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Monday, January 16, 2017

William Hook

Hook in 1977
     Hook (May 28, 1925 – May 10, 2010) born of Finnish parents in New Rochelle, New York, was an artist, gambler and master. He served as captain and played first board for the British Virgin Islands chess team. 
     After spending World War II in a tuberculosis ward, Hook became involved in the chess world of New York City in the 1950s. 
     He learned to play chess from a friend at the age of 15 and in 1943, at the age of 18, was drafted by the Army, but his pre-induction physical revealed that he was suffering from tuberculosis. As a result he was hospitalized for the next 15 months. 
     While in the hospital he got Gossip's Chess Manual off a library cart and shortly afterward subscribed to Chess Review and took up postal chess. It was in Chess Review that he read about a chess club, The New York Academy of Chess and Checkers, near the hospital and when he was discharged in September, 1944 the first thing he did was pay it a visit. The club was run by a former Canadian checker champion, Harold Fisher, and so came to be known as Fisher's and later, the Flea House
     Because of his tuberculosis, the State offered to pay for training and he chose to study fine art, but was forced to take courses in commercial art because it offered better employment opportunities. He enrolled in the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but because he lacked the motivation to study, he ended up flunking out. Shortly afterward his mother died and he moved to Detroit to live with an aunt and uncle. 
Abstract chess painting by Hook
     Hook got married in 1957 and in the 1960s he started going to the BVI to dive, fell in love with the place and he and his wife and spent all their vacations there. They eventually bought a home in the islands. He formed the BVIs chess Olympiad team in 1968 which he described as the chess equivalent of the Jamaican bobsledders. The teams were never very good and Hook said on one occasion they were given a trophy showing the hindquarters of a donkey, but they went to have a good time. 
     Over a 40 year period Hook played in 17 Olympiads, winning the gold medal for best percentage on board one at Malta in 1980. To commemorate this achievement, the British Virgin Islands issued a stamp in his honor. 
Position Hook v Kanani, Olympiad, 1980

     His memoir Hooked on Chess was published in 2008. In the book he told stories about the scene in the New York chess clubs of the 1950s, describing the personalities and atmosphere. He also included stories about his encounters with players ranging from homeless unknowns to Stanley Kubrick, Marcel Duchamp and Bobby Fischer. Hook was also the author of various magazine and newspaper articles about chess. 
     In the art world, he was known for his one-man shows in painting and photography. His art career began with realistic subjects, but gradually gravitated towards the abstract. Chess remained one of his main themes throughout his development. Not experiencing major success in painting, though some of his paintings were displayed in various chess clubs, he turned to photography and his chess photos often appeared in chess magazines. 
     Hook was a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland at the time of his death. 


  1. Is this the same Hook of the Portisch-Hook variation of the French deference?

  2. Yes, I believe it is. He played it against Fischer at the Siegen Olympiad in 1970.