Morris Giles: The Heart of a Lion

FM Morris Giles
with Erik Karklins at far end.

As we close out Black History Month, I stumbled over a link to Robert Byrne’s analysis of FM Morris Giles’ win over GM Walter Browne. Giles was a Chicago legend who was a solid master in the 70s. He retired for a number of years and then returned in the 80s. Giles began terrorize Illinois players winning many tournaments before he began branching out on the national scene. He reached Senior Master (highest was 2475 USCF) and then retired again in the early 90s.

Giles (pictured right) was a quiet man who enjoyed his cigarettes, but had a ferocious style. His personality exploded onto the board and he scored many resounding victories. In 1988, he scored 9-3 in the U.S. Open in Boston and had scored his best result.

While many of us felt that Giles would continue to play and earn his IM title, he stopped playing and was never seen playing again. No one is quite sure why he stopped playing, but he left behind a treat. Byrne did the commentary for his long-running New York Times column.

September 25, 1988
CHESS; A Glory Trail for the Underdog

CHESS is notorious for neither respecting titles nor achievements, but only what is actually being done over-the-board at the given moment. That’s why the probability of upsets is so high – probably much higher than in sports.

So much depends on inspiration that slogging through reams of games played does not produce the innovation that one desires. In fact, it often mires one down in a myriad of indigestible details.

Nevertheless, the spectators -with short memories – take it for a miracle when the underdog hits the glory trail. Each time it is as though it had never happened before in the 1500-year history of the game.

Of course, some of these upsets give a vivid illustration of what the term really means. Such a game is the one won by the national master Morris Giles of Chicago from Walter Browne of Berkeley, Calif., a six-time United States invitational champion, in the 10th round of the United States open championship, which ended in Boston Aug. 20.


  1. I remember playing Giles some blitz games after the banquet of the Chicago Industrial Chess League. He played for Sears and Roebuck and I played for Argonne National Laboratory where I was working as a programmer. I believe he was a programmer too. Argonne was the perennial powerhouse of the 20-team league (in my four years we won twice and runner-up twice). Giles was relatively new to the league.

    We played a few games after the awards ceremony and he won all the them, but it was close. I remember that a couple of the games were in the Najdorf… 6. Bg5 variation. I tried to rattle him with a Nd5 sacrifice. He always took the piece and then returned before my attack became overwhelming. They were good games. He took a distant interest in me as a young player.

    He was a Fischer clone in terms of his repertoire… played 1.e4 and the King’s Gambit and Sozin Attack against Sicilian; with black he played the Sicilian against 1.e4 and King’s Indian and Gruenfeld against 1.d4… on rare occasion, the Dutch. He usually chose the sharpest lines.

    Humble man.

    Giles’ Games:

  2. Great game!!! Nice finish Qxf7. I never heard of Giles. With a rating of 2475 he was IM strength. How old would he be now? What was the league that you’ll was playing in? Were the games USCF rated?

  3. He was born 1953 according to FIDE website. His last rating was 2360 FIDE and USCF 2430. Since FIDE and USCF only go back 10 years (I really don’t understand why) I was unable to find any tournaments that he played in. It would be interesting to see Giles play again, after a long lay off I wonder what his strength would be. Its difficult to start playing tournaments chess again after such a layoff. I stopped playing over 20 years (competitive or non competitive) and I know the struggle. Giles, please write on this blog and give some insight on chess when you were playing (before computer and database). Do you think the players are stronger now? Have the information explosion resulted in better chess players? We would love to know what you think on this subject.

  4. Glenn,

    The Chicago Industrial Chess League was not USCF-rated although most of the players were USCF. I played some good games, but I pretty much mopped up my opponents on boards #1 and #2. I played in it from 1985-1989 (four seasons). First two years, we had three Experts and an A-player. Then with the addition of NM David Levine, I moved to board #2.

    I’m surprised you didn’t know of Giles. I have mentioned him several times, but usually it is brief. He was definitely IM strength. I have tried looking for him over the years without success. One brother in Chicago named John Porter told me he had conversations with him when he was active. So I’ll have to ask John to post some of what he talked about. Giles was a private person, soft-spoken, humble, walked comfortably and confidently.

    I actually sent Giles a letter about the network I wanted to start for Black players. He told me he didn’t get it when I saw him. That network would become “The Chess Drum” 13 years later. It would great to hear from him. Below is a classic picture.

    1989 U.S Open – Chicago: FM Morris Giles (in box) waits on opponent after having played 1.e4. IM Stuart Rachels, once a child prodigy, sits to his left. Also in picture is FM Dr. Eugene Martinovsky (now deceased) adjusting his glasses against NM John Burke and near right is FM Billy Colias (also deceased) who succumbed to cancer at a young age. This was a time when you had to be 2400 strength to be an FM. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

  5. I have been playing for the American Medical Association team (CICL) for about 4 months. I hope to play my last team game this Monday before returning to Atlanta.
    We will be playing a team that has the league president as a member.
    I will inquire about other Morris Giles games at this time.

  6. I met Morris at a tournament in Cleveland in the early 1970s. He was only rated an Expert at the time, but offered to play anybody at blitz with one minute against five for money. I wisely declined, but he cleaned up against all takers. I’m sorry to hear about the accident. He was one of the most talented players I ever met, and seemed like a very nice guy.

    1. It is very tragic.

      I had been looking for him for years. Unfortunately, I never made contact.

      I’ve never heard of Morris playing blitz for stakes. That’s very interesting. He didn’t appear to me to be a gambler.

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