Morris Giles, Chicago Legend: 1953-2012

FM Morris Giles

Most people remember the old “lion and the lamb” fable. While these two animals are polar opposites in strength and character, their traits can sometimes be complementary… as the fable (and many like it) has shown. One can have the strength of a lion and the humility of a lamb, but finding someone with these traits is rare. However, such a description may describe Morris Giles, a Chicago-area chess master who impressed others with his brash and daring style, yet his soft, humble demeanor.

Giles life came to a tragic end on Sunday, December 23, 2012 after being struck by a tow truck the previous morning. The truck driver failed to yield before making a left turn and struck Giles as he was in the cross walk. The driver was subsequently cited for “failure to yield to a pedestrian” and “failure to exercise due care”. Giles was rushed to Advocate Christ Medical Center where he died Sunday at 2:30am. Chicago and the chess world lost a humble giant.

Dr. Roscoe Conkling Giles, Sr.

Giles was a Chicago-area player who learned to play along with his brother Roscoe C. Giles, III. Their father, Roscoe C. Giles, Jr. was a Court Reporter for the Chicago Federal Courts and mother Virginia Giles was a teacher and administrator in the Chicago Public Schools. Their grandfather Roscoe Conkling Giles, Sr. attended Cornell University as a collegiate and graduated in 1907.

Giles, Sr. continued onto Cornell Medical School where he graduated in 1911 despite fierce racial harassment. He would later move to Chicago to become a successful and influential physician. The Giles clan would grow in Chicago and decades later, young Morris would have a strong lineage to build from and his family history of excellence would later shine through in his chess.

When he was 15 or 16, Morris was struck by a car, but ironically it was this mishap that brought him closer to chess. While in the hospital, his father would play chess with him. This served as a boost to his interest and skill. After his recovery, he continued to played at the University of Chicago Lab School and began to take a deeper interest. Morris soon become an active tournament player during the “Fischer Boom”. One player named Jim Voelker remembered meeting a young Morris Giles in Cleveland.

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.

He then took a break from chess in the 70s only to return with a vengeance in the early 80s. It was in this decade that he proceeded to terrorize the Chicago chess scene populated by strong masters. His games were filled with energy and a personality that belied his soft-spoken persona. Perhaps his most famous win came at the expense of GM Walter Browne at the 1988 U.S. Open in Boston.

In this game Giles played the Sozin Sicilian and finished the game with a scintillating mating attack. Notes by GM Robert Byrne.

He would score 9-3 in that tournament also beating GM Alexander Ivanov, drawing with GMs Lev Alburt, Andrew Soltis and losing only one game to Joel Benjamin. (See Illinois Chess Bulletin, September-October 1988) It is believed that he earned an IM norm in that tournament. There is some uncertainty as to how many norms Giles had earned, but he was certainly an IM-level player.

NM Charles Lawton analyzing with Morris Giles.

NM Charles Lawton analyzing with Morris Giles
at the 1982 Midwest Masters Invitational.

As a player, Giles employed the sharpest of lines. Some of the openings in his repertoire were: King’s Gambit(!), Sozin Attack against Sicilian, Najdorf and Scheveningen Sicilian with black, King’s Indian, the Grunfeld and an occasional Dutch with black. His opening choices seemed to mimic that of Bobby Fischer. He played the most theoretical lines and never backed down from a challenge.

Giles last United States Chess Federation (USCF) rating was 2423 and World Chess Federation rating was 2360. Exact records do not show his very last event, but cousin Francis Giles told The Chess Drum that Giles had simply lost interest in chess never to return. He had stated that he was an “International Master” but had no interest in pursuing the Grandmaster title. If Giles had three IM norms, an application was never submitted by the U.S. Chess Federation and thus his World Chess Federation or Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) profile has him listed as “FIDE Master”.

In his latter years, Giles resided on Chicago’s southside living a quiet life in his modest home on Chicago’s southside. He was a Chicago native and attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School through the 12th grade. He had worked professionally in the computer field including a stint with Sears & Roebuck in the information technology (IT) department.

