What Happened to Chess Prodigy Peter Winston?

He went missing in 1978 and was never seen again.

Megan Ashley


Peter Winston (image courtesy of Chess Life Magazine)

Peter Winston’s story reminds me of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’. Though ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ was fictional TV series on Netflix, it highlighted the internal struggles of brilliance, mental health, and substance abuse. This missing person case is a little odd because a missing person file was never created; thus, an investigation was never undertaken. Peter Winston walked away and vanished. His family has refused to comment on his disappearance.

Peter Winston was born in New York City in 1958. His parents, Leonard and Florence Winston were both academics. His father was described as a thin and slight man who taught chemistry at Columbia. His mother, Florence, also had a teaching degree from Columbia. She also dabbled in theatre, occasionally taking parts in small productions when she wasn’t teaching.

Leonard Winston passed suddenly when Peter was only nine. After his father’s passing, his mother seemed to cling to him harder.

Peter stood out from an early age. It was clear to anyone who had met Peter that he was an exceptional child. He was reported to have started reading before turning two years old and could do simple arithmetic by three. He began attending a gifted children’s school at age five, where he was observed arguing God’s existence with his classmates.

Those who remembered him from school, his classmates, and teachers alike described Peter the same. He was the most intelligent person they had ever met. But he struggled in school. By twelve, he had started telling his friends that he was burnt out from chess and bored of school. He started experimenting with LSD. Though he often had bad experiences on the psychedelic, he continued taking it.

It is unclear when Peter learned chess, but it was a significant part of his life from an early age. At fourteen, he was defeating opponents ten years his senior. He often competed in national tournaments and took home the top titles.

When he started college, his mother had him hospitalized. At first, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but doctors changed his diagnosis to manic depresssion. Peter likely had bipolar disorder. Though, that diagnosis wouldn’t exist until…