Born "Jakob Mieses" in Leipzig, Germany in 1865, his early successes as an adult chess player included a tie for second at Leipzig and third at Nuremberg in 1888, however he was quickly eclipsed by two rising young superstars, Emanuel Lasker and Siegbert Tarrasch. Mieses attained maturity as a player in 1895, just after turning 30, when he contested the 9th Chess Congress in Leipzig, followed by an exhibition tour in Russia and then a match with David Janowski. His participation in the great Hastings tournament that year was important to his growth as a mature chess master despite a 20th-place finish.
Mieses was a dangerous attacker with a number of famous victories to his credit, e.g. against Frank Marshall (Monte Carlo 1903). His best achievement was to win the first Trebitsch Memorial at Vienna 1907, and he came third at the 28-round Masters tournament at Ostend the same year.
He organized the 1911 San Sebastian master tournament and insisted that all the masters' expenses were paid. This was the first international tournament of José Raúl Capablanca, who surprised everyone by winning.
After the Nazi takeover of Germany, the Jewish Mieses moved to the UK. In 1950 he became the first FIDE-authorized British grandmaster, though not (as is sometimes claimed) the first British grandmaster. ("Grandmaster" is a title first used of chess players in the 19th century,p156 and a number of British players were considered to be grandmasters in their day, such as Howard Staunton and Joseph Blackburne. When FIDE first awarded the grandmaster title in 1950, Mieses was one of the 27 original recipients, and the oldest of them.
Mieses, now past the age of 70, settled in England in 1938 following Kristallnacht in Germany, and arrived with just 15 Reichsmarks in his pocket. He continued to actively play chess and participated in his last major event at Hastings 1946, when he was 80 years old and half a century after Hastings 1895. The octogenarian Mieses only won a single game against a 22-year-old opponent, but secured the brilliancy prize for a game-winning attack combination. Three years later, at 84, he defeated the 86-year-old Dutch master Van Foreest, afterwards commenting "Youth has been victorious" and also gave a series of exhibition matches in western Europe. He died in February 1954, a few days before his 89th birthday.
Mieses's professional chess career lasted 64 years, a record that still stands as of 2018. His durability at an advanced age was attributed to his belief in physical fitness; he engaged in daily swims until almost the end of his life.
Mieses wrote many tournament reports, but his style was regarded as fairly dry, in contrast with his wittiness in person.