Bob Wheeler, Pioneer of Jamaican Chess, dead at 70

Remembering late Jamaican chess legend,
Robert Wheeler

by Bertram Scott

Bob Wheeler

Robert Wheeler, one of Jamaica’s legendary chess players and administrators, was one of the founding members of the Jamaica Chess Federation.

Jamaica chess legend Robert Wheeler passed away on Tuesday, June 30, at the Kingston Public Hospital at age 70, and leaves behind great memories of the board sport.

He is survived by wife Hope, his daughter Kathryn, and other relatives.

Wheeler became ill and was in and out of the University Hospital of the West Indies for the past two years “with heart-related issues” and later with “brain cancer”.

Funeral service will be held on Sunday, July 26 at 10:00 am at Roman’s Funeral Home on Dunrobin Avenue in Kingston.

Looking back on a wonderful career, Wheeler arrived in Jamaica from England in late 1973, and immediately won the first chess tournament he played in the December Open.

Administratively, Wheeler caught the eye of the founder and president of the Jamaica Chess Federation (JCF), Enos Grant, and was drafted as a member of the 1974 JCF executive committee.

He dominated the chess scene in 1974, or as the late Thomas Figueroa stated: “Bob won almost every tournament he played in,” or as National Master Neil Fairclough put it “he was a big fish in a small pond”.

Jamaica national chess team to the Central American & Caribbean Chess Championship in El Salvador 1974. From Left are – NM Robert Wheeler, 1975 joint-Jamaica champion, NM Thomas Figueroa (deceased), the President of El Salvador, NM Neil Fairclough (Caribbean chess champion in 1993-94), John Powell (Bd. 4 Silver Medalist at the 1984 Olympiad in Greece, deceased), and Attorney-at-Law, Dr. Enos Grant, the 1st President of the JCF (deceased). Picture submitted by Rennie Phillips.

Wheeler made a winning international debut for Jamaica in April 1974 against a visiting Dominican Republic national team when he defeated National Master Luis Bellaird on Board 2. He won his first of five Jamaica Open Chess Championships in 1974, with the others coming in 1976, 1977, 1979, and 1986. Wheeler tied for first with Dr. Harold Chan in the 1974 Jamaica Chess Championship, but lost to Dr Chan in a play-off, and shared the Jamaica Chess Championship title in 1975 and 1979 with Thomas Figueroa and Dr Chan, respectively, and went on to win four National Championship titles in 1980, 1981, 1983, and 1988.

In 1975 he toured with a Jamaica chess team for the first time to the 13th Central American and Caribbean Chess Championship in San Salvador, El Salvador, and was a part of the Jamaica team at the 1975 Caribbean Chess Championship in Georgetown, Guyana.

Jamaica’s team at the opening ceremony of the 23rd World Students’ Chess Olympiad in Caracas, Venezuela, 7-22 August, 1976. From left: Bob Wheeler, John Powell (deceased), Peter Mundell, David Hunt (deceased), Enos Grant (Captain/delegate, deceased), Orrin Tonsingh (deceased), and Sheldon Wong. Photo from Jamaica Ambassadors Chess Academy.

In 1976 at the World Student Chess Championship in Caracas, Venezuela, he became the first Jamaican player to earn a draw with a grand master (GM) when he battled Cuban GM Guillermo Garcia to a tie.

Wheeler represented Jamaica at six World Chess Federation (FIDE) Open Olympiads, beginning in La Valletta, Malta (1980), Lucerne, Switzerland (1982), Thessaloniki, Greece (1988), Elista, Russia (1998), Istanbul, Turkey (2000), and Bled, Slovenia in 2002.

Jamaican Federation President Ian Wilkinson with NM Robert Wheeler at the opening ceremonies at the 2002 Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia. Copyright © 2002, Jerry Bibuld.
Jamaican Federation President Ian Wilkinson with Robert Wheeler at the opening ceremonies at the 2002 Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia. Copyright © 2002, Jerry Bibuld.

Allen Herbert of Barbados conferring with Wheeler at the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
Allen Herbert of Barbados conferring with Wheeler at the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

He earned the title of Chess Master (CM) in 2011, and was a FIDE IA Arbiter, and officiated at four Open Olympiads. As a Jamaican international chess player and the longest-serving executive member of the JCF, Wheeler made a tremendous contribution to the development of chess in Jamaica.

— Bertram Scott
Sunday, July 19, 2020 (Jamaica Observer)

Funeral service of Robert Wheeler
Sunday, July 26 at 10:00 am
Roman’s Funeral Home
Dunrobin Avenue, Kingston, Jamaica

One Comment

  1. So sorry to hear this. Bob and I were at Grammar School in Bushey, UK together in the 1960’s. He was, of course, always number 1 board in the school team while I languished at number two! Many fond memories.

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