Bora Kostic (born on 24 February 1887 in Vrsac, died November 3, 1963) was the first Serbian grandmaster. He learned chess at the age of ten and by the time he was in grammar school, he was one of the best players in Vrsac. After school, Kostic went to study in Budapest at the Oriental Trade Academy.
His first major success was winning the Budapest amateur tournament in 1909. In 1911 he won a sensational victory against Frank Marshall and that same year he participated in the international tournament Carlsbad (Karlove Vari) where he finished tied for 19-21 out of 26 with a score of +5 -9 =11. The event was won by Teichmann ahead of Rubinstein and Schlechter.
In 1913 Kostic moved to Buenos Aires where he worked as the chess lecturer at the Military Academy. In Argentina, at one time or another, he defeated most of their best players. 1915 found him in New York where started a chess tour from the East to the West Coast. The tour lasted six months Kostic achieved the world record for the number of games on simultaneous exhibitions. Out of 3281 games he lost only 112, and drew 237. During his stay in America he visited Nikola Tesla and was a chess coach for Enrico Caruso. Kostic matches against Frank Marshall, Jackson Showalter, and Paul Leonhardt, and won them all.
While in New York City, Kostic participated in many Manhattan Chess Club Championships and as a result of his games against Capablanca in those tournaments a match in Havana was arranged. The match was a disaster for Kostic. The match was supposed to be eight games, draws not counting. The match came to an untimely end after only five games, all won by Capablanca. You can read all the gory details HERE.
He returned to Europe in 1915 and in Hastings took the second place after Capablanca. The next year in Hastings he took the first place then came Gothenburg 1920 - fourth place, Budapest 1921 – tied for 3-4, Hague 1921 4-5 place. In Yugoslavia a rivalry developed between Dr. Milan Vidmar and Kostic but unfortunately, a match was never organized.
Kostic liked to travel and see new countries and customs so he organized world chess tour which lasted from 11 November 1923 to 28 May 1926. As he himself said to his friend Kosta Jovanovic immediately before the trip: "I want to see the world, those parts of the world that were only the objects of my imagination. I believe that on that trip there will be a lot of interest for chess. "
First he set off to Australia and New Zealand. Then over to South Africa and Kenya, where the famous match on the equator was played. Kostic was on the northern hemisphere, and his opponent on the south. His next stop was India, where he was at the end met by maharaja from Patiale who organized tournaments on the heights of the Himalayas. From there he went to Nepal and on Tibet, and then to the island of Java in Indonesia. From Java he crossed to Sumatra where he played with the chief of the Bataki tribe. From there he moved to the Philipines, and then to Hong Kong and China. From China he moved to the Soviet Union from where his return to Vrsac began. Through Siberia, over Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Sverdlovsk, Moscow, Odessa, Leningrad to Riga.
Everywhere he played simultaneous matches, blindflod games, matches, and as he himself confessed the greatest number of lost games he had, were played just in the Soviet Union. Finally, at the end of May 1926, he arrived to Vrsac and ended the first part of his trip around the world at the chess-board.
The first chess Olympics were played in 1927 and Kostic played first board for Yugoslavia and scored 8.5 (out of 15). The following year he won in Trencanske Toplice, and in 1930 he was fourth in Nice. In the same year he continued his trip around the world. He went to Mexico where he stayed eight months. From there he went to Cuba, then to the United States and returned home in the middle of 1931 to arrive to the Olympics which took place in Prague. Then came extraordinarily strong tournament in Bled , which was marked by the world champion Alekhine.
The first Yugoslav championships took place in 1935 in Belgrade and Kostic shared the first place with Vasja Pirc. Kostic achieved his greatest tournament result in 1938 in Ljubljana at the Yugoslav championships. He scored 10.5 out of 15 games defeating the likes of Szabo, Tartakower and Steiner.
At the beginning of WW2 chess activity stopped for all those who did not want to play in Nazi Germany. Kostic was one of them and as a result spent some time in the concentration camp in Veliki Beckerek (Zrenjanin). Kostić, an Orthodox Christian, was imprisoned in a by a Nazi SS commander Schiller because he declined to participate in tournaments called "Free Europa" and to glorify the Nazi regime. Afterwards, he played chess only in a more minor capacity. His final appearance was at the Zurich Veterans Tournament in1962, which he won.
Kostic was awarded the Grandmaster title by in 1950, on the first list issued by FIDE. Kostic died in Belgrade, 3 November 1963. Objectively Kostic would not be ranked among the world’s top players, but his constant travel and the circumstances he lived under later did not allow him to fulfill his creative potential to its full extent. However, he was a unique, extraordinary person who devoted his life to chess.
Watch how easily he defeats Tartakower in the following game.