The wife of cellist Gregor Piatigorsky was among the top five female U.S. chess players in the 1950s and '60s and sponsored two Piatigorsky Cup tournaments. She also won national seniors tennis tournaments.
|Obviously she had an extensive collection of chess sets/pieces!|
She was 24 when she met Gregor Piatigorsky, a Russian-Jewish cellist who was in Paris for a recital. They were married in 1937. Their daughter, Jephta, was born later that year.
Fearing the Nazi invasion, they fled France in 1939 and settled in Elizabethtown, N.Y., where their son was born in 1940.
Piatigorsky was devoted to her children but felt "a burning desire to do something myself." She taught herself to play the bassoon and joined an amateur orchestra; she also learned to pilot a plane. But her "real love" was chess, taught to her by a nurse when she was 6 and recovering from peritonitis. One winter in New York, she took up postal chess, exchanging moves by mail with far-flung opponents in tournaments that took a year to complete.
She continued to play after the family moved to Philadelphia and, in 1949, to Los Angeles, where Gregor had accepted a teaching position at USC. She played with everyone from her gardener to luminaries in the arts like Marcel Duchamp and Sergei Prokofiev. She tackled the weekly chess problems in the Los Angeles Times and met chess editor Herman Steiner, who became her teacher and entered her in her first face-to-face tournament.
In 1957 she represented the U.S. at the first Women's Chess Olympiad in Emmen, the Netherlands, and earned a bronze medal. She finished second in the U.S. Women's Championship in 1965.
Seeing the shabby conditions under which most tournaments were held, she became an organizer and sponsor of chess events.
One of her earliest efforts — a 1961 match between U.S. champions Samuel Reshevsky and Bobby Fischer — ended abruptly after Piatigorsky postponed a game to attend her husband's evening concert. Fischer threw a fit and withdrew from the competition, allowing his opponent to be declared the winner.
More successful was the first Piatigorsky Cup tournament, held in 1963 in a mirrored ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Its $10,000 prize was the richest in chess history at the time and drew eight grandmasters, including the first Soviet world champion allowed to travel to the U.S., Tigran Petrosian. He and Paul Keres, another Soviet champion, tied for first.