John Wayne Used to Love Beating Fans at Chess

John Wayne had many talents, besides being a leading man in westerns. One of his talents was being a great chess player. Not only would he use his chess skills to beat his fellow celebrities, but he would also challenge his fans. John Wayne invited many fans to play chess against him, usually resulting in him being victorious. 

John Wayne became a great chess player at a young age

Actor John Wayne at his home in Texas playing chess
John Wayne | Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

It’s not confirmed what age Wayne started playing chess at, but he reportedly was already a great chess player by high school. In the book John Wayne by Randy Roberts and James Stuart Olson, a Glendale high school teacher shared stories of Wayne in high school, saying he was a “fine student” who played an “aggressive game of chess.”

“He got A’s all the way through,” the teacher said. “He headed the school’s debate team, won honor pins several years in a row, played an aggressive game of chess. was all but unbeatable at bridge and hearts because of an uncanny ability to count cards, and graduated with a four-year average of ninety-four, the salutorian in a class of two hundred students.”

He began playing chess at a young age and didn’t stop improving. His knack for the game carried over to his acting career, and he would use it as a side hobby. 

Wayne would challenge fans to chess

John Wayne built a reputation for being a good chess player. According to Mental Floss, the actor often brought a miniature board to the set while filming and would play between scenes. Wayne would accompany his wife, Pilar Pallete, on her amateur tennis tournaments, and officials would “stock a trailer with booze and a chess set.” The actor would hang a sign outside his trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?”

Wayne would then happily spend the day drinking and beating up on fans in a game of wits. Reportedly, the True Grit actor played chess with Jimmy Grant, his favorite screenwriter, for over 20 years, and Grant never won a match. His other famous opponents included Dean Martin, Marlene Dietrich, Robert Mitchum, and Rock Hudson. 

Wayne was also a talented football player

While John Wayne became known for his chess skills, he also had a talent for football. The actor attended USC (University of Southern California), where he played football. While not practicing or studying, Wayne often surfed on the sunny California beaches. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury that ended his football career.

After the injury, he lost his spot on the team and the scholarship attached to it. Unable to afford his room and board, Wayne had to drop out of USC. With the help of his former football coach, Wayne landed a position at Fox Studios as the prop guy in 1927. He later landed his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930. If he hadn’t been injured, he may not have become the legendary western star we remember him to be. 

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