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Pakistan’s Forgotten Chess Legend: Mir Sultan Khan

Pakistan’s Forgotten Chess Legend: Mir Sultan Khan

Zaynah Maroof

With an international career lasting less than five years in which he became one of the top ten chess players in the world, Mir Sultan Khan’s story is one not known by most

Born in 1905, Mir Malik Sultan Khan was part of the domestic help working for Sir Umar Hayat Khan in Sargodha. Sultan came from a family of chess players, with all 9 brothers and himself having learnt the game from their father. Sultan’s master took great interest in him for this and the brilliant aptitude that paired it, and so organized a special All-India Chess Tournament (1928) in which Sultan came out at the top.

Sir Umar then decided to take Mir Sultan to England, and there, he proceeded to take the chess world by storm.

Sultan spent four years in England from 1929-33, after which he returned to his homeland with his master and never looked back at chess again.

During his time there, Sultan reportedly defeated many established grandmasters, and that too without knowing a single word of any language other than Punjabi, or proper grasp of British chess notation.

Because of this, the international chess community had a hard time understanding how he was so good at his game, and his talent for the sport was declared natural.

Sultan went up against the likes of Alexander Alekhine and Jose Capablanca, two men considered to be one of the greatest chess players ever, and yet both were brought to defeat by Sultan. He also participated in the British Chess Championship every year, and reportedly won three out of four times, yet still remained remarkably humble.

When Sultan returned to Pakistan, he was recalled to have been quite happy about it- mainly because of the displeasing London weather- but he also put his short-lived fame behind him and resumed working as domestic help only. In fact, Sultan’s elder son also confirmed that his father would stop his children from playing chess and rather ‘do something productive’.

He passed away in 1966, without ever receiving the title of a Grand Master or International Chess Player; however, those who remember him know him as the first Grand Master from Asia.

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