FM Morris Giles playing FM Albert Chow in the 5th round of the 1988 Prairie State Open.

Morris Giles playing FM Albert Chow in the 5th round
of the 1988 Prairie State Open.

It was while at Sears he played top board for the company in the Chicago Industrial Chess League in the late 80s. He was at the height of his powers at this time. Unfortunately, when Sears moved from Chicago to the suburb of Hoffman Estates, he decided to remain in Chicago to be close to his family.

“He was a good uncle to my kids.”
~Roscoe C. Giles, III

Giles is survived by a number of relatives in Chicago and Boston. Dr. Roscoe C. Giles, III, his one older sibling, is a professor at Boston University. The elder Giles tried to persuade Morris to spend time in Boston and resume playing, but to no avail. He did however dabble in a few online chess encounters, but did not spark his interest to play competitively.

His brother stated that Morris had configured a video studio in his home. The intense focus he used for chess was transferred to these media projects. Besides this, he followed sports, was a movie enthusiast and enjoyed being an uncle to his nephew Raymond Giles and niece Stephanie Giles. He also leaves behind cousins Francis Giles, Robert Brown, and Cheryl Gaines.

L-R: Morris with his mother Virginia Giles (deceased) and his brother Roscoe (brother).

L-R: Morris Giles with his mother Virginia Giles (deceased) and his brother Dr. Roscoe Giles, III. Photo courtesy of Francis Giles.

There will be two memorials for Morris Giles held in Chicago and Boston. Giles may have retired from the game years ago, but the ferocity of his play will live on… the heart of a lion!

NM Morris Giles - NM David Rubin White to Move (after 27…Bf7-g8)

Morris GilesNM David Rubin
White to Move (after 27…Bf7-g8)

In Giles-Rubin at the 1983 Chess Mates Invitational, FM Giles takes a French Defense to task by building up a strong, steady attack. Giles pried open the kingside with an 16.Kh1 and 17.g4. Former scholastic standout David Rubin underestimated white’s attack and was jolted with 28.Rxh6+! After 28…gxh6 29.Qf6+ Bg7 (29…Rg7 30.Qxh6+ Rh7 (30…Bh7 31.Rxg7! and mate follows) 31.Rxg8+! Kg8 32.Qxh7#) 30.Qxe7 Bxe5 31.Rxg8+! Kxg8 32.Nxe6, and black is finished. (See game)

* * *

The Chess of FM Morris Giles

FM Morris Giles: A Chicago Chess Legend

Puzzle Tribute (2002)

Morris Giles: The Heart of a Lion

Selected Games of Morris Giles (PGN)


  1. Morris was a genius and a gentleman: I looked forward to our games and postmortems. Just got off the phone with Albert Chow: just a terrible loss.

    My deepest condolences to the Giles family.

  2. R.I.P. Master Morris Giles. It was an honor and privilege to know and play a true gentleman and Chicago champion with a winning style from the Fischer era.

  3. I remember playing the following line against Giles in offhand blitz games at the banquet of the Chicago Industrial Chess League in the late 80s.

    1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Be7 8. Qf3 Qc7 9. O-O-O Nbd7 10. Bd3 b5 11. Rhe1 Bb7 12. Nd5!? [Book alternative line to 12.g4.]

    12…exd5 13. Nf5! Bf8 14. exd5+ (14. e5!) Ne5. Here black is busted after 15.fxe5 dxe5

    but in both games in this line, I didn’t find the crushing 16.Nxg7+! and allowed him to get away. Anyway, the games were fun and I’m sure I made him scramble for his ECO. 🙂 It was the only time I ever played him. We hadn’t played up until then and he seemed to be interested in seeing how strong I was.

  4. Nice write up Daaim. My condolences to the Giles family, your brother, uncle, friend will be missed in the chess community. I enjoyed playing over his games; a tactical beast. We need to support our chess geniuses, so they may play at the highest levels.

    1. Amazing that many in our community had never come to know him. He was not an attention-grabber… didn’t seek attention of his brilliant games. So in essence, he is an unheralded hero. At The Chess Drum, he is a legend.

