Mir Sultan Khan

chess master from British India

Malik Mir Sultan Khan (1905 – 25 April 1966) was the strongest chess master of his time from Asia. He was a manservant from British India who travelled with his master, Colonel Nawab Sir Umar Hayat Khan, to Britain, where he took the chess world by storm.

Mir Sultan Khan
Full nameMalik Mir Sultan Khan
CountryBritish India, now Pakistan

In an international chess career of less than five years (1929–33), he won the British Chess Championship three times in four tries (1929, 1932, 1933), and had tournament and match results that put him among the top ten players in the world. Sir Umar then brought him back to his homeland, where he gave up chess and returned to his humble life. He has been called "perhaps the greatest natural player of modern times".[1] He was generally recognised as a grandmaster, but when FIDE took over control of chess, he was forgotten. At the FIDE 1948 meeting, a number of former players were given retrospective titles, but not Khan.

Sultan Khan learned the Indian form of chess from his father at the age of nine.[1][2] This was a form of chess which was similar to modern chess, but still had some features of the old Arabic chess. The main feature was that pawns did not move two squares on their first move.[1][3] Therefore, the role of opening theory was less important, and gemes developed more slowly.

By the time Sultan Khan was 21 he was the strongest player in the Punjab.[2] At that time, Sir Umar took him into his household with the idea of teaching him the European version of the game and introducing him to European master chess.[1][2] In 1928, he won the all-India championship, scoring eight wins, one draw, and no losses.[1][2][4]

After some training with British masters, Khan entered the British Chess Championship.[2] To everyone's surprise, he won.[1][2][5] Next year, in May 1930, Sultan Khan began an international chess career in which he defeated many of the world's leading players.[1] His best results were second to Savielly Tartakower at Liège 1930; third at the Hastings International Chess Congress 1930–31 behind future World Champion Max Euwe and former World Champion José Raúl Capablanca; fourth at Hastings 1931–32; fourth at Bern 1932; and a tie for third with at London 1932, behind World Champion Alexander Alekhine and Salo Flohr.[1]

Sultan Khan again won the British Championship in 1932 and 1933.[1][5] In matches he defeated Tartakower in 1931 (four wins, five draws, and three losses) and narrowly lost to Flohr in 1932 (one win, three draws, and two losses).[1]

Sultan Khan played three times on first board for England at Chess Olympiads. At the 3rd Chess Olympiad, Hamburg 1930, he scored nine wins, four draws, and four losses (64.7%).[6][7] At the 4th Chess Olympiad, Prague 1931, he faced a much stronger field. He had an outstanding result, scoring eight wins, seven draws, and two losses (67.6%).[6][7] This included wins against Flohr and Akiba Rubinstein, and draws with Alekhine, Kashdan, Ernst Grünfeld, Gideon Ståhlberg, and Efim Bogolyubov.[7] At the 5th Chess Olympiad, Folkestone 1933, he had his worst result, an even score, winning four games, drawing six, and losing four.[6][7] Once again, his opponents included the world's best players, such as Alekhine, Flohr, Kashdan, Tartakower, Grünfeld, Ståhlberg, and Lajos Steiner.[7]

In December 1933, Sir Umar took him back to India.[1][2][8] In 1935, he won a match against V.K. Khadilkar, yielding just one draw in ten games.[2][7] After that, he was never heard of by the chess world again.[1][2][8]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Hooper, David and Whyld, Kenneth 1992. The Oxford companion to chess. 2nd ed, Oxford University Press, 402. ISBN 0-19-866164-9
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Sunnucks, Anne 1970. The Encyclopaedia of Chess. St. Martin's Press, 443.
  3. Murray H.J.R. 1913. The history of chess, p81. ISBN 0-19-827403-3
  4. Raymond Keene, writing in Harry Golombek (editor) 1977. Golombek's encyclopedia of chess. Crown, 313. ISBN 0-517-53146-1
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sergeant, Philip W. 1934. A century of British chess. David McKay, 278-79, 331-32.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Árpád Földeák, Chess Olympiads 1927–1968, Dover Publications, 1979, p. 50. ISBN 0-486-23733-8
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Coles R.N. 1977. Mir Sultan Khan. St. Leonards-on-Sea: British Chess Magazine.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Fine, Reuben 1983. The world's great chess games, Dover, 181. ISBN 0-486-24512-8