Story: Cards, board games and puzzles

Page 3. Non-gambling games

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New Zealand’s first chess club was formed in Dunedin in 1863 and the first national championship was held in Christchurch in 1879. The first internationally prominent New Zealand player was Robert Wade, who was national champion three times in the 1940s and twice British champion (1952 and 1970). He gave crucial support to US grandmaster Bobby Fischer during his world champion matches in 1972 and 1992. Estonian-born Ortvin Sarapu met Robert Wade at a tournament in Germany in 1949 and was convinced to migrate to New Zealand. Sarapu eventually won the New Zealand championship a record 20 times.

Chasing the king

The Māori name for chess is whaikīngi (literally, ‘chase the king’). The other chess pieces are called the kuīni (queen), pīhopa (bishops), toa (knights), tūwatawata (castles or rooks) and kaihāpai-ō (pawns).

Lightning chess, where players have only seconds to decide their move, has been popular. Also common was playing chess by correspondence. New Zealand was one of the earliest countries to use the telegraph system to play correspondence chess between clubs. Christchurch beat Nelson in two games in 1866. Mark Noble of Feilding became New Zealand’s first correspondence chess grandmaster in 2010. From the late 20th century many people have played chess on computers.


In 1902 the Otago Witness published a column, alongside its chess and draughts columns, on the ancient Chinese and Japanese board game of ‘go’. This was apparently the earliest such column to appear outside Asia. The New Zealand Go Society was formed in 1976 and New Zealand took part in the first World Amateur Go Championships in 1979. Professional go players are ranked from 1st to 9th dan. In 1980 Graeme Parmenter became the first New Zealander to reach fourth dan.


Bridge has been played at a social level in New Zealand since the early 20th century. The rise of competitive bridge in the US led to the formation of New Zealand’s first bridge club in Auckland in 1931. In 2012 there were 109 clubs, with over 13,000 members, affiliated to the national federation.

Chess capital

The Wellington suburb of Wainuiomata became the capital of New Zealand chess in the 1970s. Several young members of its Pencarrow Chess Club became outstanding players, including Murray Chandler, who became the first New Zealand over-the-board, or face-to-face, grandmaster in 1982, playing for England.

New Zealand bridge players have taken part in international competitions since 1964, when a team contested a regional event in Tokyo. In 2012 Jan Cormack of Auckland was New Zealand’s most capped international player, and was ranked a world master. For many years she wrote a bridge column in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. Ishmael Del’Monte has represented New Zealand and Australia at regional and world events, and in 2012 held the rank of world international master.

Scrabble and Monopoly

The word-game of Scrabble, originally from the US, is widely played in New Zealand. In October 2011 New Zealander Nigel Richards fought off 116 competitors from 44 countries to take his second world champion title by one point.

The board game Monopoly, based on buying and selling property, is similarly popular. A special New Zealand edition with local place names was produced around 1960. The three most valuable properties in this edition are Frankton Junction (Hamilton), Lambton Quay (Wellington) and Queen Street (Auckland). New Zealander Greg Jacobs won the world Monopoly championship in 1983.

Crosswords and other word puzzles

Crosswords and other word puzzles have been popular diversions in New Zealand, especially among office workers and commuters, since at least 1881 when they appeared regularly in the Otago Witness newspaper.

In the 1980s the Shuker family of Wellington began compiling crossword puzzles using New Zealand words such as Māori-language terms and local place names. Their business, The Puzzle Company, eventually supplied crosswords and other puzzles to every daily paper in New Zealand and to more than 20 other countries. Simon Shuker developed the new word puzzles Code-cracker and Take 5, and in 2012 sold them worldwide.


A number game similar to a crossword puzzle, Sudoku was barely known outside Japan until 1997. In that year Wayne Gould, a judge from Matamata, saw a book of Sudoku games in a Tokyo bookstore and found it compelling. Over the next few years he developed a computer program to create Sudoku puzzles and popularised Sudoku outside Asia. He also developed an online version of the game.

Recent New Zealand games

A number of games developed by New Zealanders have become successful elsewhere. The Educational Tour of New Zealand was a popular family board game in the 1950s. It was one of a series created by Auckland manufacturer Thomas Holdsworth & Sons. This game sold by the thousands until production ceased in the early 1980s.

The board game Cathedral was invented by RNZAF pilot Bob Moore in the 1970s and bought by an international games publisher in 1979. By the 21st century it was sold in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The New Zealand Games Association was formed in 2009 to encourage the development of the game industry in New Zealand, focusing on physical games using boards, cards, dice, tiles and blocks.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Cards, board games and puzzles - Non-gambling games', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 Sep 2013