Log in

Georgia Chess Association

Adolf Ferdinand (A. F.)  Wurm - HOF Class of 2024


• dominated Georgia chess from the late 1870s until 1891

variously called the champion of Atlanta, the champion of Georgia, and the champion of the South
• won the top section of the Atlanta Chess Club’s first tournament, 1887
• took first in a strong tournament hosted by the New Orleans Chess Club, 1882
• the only one in the U. S. who had defeated I. E. Orchard in a majority of matches
• helped put Atlanta on the national chess map
• chess journalist for 8 years
• chess club organizer; treasurer of Atlanta Chess Club, 1890s
• a model chess player

Adolph Ferdinand Wurm (1949–1932) was one of Atlanta’s best-known musicians and chess players of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. He was born in Philadelphia in 1849, son of Dr. and Mrs. F. A. Wurm, who had emigrated from Germany the previous year. His father was a music teacher and the family moved to Georgia around 1850 where he was Professor of Music at LaGrange Female College and the Lacy Cobb Institute in Athens. They settled in Atlanta in 1871 and father and son immediately offered music lessons. The family led a “celebrated orchestra” for over four decades, playing both classical and popular music at society events in Atlanta and around the state. Wurm would become one of Atlanta’s best-known polymaths: a distinguished mathematician, multi-instrumentalist performer, music teacher—and Georgia’s first unofficial state champion.

A. F. Wurm was taught to play many instruments by his father, but was known primarily as “The South’s greatest master of the bass violin.” He played bass in his family’s orchestra, a “slender, serious-looking little man who stood on the left end of the orchestra, wearing a black silk skull-cap and leaning on his big fiddle until he became a natural part of the scenery. He was the Thor who hurled the theatrical thunder.” Music was the major activity of his life.  We do not know when he learned chess, but he said in 1911: “During my leisure I played chess. That program seemed to me the best way to enjoy life.” He also loved reading, especially history.

Wurm came to the chess world’s attention in a series of matches he played with Isaac E. Orchard of South Carolina, spanning 1877–1890. These Orchard–Wurm contests also brought Atlanta to the attention of the national and international chess world. In 1877, Orchard sought out Wurm, “one of the crack players of Atlanta.” Orchard won that match, 11–8. In July 1877, they played a correspondence match (as Wurm was then living in Elberton, GA, east of Athens), which Wurm won, 9–3. They matched wits again in 1883 under the auspices of the newly organized Atlanta Chess Club, and Wurm won with another dominant score, 9½–1½. They next contested for the championship of Atlanta in 1887 when the club reorganized, Wurm was once more victorious, scoring seven wins, one loss, and several draws. The pair played two more matches, in 1888 and 1891, Wurm winning the first, 5-3 and Orchard, finally, winning the last, scoring 7-4-2.

Wurm’s music career caused him to travel frequently around the state, but Atlanta and its club was his home base. Wurm won the top section of the Atlanta Chess Club’s first tournament in 1887. In 1889 the club brought the famous player “Captain” George H. McKenzie to Atlanta for a simul and consultation games. Wurm won his consultation against him. He occasionally traveled to play chess or played correspondence chess. He took part in South Carolina’s first major tournament in Spartanburg in 1881. In 1882 he took first ahead of Armand Blackmar (originator of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit) in a strong tournament hosted by the New Orleans Chess Club.  He played there again in 1883.

An Atlanta Constitution reporter, writing in 1890 described Wurm thus:

Professor Wurm’s reputation as a chess player is not confined to the United States. His games have been, with complimentary comments, in the German, French, Italian, Russian and English magazines and newspapers. As a match player he has no superior in this country.... He is clear-sighted, cool, accurate and painstaking, but can also be brilliant when occasion requires. He is the only man in the United States who has defeated Mr. Orchard a majority of matches. Professor Wurm is quiet and gentlemanly whilst engaged at chess, and nothing ever ruffles him. In all respects he is a model chess player.

There were no official chess champions at this time; even the world champion title did not appear until 1886. At this time unofficial championships were more often determined by matches rather than by tournaments. Wurm was at various times called the champion of Atlanta, the champion of Georgia, and the champion of the South.

