The first Grand Master from Asia 1929
Mir Sultan Khan of Sargodha Punjab currently the part of Pakistan, however, was the first one left the lasting imprint of his un-questioned genius at the international level. Sultan Khan was uneducated and was an employee of Sir Umar Hayat Khan, Umar Hayat khan was in the British Army at that time who took him to Britain in the late 1920s, where he excelled as a chess player of enormous skill. Sultan Khan not only won the British chess championship in 1929, 1932 and 1933 but also represented Britain in three chess Olympiads as its leading player.
Sultan Khan had the rare distinction of beating the legendary Jose Raoul Capablanca of Cuba, who was world chess champion from 1921 to 1927. He also defeated Dr. Savely Tartakovar, a renowned player in a match of 11 games.
The Indian subcontinent's chess sensation was rated among the world’s top ten chess players of that era. Sultan Khan’s glorious career ended prematurely, when he had to return to Indian with his employer in 1933. Otherwise he would have created many more milestones.
Mir Sultan Khan (1905 – 1966) was generally considered to have been the strongest chess master of his time from Asia. He was also the first Asian chess master since As-Suli (Arab) to have been recognized in Europe.
Born in Indian subcontinent , now part of Pakistan in Sargodha, he was brought to England by his master in 1929. There he won the British Chess Championship in 1929, 1932 and 1933 and played for England in the Chess Olympiads of 1930, 1931 and 1933.
In less than four years, he rose to the top of the chess world, playing with the world's great masters, such as Alexander Alekhine, José Raúl Capablanca, Max Euwe, Aaron Nimzowitsch, and Akiba Rubinstein.
He was one of a few players who had a plus record against Capablanca. He also had a plus record against Frank Marshall and Savielly Tartakower. His most notable victory was the game he won against former world champion Capablanca at the Hastings tournament of 1930:
Sultan Khan never finished lower than fourth in any chess tournament in which he ever played. Although he always lost to William Winter (who usually finished last, in spite of defeating Sultan Khan) there is no doubt that Sultan Khan was one of the strongest chess players in the world at that time. According to the modern rating system, Sultan Khan was about 2550 in strength and was easily a grandmaster. This also means that Sultan Khan was the first ever Asian grandmaster of chess
His best years were the last two years, when he was probably ranked in the top ten in the world (peaking at #6 according to Chessmetrics ). In 1933, when his performances were still improving, he was taken back to India by his master, and was never heard of by the chess world again passed his rest of his life as farmer. He died in Sargodha, Pakistan in 1966.
