Chartwell Grenadier resident and world-class chess player celebrates 110th birthday

Zoltan Sarosy is likely the oldest chess player in the world. On August 23rd, he will turn 110 years old, making him a supercentenarian – an elite group, as there are only 49 in Canada and 300 worldwide. One of the greatest chess players of all time, Zoltan continues to make all the right moves. 

Chartwell Grenadier is honouring Zoltan with a special celebration on his birthday. He and his family and friends will enjoy live music, visits from government representatives and a large cake in the shape of a chessboard. Also in attendance will be a filmmaker who is creating a documentary on Zoltan and his incredible life story. 

For the love of the game
Zoltan was born in 1910, in Budapest, when the city was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Growing up, he recalls seeing a chess game for the first time as a child:

"At the age of 10, I had to go see a former classmate," he told the Scarborough Chess Club e-Newsletter. "He had a checkered board on the table with variously shaped figurines on it. After receiving introductory explanations, it was love at first sight for me."

Zoltan
Chartwell Grenadier resident Zoltan Sarosy is the oldest chess player in the world.

However, there were no chess clubs in his hometown at the time. It wasn't until he attended the University of Vienna and joined the Vienna Chess Federation that he began studying his craft and playing in tournaments. Fuelled by natural talent and a sharp mind, Zoltan quickly became one of the best players in Vienna, winning against the top champion in the city. 

All the pieces fell into place when he moved back to Budapest in 1933, where chess competitions were taking off in popularity. He won tournament after tournament, beating the city's best players, including the Champion of Hungary, Geza Fuster. 

Chess in war-time
World War II would bring great changes to Zoltan's life. Chess games reached a stalemate in Hungary when war came, and in 1945 Zoltan left his homeland for a refugee camp in Germany. 

It was here that he discovered a type of chess that would define his career, even into the 21st century: correspondence chess, which is when the game is played long-distance between two people, via mail or nowadays, the Internet.  

A new start in Canada 
Zoltan's ultimate aspiration, however, was to move overseas. One day in November 1950, he saw a newspaper article about how Canada had changed its immigration laws: he was finally eligible for a visa. 

Two days after Christmas, he was in Toronto. He fared well in city tournaments for correspondence chess, and also joined the local German chess club and YMCA competitions, which matched him once again with his old rival Geza Fuster – whom he beat for the second time. In the late 1960s, he decided to focus solely on correspondence chess, winning four championships and playing in international competitions. In 1988, he was named International Correspondence Master by the International Correspondence Chess Federation. 

chess
Zoltan has won chess tournaments around the world.

A resourceful mind
In 2000, at the age of 90, Zoltan was concerned that he would not be able to finish any new correspondence games via mail. However, a random newspaper article once again open new doors for Zoltan when he saw a story about computer courses for seniors in the Toronto Star. Just like back in those early days when he first began learning about chess, he set to educating himself, buying computer books and learning from friends. He quickly familiarized himself with the programs – at 94 years old – and then joined email chess tournaments, swiftly rising through the ranks. 

In 2006, Zoltan was inducted into the Canadian Chess Hall of Fame. He has been called the oldest chess player – and possibly sportsman – in the world, according to chess magazines and websites. 

The secret 
When telling his story, Zoltan frequently mentions how – during a tournament game – he would give a stellar performance in the first round – but then become tired or lose interest during the next. He's not one to beat himself up, however, playing only for the fun of it – and this relaxed approach to both chess and life, combined with his eagerness to learn, may be his secret to a long and healthy life. 

Curiosity and resourcefulness are also apparent in many parts of Zoltan's life outside of chess. He speaks five languages, teaching himself Spanish in the 1980s. Andrew Pressburger, a fellow chess player and Grenadier resident, recalls how Zoltan purchased a mobility scooter just to learn how to use it, far before he actually needed one. He now rides his electric scooter downtown to attend hospital appointments and enjoys riding the stationary bike at the gym at Chartwell Grenadier each day, too. 

"Most of us have heard of people who have surpassed the 100-year milestone," Andrew said of Zoltan. "Some are sprightly and spirited individuals, but not one I know continues to live the independent, vigorous lifestyle of Mr. Sarosy."