Orchard seems to have regarded Wurm as the Atlanta champion when he first challenged him to a match in 1877. Wurm was “champion of Atlanta” when he won the match against Orchard in 1887. The matches might have been conducted within an Atlanta “Chess Club, composed of ladies and gentlemen,” organized in 1874, if that club was still in operation. In 1887 a rumor circulated outside of Atlanta that Orchard had become the “champion of Atlanta.” John B. Redwine, The Sunny South chess editor and Atlanta Chess Club member affirmed, “No one in Atlanta, except possibly Mr Orchard, disputes Prof. Wurm’s supremacy, and, it would seem, the question between the two was settled in 1883 when Wurm beat Orchard a match for a purse....”

Wurm claimed to be “the champion of Georgia” when he played the third match with Orchard 1883. A 1911 feature story mentions that Wurm was “once the champion of Georgia.”  Wurm’s claim to be the champion of Georgia would be secure if we had clear evidence he tested his skill widely against players in the various Georgia cities, which he seems to have done.  (Unfortunately, when Wurm edited The Sunny South chess column, he humbly often published his losses, so we cannot get an accurate assessment.) Wurm heads a list of Atlanta’s strongest players published in 1888. It seems clear that Wurm dominated Georgia chess from the late 1870s until 1891.

The 1891 Orchard–Wurm match was billed as a contest for the “Championship of the South.” The title may have been hallowed by the presence of several national and international chess luminaries at the match. One report states that Wurm “has held that title for several years.”  In addition to strong play, by 1878 Wurm was editing the chess columnist for The Sunny South newspaper, a position which he held over eight years. Aside from chess periodicals, this was the major source of news, games, and problems for readers in the South at that time. Wurm also served for many years as treasurer of the Atlanta Chess Club. Wurm’s reputation in Atlanta was such that the club proposed he lead a delegation to the United Chess Association’s third annual meeting in 1890.

We have no more references to A. F. Wurm’s chess play after about 1893. By 1895, he had a position, as his father had, as a professor of music in a women’s music school, Cox College, far outside of Atlanta, where he taught cornet and clarinet. By 1911 he was back in Atlanta playing viola in the Atlanta Philharmonic Symphony. By 1912 his cataracts became so bad that he had to give up both music and chess. We do not know whether surgery restored these pursuits to him or not. He died in Atlanta in 1932.


The Atlanta Constitution 13 Sept 1871.
The Atlanta Constitution 9 Feb 1890 p. 15.
The Atlanta Constitution 1 Feb 1891 p. 8.
The Atlanta Constitution 4 Aug 1895 p. 4.
The Atlanta Constitution 21 May 1911 p. D4.
The Atlanta Constitution 23 Dec 1932 p. 2
Atlanta Georgian and News 5 July 1913 p. 4.
Brennen, Neil. “Rising from the Ashes: Isaac Orchard and the Growth of Atlanta Chess,” Georgia Chess Nov/Dec 2007
Brooklyn Chess Chronicle 15 Apr 1887 p. 100.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2 Feb 1891.
Brownson’s Chess Journal Dec 1877 p. 82;
The Chess Player’s Chronicle 22 Nov 1882, p. 556.
Chess World Mar 1893 p. 32.
Columbus Daily Times 24 Sept 1858 p. 2.
Columbus Daily Times 27 May 1883 p. 3.
Macon Telegraph and Messenger 15 Apr 1877 p4.
Maryland Chess Review Apr 1874 p. 161
New York Tribune 17 Feb 1891 p. 3.
The Philadelphia Times 15 May 1881 p. 6.
The Southern Watchman 10 Mar 1859 p. 3.
Savannah Morning News 19 Mar 1890, p. 8.
Savannah Morning News 19 Feb 1891 p. 6.
The Sunny South 27 Jan 1877 p. 8;
The Sunny South 13 Apr 1878 p. 7.
The Sunny South 6 July 1878 p. 7.
The Sunny South 27 Aug 1887 p. 7.
The Sunny South 10 Dec 1887 p. 7.
The Sunny South 8 June 1889 p. 7.
The Sunny South 25 Jan 1890 p. 7.
The Weekly Constitution 2 Dec 1873 p. 8.

©Georgia Chess Association, 2023
All Rights Reserved.
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software