His Grand son's available Address till 2006 is:- Badar Sultan s/o Safdar Sultan s/o Sultan khan house # 52/10 Awan colony, Sargodha, Pakistan.
Game between Capablanca and Sultan Khan at the Hastings tournament of 1930
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 b6 3.c4 Bb7 4.Nc3 e6 5.a3 d5 6.cxd5 exd5 7.Bg5 Be7 8.e3 O-O 9.Bd3 Ne4 10.Bf4 Nd7 11.Qc2 f5 12.Nb5 Bd6 13.Nxd6 cxd6 14.h4 Rc8 15.Qb3 Qe7 16.Nd2 Ndf6 17.Nxe4 fxe4 18.Be2 Rc6 19.g4 Rfc8 20.g5 Ne8 21.Bg4 Rc1+ 22.Kd2 R8c2+ 23.Qxc2 Rxc2+ 24.Kxc2 Qc7+ 25.Kd2 Qc4 26.Be2 Qb3 27.Rab1 Kf7 28.Rhc1 Ke7 29.Rc3 Qa4 30.b4 Qd7 31.Rbc1 a6 32.Rg1 Qa4 33.Rgc1 Qd7 34.h5 Kd8 35.R1c2 Qh3 36.Kc1 Qh4 37.Kb2 Qh3 38.Rc1 Qh4 39.R3c2 Qh3 40.a4 Qh4 41.Ka3 Qh3 42.Bg3 Qf5 43.Bh4 g6 44.h6 Qd7 45.b5 a5 46.Bg3 Qf5 47.Bf4 Qh3 48.Kb2 Qg2 49.Kb1 Qh3 50.Ka1 Qg2 51.Kb2 Qh3 52.Rg1 Bc8 53.Rc6 Qh4 54.Rgc1 Bg4 55.Bf1 Qh5 56.Re1 Qh1 57.Rec1 Qh5 58.Kc3 Qh4 59.Bg3 Qxg5 60.Kd2 Qh5 61.Rxb6 Ke7 62.Rb7+ Ke6 63.b6 Nf6 64.Bb5 Qh3 65.Rb8 . Sultan Khan Won 1-0
Moves of some more famous maches:-
Theodore Tylor vs Mir Sultan Khan
White "Theodore Tylor"
Black "Mir Sultan Khan"
Ply Count "120"
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 d6 4.d4 Bg4 5.Bb5 exd4 6.Qxd4 a6 7.Bxc6+ bxc6 8.Qc4 Qd7 9.Bf4 Ne7 10.O-O-O Ng6 11.Bg3 Be7 12.h4 h5 13.Rd2 Be6 14.Qd3 f6 15.Nd4 Ne5 16.Bxe5 fxe5 17.Nxe6 Qxe6 18.Kb1 O-O 19.Nd1 a5 20.Ne3 g6 21.g3 Rab8 22.Qc4 Qxc4 23.Nxc4 a4 24.Re2 Rf7 25.Ne3 Rb4 26.Nd1 Bf6 27.a3 Rd4 28.c3 Rc4 29.Ne3 Rc5 30.c4 Bg7 31.Rc2 Bh6 32.Re1 Rf3 33.Ree2 Kf7 34.Kc1 Ke6 35.Kd1 Kd7 36.Re1 d5 37.exd5 cxd5 38.Ke2 e4 39.Nxd5 c6 40.Nb6+
Kc7 41.Nxa4 Rcf5 42.Kd1 e3 43.fxe3 Rxg3 44.Rce2 Rg4 45.e4 Re5 46.Rh1 Bg7 47.Nc3 Bf6 48.b4 Bxh4 49.b5 Be7 50.bxc6 Kxc6 51.Nd5 Bxa3 52.Rh3 Bc5 53.Kd2 h4 54.Kd3 g5 55.Rf3 Rg1 56.Rf6+ Kd7 57.Rb2 Rg3+ 58.Kc2 Rg2+ 59.Kb1 Rxb2+ 60.Kxb2 Rxd5. Sultan Khan Won 0-1
Max Euwe vs Mir Sultan Khan
White "Max Euwe"
Black "Mir Sultan Khan"
Ply Count "97"
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e3 a6 6. Nf3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 Bb7 9. Qe2 Nbd7 10. Rd1 Nd5 11. Nxd5 Bxd5 12. Bxe7 Qxe7 13. O-O O-O 14. Qc2 Bxf3 15. gxf3 Nf6 16. Rc1 e5
17. Qxc7 Qxc7 18. Rxc7 exd4 19. exd4 Rad8 20. Rd1 Rd6 21. Be4 Rfd8 22. Ra7 g6 23. Rc1 R8d7 24. Rxd7 Rxd7 25. Rd1 Rd6 26. Kf1 Nh5 27. Ke2 f5 28. Ba8 Kf7 29. d5 Kf6 30. Kd3 Nf4+ 31. Kc3 a5 32. Bc6 Ke5 33. Re1+ Kf6 34. Kd4 Rd8 35. Re8 Rxe8 36. Bxe8 Ke7 37. Bxb5 Kd6 38. Bc6 Nh3 39. Kc4 Nxf2 40. Kb5 Nd3 41. Kxa5 Nxb2 42. Kb5 g5 43. a4 Nxa4 44. Kxa4 g4 45. fxg4 fxg4 46. Kb4 h5 47. Be8 Kxd5 48. Bxh5 Ke5 49. Bxg4 Draw Max Euwe vs M. S. Khan 1/2-1/2
Pictured playing left at Worcester, c.1931, are Mir Sultan Khan (1905-1966) (on the left, playing black) and Theodore H. Tylor (1900-1968) (right, playing white). Spectators include Sir George Thomas (1881-1972) (far left) and Arthur J Mackenzie (1871-1949) (far right).
