Through the late 1920’s to 30’s, Mir Sultan Khan took the world of chess by storm. With a career of only five years, he won the prestigious British Chess Championship in 1929, 1932 and 1933.
Called a genius of the game, ‘greatest natural player of modern times’ and ‘Asia’s first grandmaster’ on different occasions, here is the incredible life story of Mir Sultan Khan.
Born in 1903 in the village of Mitha Tiwana, Khushab district (present-day Pakistan), the young Sultan learned to play chess from his father Mian Nizam Din.
By the time he was a teenager, Sultan had already started to show great technique and had started competing with landlords and other chess enthusiasts in the nearby city of Sargodha.
He honed his craft by playing an Indian form of chess, which had considerably different rules back then as compared to its Western counterpart.
At 21, he was considered the best in the Punjab Province of undivided India.
His popularity spread and soon he caught the attention of Sir Umar Tiwana who fancied himself as a patron of art and sports. He made Sultan an inciting offer that pushed his career to a successful path.
In exchange for a stipend, board and lodging, Sultan was requested to set up a chess team at Sir Umar’s estate in the neighbouring village of Kalra.
With training at the estate, in 1928, he won the All India Chess Championship.
The next year, Umar took Sultan to London to induce him as a member of the Imperial Chess Club where he learnt the Western form of chess.
Later that year, Sultan went on to win the British Chess Championship held in Ramsgate.
He went on to play many tournaments around the UK and Europe including the Scarborough Tournament, the Hamburg Olympiad, and the Liege Tournament.
“His playing style was also dubbed the ‘Wrath of Khan’ for, despite his impassionate exterior, his chess game was bold and masterful,” wrote Ather Sultan, Sultan’s son, and Atiyab Sultan, his [Sultan’s] granddaughter, in a column for Dawn.
By the year 1933, Sir Umar was no longer going on his European voyages, leaving Sultan unable to pay for his travels to the continent and pay the hefty match fees needed to play tournaments.
Many believe that after this point, Sultan moved back home and spent the rest of his days tending to his family grounds while some believe that the chess master was active till the 1940s.
At the time of Partition, Sultan decided to stay back in present-day Pakistan with his wife and children and passed away in Sargodha in 1966.