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Grandmaster Paul Keres scored 25 wins, three draws and two losses in his 30-game simultaneous exhibition with the Hart House Chess Club in 1975
Photo by Vlad (Walter) Dobrich

Game of Kings and Queens

U of T’s chess club – Canada’s oldest – is undergoing a 21st-century revival

When an economics professor founded the U of T chess club at University College in 1895, he and his fellow organizers restricted membership to faculty in arts, medicine, science and law, as well as male students. Other enthusiasts begged to join, so the club swung open its doors to all faculty, alumni and anyone wanting to engage in a battle of the minds. Soon, even the Anglican bishop William Reeve was an honorary club member and, despite no affiliation to U of T, played on the university chess team.

In 1919, the club moved to Hart House and before long was not only competing locally, but internationally. The U of T team scored six wins at the intercollegiate chess championships between 1965 and 1982. The members kept on top of their game by inviting international stars, such as Estonian grandmaster Paul Keres (shown above in a 30-game simultaneous exhibition at Hart House), to play and instruct the men in new moves.

Women had only limited access to Hart House until 1972, and women didn’t compete in a club championship until 2000, says Sanja Vukosavljevic, the first female president in the club’s 119-year history. “Chess is a male-dominated sport,” she admits.

The fourth-year sociology and Slavic languages student and her team have added workshops for beginners, pizza parties and movie nights to the roster, and brought back a club tradition – the student versus faculty tournament. These initiatives have more than tripled the membership from last school year. There are now 76 players, 18 of whom are women. And the club continues to swing its doors wide open. All alumni are welcome! To find out more, visit

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  1. 2 Responses to “ Game of Kings and Queens ”

  2. Mrs. M. Angela Snyder says:

    The picture of Paul Keres and the 30-game chess exhibition is very interesting to me. I studied violin and viola at the music department for five years under the direction of Prof. Lorand Fenyves and was not aware that he had been a member of the Hart House chess club. He used to recommend that we practice our performance repertoire during the lunch hour concerts at Hart House, which I found very enjoyable. I am quite sure that I recognize my dear old teacher on the left side of the exhibition table holding his right hand to his I right? If I am, then can you tell me how he did in the game against Keres?

  3. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to participate in two simultaneous chess matches at Hart House. The first, held in the Debates Room in the fall of 1953, was a 50-board test with the Grand Master Samuel Reshevsky, considered by many (including Bobby Fisher) to be one of the finest chess minds of that decade. A few months later, I found myself, with 99 others, seated in the Great Hall for an exhibition with Frank Anderson, then Canadian Champion. No need to dwell on the outcomes: Reshevsky , working his two knights into my ranks, carved me up with surgical precision; the latter contest, although taking much longer, had the same result. Nonetheless, they remain treasured memories of five years at U of T.

    Paul Van Loan
    BA 1957, MA 1958
    Santa Cruz, California