Sultan Khan won the British Championship in 1929, 1932 and 1933, returning in the latter year to India whence he never returned. Sir George Thomas won the British Championship in 1923 and 1934,. Theodore Tylor won the British Correspondence Chess Championship in 1932, 1933 and 1934, He was Fellow and Tutor in Jurisprudence at Balliol College, Oxford. At chess he finished in high positions in several British Championships and played on board 5 in the England team at the Hamburg 1930 Olympiad (Thomas was on board 3 and Sultan Khan on board 1). Mackenzie was a strong player (top board for Warwickshire) and was president of the MCCU at the time of the photograph. He went on to play for Scotland in the Folkestone Olympiad 1933List of matches (available) of Grate legend of Sargodha Pakistan Malik Sultan Khan
Views of Edward Winter & References
In the light of these descriptions, we have been looking back at some earlier comments on Sultan Khan, beginning with page 338 of the September 1929 BCM:
‘The Nawab Umar Hayat Khan, though occupied with official duties in Whitehall, paid three visits to the Congress [the British Championship at Ramsgate], and showed great interest in the doings of the champion, who, owing to his unfamiliarity with the language and the tournament procedure, was also indebted to his companion interpreter, Syed Akbar Shah. The latter nursed him during his illness, kept him posted with information, and was often to be seen translating press reports to him.’
‘I first met Sultan Khan when he was competing in his first British Championship at Ramsgate in 1929. Not that we were in the same tournament or anything like it. He was some six years older than me and far in advance of a schoolboy who was competing in his first open tournament (to be precise, the second-class). However, only recently arrived in England he was in search of a type of cooking not too far away from his Indian variety and thus it happened that he and I were the only chessplayers at a Jewish boarding house where, I still remember it, the cooking was indeed infinitely better than anything offered by the smarter hotels of the resort.
Despite the fact that he had little English we got on very well together, particularly over the chess board after the day’s play. Though so much younger than him I was more or less able to hold my own in analysis since I was London Boy Champion and had a very quick sight of the board. For this reason, later on, when we did meet in tournaments, he treated me with care and a sort of respect that he did not exactly vouchsafe to players who were by reputation my superior.’
‘When he first came to Europe, in the early summer of 1929, Sultan Khan could neither read nor write a European language. The few scraps of knowledge he had about the openings had been picked up by watching other Indian players who were able to read English, and his style of play was greatly influenced by the other form of the game.’
‘… It so happened however that I stayed at the same boarding house as Sultan Khan, and that we were the only two chessplayers there. Considering the language barrier we understood each other remarkably well, partly by signs and partly by the use of chess pieces and the chess board. For anything complicated I had recourse to his friend and interpreter, whose excellent English more or less compensated for his utter ignorance of chess. Sultan Khan, I discovered, was totally uneducated, rather lazy, and blest, or cursed, with a childish sense of humour that manifested itself in a high-pitched laugh. He loved to play quick games but, strange to relate, match and tournament chess were a trial to him.’
Berne, 1932. From the back row
and from left to right:
‘Pakistan. It is good news indeed to hear that the great player Sultan Khan, who made such a mark in European chess during the brief space of four years before the war, is still alive and apparently interested in chess. According to a report a tournament is being held in Pakistan to select four players to meet him in a final tournament. One hopes that this is merely the prelude to the return of so greatly gifted a master to the international arena. 'On what basis the above claim was made is unclear.
