Looking forward to your memoires, Asa!]

The winner

HubertKnott: Bonin-Reshevsky-Lasker-Bird-Morphy-Staunton-Cochrane-Deschapelles-Lewis-Bernard-Philidor and Hearst-Reshevsky-Lasker-Bird-Morphy-Staunton-Cochrane-Deschapelles-Lewis-Bernard-Philidor are my handshake routes to Philidor. I am trying to figure out a provable route to at least one European master from the 1500s. I will get back to you on that one.

@Frederic: On a hunch, I wanted to see if Bird and Cochrane played each other. For a long time, I had known that no recorded games existed between the two, but your handshake game made me wonder if Bird and Cochrane played each other in unrecorded games. As it turns out, my chess historian instincts won the day again! H. E. Bird (writing in November 1880 in A Slight Chess Retrospect and Explanation, as cited by Hans Renette in H.E. Bird A Chess Biography with 1,198 Games (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016), page 560]: "In later years Barnes, Macdonnell, and notably Boden were my regular competitors, and some scores of delightful games took place only six years since between Cochrane and myself." Renette says that the only copy of this writing of Bird survives in the Harvard University Library. We should trust Hans! On page 95 of the same book, Renette says, "As with Bird's countless encounters with Boden and Cochrane[,] these games were played for pleasure and not for any stakes. It is a shame that these chess friends did not pay much attention to preserving the games. None of the games between Bird and Cochrane have survived."

Assuming the veracity of Bird's testimony as recounted by Renette, we can shorten our handshake routes to Philidor (by removing Staunton), i.e.: Hearst-Reshevsky-Lasker-Bird-Cochrane-Deschapelles-Bernard-Philidor; and Bonin-Reshevsky-Lasker-Bird-Staunton-Cochrane-Deschapelles-Bernard-Philidor are my handshake routes to Philidor. In your case, Frederic, just remove the Hearst or Bonin.

As a quick preface, I should say that we have a (slightly shaky, as we will see below) route to Greco. We can even continue on a handshake/significant contact/game-chain from Greco to many European experts/authors who lived in the 1500s and 1600s, the most notable examples of whom include:

Sources for the following information abbreviated as:

  • ENCYCLOPEDIA: Levy and O'Connell, Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games: Volume 1: 1485~1866 (1981)
  • HOFFMANN: Hoffmann, The Games of Greco (1900)
  • MURRAY: Murray, A History of Chess (1913)
  • PHILIDOR: George Allen, The Life of Philidor: Musician and Chess-Player (1865)
  • WHYLD: Hooper and Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess, 2nd. ed. (1992)

[1] Ruy López de Segura (Spain, c. 1530~c. 1580), loser of chess matches against Leonardo di Bona and Paolo Boi in Madrid, 1574~1575 [source: WHYLD, p. 234; and MURRAY, p. 817~819]

[2] Giovanni Leonardo di Bona [AKA Giovanni Leonardo da Cutri] (Italy, c. 1542~c. 1587), winner of chess matches in 1574~1575 against Ruy López and Alfonso Ceron of Granada---and frequent opponent of Boi [source: MURRAY, p. 817~819]

[3] Paolo Boi (Italy, 1528~1598), winner of chess matches against Ruy López and Alfonso Ceron of Granada at a time "a little later [than Leonardo's victories]"---and frequent opponent of Leonardo [source: MURRAY, p. 817~819]

[4] Ruy López's contemporary Alfonso Ceron of Granada (Spain), an opponent of Leonardo and Boi---described as a rival of López, so it seems that López likely played against Ceron [source: MURRAY, p. 817~819]

[5] Giulio Cesare Polerio (Italy, c. 1550~c. 1610), servant (sometimes described as someone who accompanied Leonardo) of Giovanni Leonardo di Bona and also a victor in chess games against Ruy López de Segura and Alfonso Ceron of Granada (1574~1575) [source: WHYLD, p. 312; source: MURRAY, p. 819]

[6] Alessandro Salvio (Neapolitan, c. 1575~c. 1640), opponent of Boi (1598) [source: WHYLD, p. 352; source: MURRAY, p. 817~819]

[7] Pietro Carrera (1571~1647), a chess author who knew Boi in Boi's final years [source: MURRAY, p. 818]

[8] Scovara, an opponent of Boi in 1575 [source: MURRAY, p. 824]

[9] Arminio, an opponent of Salvio in 1604 [MS H. J. Murray 64, Bodleian Oxford, "Collection of European Games", as cited in ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 1]

[10] Castigilio, an opponent of Polerio in 1575 [MS H. J. Murray 64, Bodleian Oxford, "Collection of European Games", as cited in ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 1]

[11] Busnardo, an opponent of Polerio in 1590 [MS H. J. Murray 64, Bodleian Oxford, "Collection of European Games", as cited in ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 1]

[12] Saduleto, an opponent of Polerio and Benavides in 1590 [MS H. J. Murray 64, Bodleian Oxford, "Collection of European Games", as cited in ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 1]

[13] Benavides, an opponent of Saduleto in 1590 [MS H. J. Murray 64, Bodleian Oxford, "Collection of European Games", as cited in ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 1]

Asa Hoffmann's record of meeting literally just about everyone needs no further introduction here! I nominate him to get the prize!

Frederic: We are giving him a special prize, and will hopefully tell you all about him in a separate article soon. But the main prize goes to you, Hubert, for the wonderful historical research you have done(more is to be found in the feedback to our Chess Handshake Competition article). You get the prize also for providing me with handshake chains equal to yours (since I met Rechevsky). Please send us email with your postal address. We will dispatch the prize in post-covid times.

This is not the end of the story: there is another challenge coming up soon!


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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register