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Jacqueline Piatigorsky

Jacqueline Rebecca Louise de Rothschild (November 6, 1911 - July 15, 2012) was a French-born American chess and tennis player, author, sculptor, philanthropist, and arts patron. She was a member of the Rothschild banking family of France.

Early life, marriages, family

The daughter of the wealthy and influential banker, Édouard Alphonse de Rothschild, and Germaine Alice Halphen, she was the sister of Guy de Rothschild and Bethsabée de Rothschild. She was born in Paris, France. De Rothschild was raised in the Château de Ferrières in the country in Île-de-France, and at a home in the city in what is known as the "Talleyrand Building," a mansion at 2 rue Saint-Florentin that today is part of the United States Embassy complex in Paris.

According to her 1988 memoir, Jump in the Waves, her parents were cold and distant and left her upbringing to an indifferent nanny. As a result, she grew into a timid, near-reclusive, young woman who at age 19 married publisher Robert Calmann-Levy (1899-1982), a distant relative. This marriage ended after five years in 1935, and two years later she married the renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Their daughter Jephta was born in France in 1937.

Emigrates to U.S.

The family had to flee France in the wake of the Nazi occupation during World War II. De Rothschild and her husband settled in Elizabethtown, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains where their son Joram was born in 1940. They lived in Philadelphia for several years, before moving to Los Angeles in 1949, where her husband taught at the University of Southern California.

Chess successes

As an American citizen, Piatigorsky was a tennis player of note, and was competitive at the national level. Her passion for the game of chess led to a second career during which she trained seriously, with coach IM Herman Steiner. She represented the United States in the first Women's Chess Olympiad, at Emmen 1957, where she scored 7.5/11 on second board and won a bronze medal. In the 1960s, she was the highest USCF-rated female chess player in California and was ranked #2 in the United States, competing successfully in several U.S. Women's Championships.

Chess patron, organizer

In addition to participating in the game, Piatigorsky became an important patron and tournament organizer. She sponsored the famous 1961 match between Samuel Reshevsky and Bobby Fischer, the top two American players. It was held jointly in New York and Los Angeles, but was abandoned after 11 of the planned 16 games because of a scheduling dispute, with the score tied at 5.5 points apiece.

In 1963 at the Ambassador Hotel she staged the first Piatigorsky Cup in which world champion Tigran Petrosian and Paul Keres tied for first place. The California Chess Reporter called it the greatest tournament held in the United States since the 1920s. In 1966, in Santa Monica, Boris Spassky won the second Piatigorsky Cup Tournament, with second place going to Bobby Fischer; this event had an even stronger field. She served as patron for many young California players, providing funds for travel to tournaments, and organized junior tournaments in the Los Angeles area.

Sculptor, arts patron

Piatigorsky was also a patron of the arts, and in 1985 created an endowment for the New England Conservatory of Music to provide the "New England Conservatory/Piatigorsky Artist Award" which gave the recipient a cash prize and a series of concert engagements.

In her forties she developed an interest in sculpting, and arranged to take lessons from a professional, Anthony Amato. A Los Angeles-area gallery put on the first exhibition of her works in 1976. Widowed at the age of sixty-five, she continued working and playing tennis into her nineties. As of 2003, she was still actively sculpting and she turned 100 in November 2011.

Piatigorsky died from complications of pneumonia on July 15, 2012.