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Claude Bloodgood

Claude Frizzel Bloodgood (born Klaus Frizzel Bluttgutt III; July 14, 1937 - August 4, 2001) was a controversial American chess player. As a young man, he got into trouble with the law and was arrested several times. He was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering his mother, although this sentence was later commuted. While in prison, he remained a very active chess player, playing a large number of correspondence games and rated games with other inmates. Over time, he achieved a very high ranking in the United States Chess Federation (USCF) by playing in a closed pool, which the federation alleges was due to rating manipulation.

Early chess career

Bloodgood was an active chess organizer in Hampton Roads, Virginia in the late 1950s. He was the rating statistician for the Virginia State Chess Federation, where he rated himself at an Elo rating of 1956.

Prison career, chess and brief escape

In the early 1960s, he was twice convicted of burglary and served prison time in Delaware. He was also convicted of forgery of his parents' accounts, and spent more time in jail. In 1969, just nine days after being released from prison, he murdered his mother, Margaret Bloodgood (whom he later claimed to be his stepmother). According to reports, he rolled her body in a carpet and left it in Dismal Swamp, where it was soon found. His death sentence was ultimately commuted to life imprisonment when the U.S. Supreme Court found the death penalty, as then administered, to be unconstitutional.

From prison, Bloodgood played thousands of chess games by mail, as well as thousands with fellow inmates. He also published three books on chess openings, including The Tactical Grob (on 1.g4).

In 1974, Bloodgood and fellow inmate Lewis Capleaner received a furlough to play in a chess tournament. They overpowered the single guard assigned to them and escaped, but they were recaptured after a few days.

Legal challenges

Bloodgood filed two petitions for habeas corpus with the courts. His contention was that the death sentence, later commuted to life, was based in part on the fact that he was a repeat offender, having been convicted twice of burglary in Delaware. But these convictions had been obtained before the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Gideon v. Wainwright which guaranteed the right to counsel. He argued that since no defense attorney had been assigned to him in the Delaware cases, the two convictions were unconstitutional and thus the Virginia death sentence was unconstitutional as well. The courts rejected his contentions, resulting in decisions of the Virginia Supreme Court in Bloodgood v. Virginia and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Bloodgood v. Garraghty, 783 F.2d 470 (4th Cir. 1986).

High rank possibly via manipulation

Bloodgood organized chess games within Powhatan Prison, which were by necessity with fellow inmates. Many of these inmates were taught the game by Bloodgood, and thus began as unrated and inexperienced players. Bloodgood obtained USCF memberships for them. Some accused Bloodgood, with his intimate knowledge of the rating system, of rigging their ratings. The accusation was that he arranged for new prisoners to play rated games against other prisoners, who would deliberately lose, thus giving the new inmate an inflated USCF rating. Bloodgood, it is further alleged, then played rated games against the new highly rated prisoner, and each time he won, gained a few more rating points. This continued for several years, and by 1996 his rating rose to 2702, making the 59-year-old Bloodgood the second highest rated player in the nation. In comparison, at his retirement Bobby Fischer's rating was 2760, and several leading grandmasters were in the 2600s.

This is all a matter of considerable controversy even today. Bloodgood himself vehemently denied these accusations, and said that he played chess in the only competitions available to him, prison tournaments, and won almost every game because he was the strongest player in the prison system. As his rating rose, he wrote the USCF to warn them that its system was prone to "closed pool" ratings inflation. But nothing was done until Bloodgood's rating skyrocketed. Virtue of his high rating, Bloodgood would have qualified for entry into the U.S. Chess Championship, a prestigious invitation-only event intended for the best 16 players in the country. This caused an investigation by the USCF, which debated extensively what to do about the situation. In the end, Bloodgood wasn't invited to the event (which he could not have attended anyway), and the USCF changed its ratings system rules to attempt to prevent "closed pool" ratings inflation.

Late prison career

Late in life, Bloodgood made a variety of claims that seemed designed to obtain a release from prison. For example, he claimed to have been born in 1924 and asked for a furlough based on old age. He claimed to have been born in Germany or Mexico and asked to be extradited to those countries or to be involved in prisoner exchange. He also claimed to have been a Nazi spy during World War II. He often gave interviews, trying to convince the interviewer that he was completely innocent of his crimes and a victim of mistaken identity. Bloodgood died in Powhatan Correctional Center of lung cancer on August 4, 2001.


The Cleveland Public Library houses the Claude F. Bloodgood Collection, which "contains the personal papers of Claude F. Bloodgood, including legal documents, medical and other prison records, and chess related items."

Sample games

Bloodgood vs. Cetenski, Winston-Salem Ladder, third match game, November 10, 1971:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cd 4.Nd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qb2 9.Rb1 Qa3 10.f5 Nc6 11.fe fe 12.Nc6 bc 13.e5! de 14.Bf6 gf 15.Ne4 f5? (15...Be7) 16.Be2 Be7 (if 16...fe 17.Bh5 Ke7 18.0-0 Qd6 19.Rf7 Kd8 20.Rf8 wins) 17.Bh5 Kf8 18.Qh6 Kg8 19.Rb3 1-0 Black resigns. (Notes by Bloodgood.)

Bloodgood (2250 postal) vs. Barnsley (2475 postal, British Postal Champion), correspondence game 1997:
1.Nf3 d5 2.b3 c5 3.e4 de 4.Ne5 Nd7 5.Bb5 a6 6.Bd7 Bd7 7.Bb2 Bf5 8.0-0 e6 9.f3 ef 10.Qf3 Qc7 11.Na3 f6 12.g4 Bg6 13.Rae1 0-0-0 14.Nec4 h5 15.g5 Bf5 gf 17.Bc3 Qg7 18.Kh1 Rh6 19.Ba5 Rd4 20.Nb6 Kb8 21.Nac4 Qc7 22.Nd5 Qc6 23.Bc7 Ka7 24.Bb6 ½-½ draw.