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How We Had Fun in L.A. in 1933: Living Chess Games

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Jose Capablanca and Hereman Steiner playing a game of chess with people as pieces in Los Angeles. The participants dressed as Kings, Queens, Bishops, Knights, etc and Cecil B DeMIlle refereed. Capablanca won. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)
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Chess playing was a big deal in Los Angeles in the 1930s. In fact, the Los Angeles Times had a Chess Editor, and in 1933 that person was American chess star Herman Steiner, who helped glamorize the game thanks to the support of the Hollywood community.

To illustrate the life-size fun of chess, on April 11, 1933, Steiner played Cuban-born chess virtuoso Jose Capablanca in what was known as a "living game," using people as the pieces on a giant floor board.

Living chess games actually date back hundreds of years, but enjoyed a renewed popularity thanks to the celeb-status of chess and chess players in the U.S. and all over the world in the first half of the 20th century.

Played at the Hollywood Athletic Club and refereed by famous film director Cecil B. De Mille, in this particular living game, Capablanca mated Steiner in 25 moves.

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Capablanca died in 1942, but Steiner went on from this particular loss to form the Steiner Chess Club, which was eventually renamed the Hollywood Chess Group, which had a lot of famous guests, like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, and José Ferrer. Steiner wrote a chess column for the Times until his death in 1955.