Halloween is right around the corner so I thought it would be a good time to dig into some of the darker and more mysterious mythology that haunts our game. Perhaps no other story has confused or amused chess players and fans more than the story of the notorious Claude Bloodgood.
Robbery, Murder, and Life Behind Bars
Claude Frizzel Bloodgood, whose name alone conjures images of the great villains from classic horror films, was convicted of burglary in the 1960s and served his prison time in Delaware. Shortly after being released, he murdered his mother, Margaret Bloodgood, in 1969 and was subsequently sentenced to death in 1970.
Not content to sit behind bars and wait on his execution, Claude stayed active playing chess and appealing his sentence along with several attempts to get released from custody altogether.
- Unsuccessfully filed two petitions for habeas corpus alleging that his death sentence was prejudiced by the fact that he was a repeat offender.
- Unsuccessfully argued that he was not provided a defense attorney during his trial as required by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright.
- Unsuccessfully argued to state and prison officials that he had been born in 1924 in an apparent attempt to be released due to his age.
As if things were not strange enough, Claude also claimed to have been a Nazi spy. Curious since he would have been around the age of 10 years old at the time of World War II if his claims of being born in 1924 were true (they were not).
Prison Chess and Ratings Manipulation
I think that few people would argue against the idea that Claude was a good chess player, but his claimed rating and the mythology surrounding his chess career are remain a topic of considerable debate and scorn. He organized countless prison tournaments during his life, most of which were filled with new US Chess Federation members that were dominated by the seasoned Bloodgood.
This has led to accusations of ratings manipulation due to Bloodgood’s control and influence over the closed group of participants in his prison tournaments. In a sense, it is the same as walking down the street and getting every person I met to sign up for a US Chess membership just so I could beat the ones with little to no chess knowledge. Although they would have no rating or a low provisional rating, I would still see an increase in my own rating. Curiously, fragments of his games are scattered across the web with Chessgames.com offering the only collection that appears to have some coherence to it.
In addition to spending much of his jail time reading about and playing chess, Bloodgood also took the time to write chess books and work on his own opening, most notably his book on The Tactical Grob. More of a curiosity than a solid opening, The Grob has been the subject of much debate throughout the years and is available in several formats including free downloads across the internet (including Campfire Chess) and a print version available on Amazon.com.
Claude Bloodgood is one of those characters that adds to the colorful mythology that often surrounds chess and its players. Eccentricity has been a hallmark of chess personalities for centuries from enigmatic kings playing chess during the destruction of their fortresses to Paul Morphy’s final days and descent into madness and on to the famous disappearance and return of Bobby Fischer following his famous 1972 match. Claude Bloodgood might be one of the biggest con artists in chess history after Wolfgang von Kempelen and his famous Turk chess automaton. Or, it might be that he really was a good chess player and not as much of a con artist as many believe he was. We may never know.