Chess and Iceland have a lot in common. The best known World chess champion of the 20th century, Robert James Fischer (1943-2008), was an Icelandic citizen. Icelanders have won the world junior championship in the U-20, U-16, U-12 categories, beating players such as Garry Kasparov in the process, won the U-15 Chess Olympiad and finished 5th in the Chess Olympiad. The Icelanders have also won the Miss World and the World’s Strongest Man several times, proportionally more often than any other nation, but that is another story. Keep in mind that only about 360.000 people live in this remote island, far north in the Atlantic.
The Icelanders have enjoyed a lot of strong players and have organized a host of strong, international tournaments, most notably the World Chess Championship in 1972.
Reykjavik Chess Club
The Reykjavík Chess Club (Taflfélag Reykjavíkur) was founded on October 6th 1900 by a group of chess enthusiasts, including a number of Reykjavík’s most prominent citizens.
Chess had been known and occasionally practiced in Iceland during the past centuries. Yet, due to unfavorable circumstances, chess would not have survived here, not even in Reykjavik, without outside help.
One might argue that the American librarian Daniel Willard Fiske (1831-1904) was in fact the father of Icelandic chess. He donated a large library of chess books to the Icelanders, sponsored the purchase of a number of Staunton chess sets, and provided whatever means necessary for Icelandic chess players, and in particular the Reykjavík Chess Club, to grow in stature. Fiske was also influential in the publication of Iceland’s first major chess book, Í uppnámi, as well as writing himself on Chess in Iceland.
Chess slowly became among the most popular leisure in Iceland, perhaps even the most popular. It has been argued, that chess and handball are Iceland’s national sports. One can hardly find many contradicting arguments. Most adult Icelanders know how to play chess and all through the 20th century the local newspapers had comparatively large chess columns written by Iceland’s strongest players, including Friðrik Ólafsson (b.1935), Iceland’s first grandmaster, who has been a member of Iceland’s most prominent chess club, Reykjavík Chess Club (RCC), since his childhood. All of the native-born Icelandic grandmasters, and almost all IM’s, learned their trade at the RCC.
The history of chess in Iceland is thus to a large extent the history of the Reykjavik Chess club.