  5. I was told by his cousin Francis that Morris was once approached in a long line at the Hyde Park movie theater after a chess player recognized him. Excitedly, the player pulls out a miniature set and offers to play. They proceed to play, but before it was time for Giles to entire the theater, Giles had already beaten him!

  6. I had the honor to play him several times( HE WAS ON ANOTHER LEVEL) at the Hyde park chess club, he was just a great guy, he would just make the game look so easy, but one time at the put the fun back in chess tournament years ago we road back from Beverly to Hyde park and talked about chess, life and purpose, the last time I saw Morris was in Hyde park about 4 years ago where we caught up and talked about yesterday he was one of Chicago best, R.I.P.

  7. What an impressive man and player! What was his highest known FIDE rating? Possibly he didn’t make IM if he didn’t the norms in the 5 year period in effect when he played. Alternatively, he might have not had the FIDE rating up high enough, which cost some other players IM titles back in the 1980s.

    1. I’m not sure he got the norms either, but I know he had at least one and possibly others. Of course now norms do not expire, but back years ago, they did. Neither his brother, nor his cousin could provide my details. Not sure of his highest FIDE rating. I’m also not sure exactly when he stopped playing. The last game I have of his is 1989, but he may have played until the early 90s.

  8. Update: There is a record of a Morris Giles’ playing a USCF tournament in Flint, Michigan in 1992. However, I don’t believe it was FM Morris Giles. The Morris Giles playing in this tournament played at a low level, overlooked mate in one a piece up and played 1.g3 in all of his games. Certainly not Morris’ style.

    It appears that FM Morris Giles last played in the 1989 U.S. Open and the 1989 Midwest Masters.

  9. Wow. We lost quite a few strong chess players in the past few yrs. Never met him , but enjoyed his games that were published. R.I.P.-
    Morris Giles.


  10. R.I.P. Morris Giles, Legend of Chess. My deepest condolences to the Roscoe family. Keep Morris’s memories in your hearts and carry on.

  11. Such a tragic loss! My deepest condolences to the Giles family! My prayers and thoughts are with you at this time! R.I.P. Morris Giles!

  12. Memorial for FM Morris Giles
    Chicago, Illinois, 19 January 2013
    Photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

    Bill Brock and Daaim Shabazz chatting.

    Bill Brock and Daaim Shabazz chatting.
    Photo by Roscoe Giles.

    Roscoe Giles giving reflection on his brother, Morris.

    Roscoe Giles (III) giving reflection on his brother, Morris Chester Giles.

    Cheryl Gaines giving some inspirational readings in honor of Morris.

    Cheryl Gaines, cousin of Morris,
    giving some inspirational readings in his honor.

    A collage for Morris Giles. Very interesting! I learned a lot from these photos. Chess players rarely get to know their fellow players on a personal level.

    Appears to be a high school tournament Morris won.

    It was an honor and a blessing that I happened to be in town for the ceremony.

    Me posing with one of Morris’ earliest accolades!

    Roscoe Giles (brother), Cheryl Gaines (cousin), Daaim Shabazz

    Roscoe speaking with Daaim.

    The urn that holds the ashes of Morris Chester Giles.

  13. Thank you for the coverage Daaim! A perusal of his games shows that he left a tremendous legacy. Again, condolences to the family and friends from the Jamaican chess fraternity.

  14. Condolences to the family and thank you to Dr. Shabazz for the write-up and great information. I will now gift chess board games to young girls and boys, adults too.
    Therese Mines-Anderson
    AAGHSC member

  15. I was a good friend of Morris’s at U-High, and have only now read of his tragic accident. While I was out of touch with Morris for very many decades, this leaves me with a deep feeling of sadness–he was not only a superb chess player but a great guy. My condolences to all those who were close to Morris or admired him and read this.

    Joel Golb
    Berlin, Germany

  16. I came across the ending to the Boston game in the London Times here in England as a puzzle. Working out how to end the game was the easy bit. What I want to do is to get into that position. Pleased to meet you, Morris Giles.

  17. Strictly class personified …. like Mr. Shabazz the wonder man! Jude Acers New Orleans,Louisiana

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