Savielly Tartakower and Sultan Khan, match, Semmering, 1931
‘The South African Chessplayer prints an extraordinary report about Sultan Khan, the Indian serf who won the British Championship in three out of four attempts and defeated Tartakower in a match, then vanished back to India and has not been heard of in chess for over a quarter of a century. Kurt Dreyer states that Sultan Khan is living in Durban and is a professional concert singer, “has not played chess for a long time”.
Pending confirmation, we take this report cum grano salis.’
‘The unconfirmed report on Sultan Khan appearing in CHESS No. 354 is amusing.
I have known Sultan Khan since 1918. He is settled as a small land-lord in the Sargodha District of the old Punjab. The reason for his disappearance from the chess world is that his patron, the late Malik Sir Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana, died in 1941 [sic; in 1944, in fact]. Since then there has been no great opportunity for players scattered all over the country to meet. Furthermore it is well known that Sultan Khan’s knowledge of English does not go beyond his ability just to read a game-score. The secretary of the late Sir Umar used to help him to a certain extent to study annotations. Now he has nobody to help him or to give him practice. Even now he is distinctly better than the best active player in Pakistan or even in India I believe. He is a genius.’
‘Eighteen years later, however, [i.e. in 1951] when he was shown the moves of the games in the world championship match between Botvinnik and Bronstein, he is reputed to have dismissed them as the games of two very weak players.’
‘I remember vividly my first meeting with the dark-skinned man who spoke very little English and answered remarks that he did not understand with a sweet and gentle smile. One of the Alekhine v Bogoljubow matches was in [a] progress and I showed him a short game, without telling him the contestants. “I tink”, he said, “that they both very weak players.” This was not conceit on his part. The vigorous style of the world championship contenders leading to rapid contact and a quick decision in the middle game was quite foreign to his conception of the Indian game in which the pawn moves only one square at a time.’
‘At the Team Tournament at Hamburg (1930) he also did extremely well on the top board against the best continental opposition though his apparent lack of any intelligible language annoyed some rivals. “What language does your champion speak?”, shouted the Austrian, Kmoch, after his third offer of a draw had been met only with Sultan’s gentle smile. “Chess”, I replied, and so it proved, for in a few moves the Austrian champion had to resign.’
‘The story of the Indian Sultan Khan turned out to be a most unusual one. The “Sultan” was not the term of status that we supposed it to be; it was merely a first name. In fact, Sultan Khan was actually a kind of serf on the estate of a maharajah when his chess genius was discovered. He spoke English poorly, and kept score in Hindustani. It was said that he could not even read the European notations.
After the tournament [the 1933 Folkestone Olympiad] the American team was invited to the home of Sultan Khan’s master in London. When we were ushered in we were greeted by the maharajah with the remark, “It is an honor for you to be here; ordinarily I converse only with my greyhounds.” Although he was a Mohammedan, the maharajah had been granted special permission to drink intoxicating beverages, and he made liberal use of this dispensation. He presented us with a four-page printed biography telling of his life and exploits; so far as we could see his greatest achievement was to have been born a maharajah. In the meantime Sultan Khan, who was our real entrée to his presence, was treated as a servant by the maharajah (which in fact he was according to Indian law), and we found ourselves in the peculiar position of being waited on at table by a chess grand master.’
‘Before their departure from England the victorious American team visited the [Empire Social Chess Club in London], and the youngest member, R. Fine, who is only 18 years old, gave a very successful simultaneous display on 20 boards. Playing almost with lightning rapidity, the young American won 17 games and drew three in a little less than two hours …’
‘The appearance of an Indian on the tournament scene was one of the sensations of the early 1930’s. Sultan (a first name, not a title) was a serf on the estate of an Indian Maharajah, who was impressed by his extraordinary ability at chess. His master took him to England, where Sultan Khan had to learn the European rules, which were not adhered to in India. In spite of this handicap, his native genius was such that he soon became British champion …’
Sir John Simon (centre) at the start of London, 1932. T.H. Tylor has White against Sultan Khan
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M. Wasif Nisar
FIDE International Arbitrator
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