Mir Sultan Khan

by Ismail Sloan

One of the most interesting and important personalities in chess history was Mir Sultan Khan. He was brought from India to England in 1929 by his master, a maharaja, was kept there for four years, and then was taken back to India in 1933 by his master, never to be seen by the world of chess again.

During his short stay in England, Sultan Khan won the British Chess Championship, defeated former World Champion Capablanca and played first board for England during the World Chess Olympiads at Prague 1931 and at Folkestone 1933. At the same time, another servant brought by the same maharaja, a Miss Fatima, won the British Woman's Chess Championship.

Sultan Khan never finished lower than fourth in any chess tournament in which he ever played. Although he always lost to William Winter (who usually finished last, in spite of defeating Sultan Khan) there is no doubt that Sultan Khan was one of the strongest chess players in the world at that time. According to the modern rating system, Sultan Khan was about 2550 in strength and was easily a grandmaster. This also means that Sultan Khan was the first ever Asian grandmaster of chess.
Sultan Khan
Sultan Khan

There is some dispute as to whether Sultan Khan was a slave or was merely a servant. Reuben Fine related that when he was a guest for dinner at the maharaja's home in England, Sultan Khan was a waiter who brought the dishes to the table.

It is often said that Sultan Khan was a beginner at chess and that he learned the rules only shortly before being brought from India, but that he was a master at the Indian version of chess. However, this story does not mean much, because the Indian version of chess is almost exactly the same as Western chess, the main difference being that in Indian chess, a pawn can only move one square on the first move, not two, and, when reaching the "queening" square, the pawn becomes the piece of the file on which it promotes. In other words, if the white pawn reaches c8 or f8, it becomes a bishop.

In the 1950s, there was an article in British Chess Magazine which said that Sultan Khan had been found to be an opera singer in Durban, South Africa. However, this probably was merely somebody who looked like him. According to the book by R. N. Coles, Sultan Khan lived out his life on his family plot in Pakistan, in the Sargodha district of Punjab province, surrounded by his children and great grand children, etc. and died in 1966.

Coles relates that in the early 1960s, someone (I forget the name) located Sultan Khan at his home near Lahore, Pakistan and visited him there. He found Sultan Khan sitting under a tree smoking a hookah. The visitor related that Sultan Khan offered to play him a game of blindfold chess, but that the visitor "wisely declined".

I would like to find out the exact location of that plot of land and of the tree. I used to visit Pakistan frequently and the next time I go there I would like to go to that exact spot.

Note that while it is always said that Sultan Khan came from India, he actually came from that part of India which is now Pakistan.

A friend from Pakistan informs me that anyone who smokes a hookah does not live very long. It usually contains a pungent version of tobacco, or so I am told.

Does anybody know or can anybody find out the exact address of that plot of land in Sargodha district of Punjab province, where Sultan Khan and his family lived?

Ismail Sloan

UPDATE From: badar sultan
Date: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:12 pm
Subject: mir sultan khan (chess champion 1929-1934) --------address in Pakistan

I am the grand son of mir sultan khan (british empire chess champion 1929-1934) i visited ur site and found that u require adress of my grandfather and his family so here is my adress.

badar sultan s/o safdar sultan s/o sultan khan house # 52/10 awan colony sargodha pakistan phone nos


if you want any other information u contact me at this e-mail address or at above adress bye

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