For years I have enjoyed collecting interesting quotations as I encounter them in books, and in the past four years since my chess interest began, that collection began to include epigrams on chess. There are many famous quotations that others have collected and made available on the web. Bill Wall, who collects everything worth collecting regarding chess, has a marvelous set on his own page.
While my own collection that follows may not include as many well-known and highly regarded witticisms, I do believe that you will find many of them just as intriguing. For minor interest, I include a sentence or two regarding the source of each.
We begin with Garry Kasparov, the world champion who said this of another world champion, Anatoly Karpov.
1. Karpov’s strongest point, and maybe his weakest, is that he doesn’t look for the best move.
For those of you who enjoy reading chess books, the best chess author of the 20th century was Irving Chernev, who gives us an observation on masters, followed by two more observations from Aron Nimzowitsch and Andrew Soltis, both masters.
2. A master looks at every move he would like to make, especially the impossible ones.
3. It is when working under limitations that the master reveals himself.
4. Masters…know when to panic.
The second official world champion was German Emanuel Lasker, who held the title for an astonishing 27 years. Perhaps he was able to retain the title so long because of his attitude. He wrote in his Manual of Chess that
5. Chess "would be laughable, were it not so serious."
There are two Laskers to know about in chess. In addition to Emanuel, there is the wonderful author Edward Lasker, who supplies us with the next truism.
6. A single exposure [to chess] is apt to make an addict of anyone with a sense of adventure.
Edward also supplied this next one, which I have often mentioned to others, though I have not verified its veracity. But when you find a quote like this, you really don’t care whether it’s true or false, you just want to share it.
7. An intriguing phenomenon which links mathematics, music, and chess is the fact that child prodigies have been known in only these three fields.
My current reading includes Tal’s book on the match where he wrested the world title from Botvinnik. In this classic, Tal vs. Botvinnik, he writes
8. Modern chess has attained such a high standard that knowledge of a single skill turns out to be insufficient.
Frank Brady wrote a biography of Bobby Fischer, and it is in Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy that I found the next, which I feel is wonderful. Take a moment to think about it.
9. Chess is one of the few arts where composition takes place simultaneously with performance.
Daniel King wrote a book about the first computer to defeat a world champion in match conditions. I recently wrote a blog about this match that is described in the book Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, where King writes:
10. It is a curious fact that great advances in the development of chess theory have often taken place in cities and countries where there has been a general flowering in culture or advancement in learning.
For history buffs, here is an amusing nugget of wisdom from Aron Nimzowitsch, the great proponent of positional play.
11. The center is the Balkans of the chessboard; fighting may at any time break out there.
Rudolf Spielmann, although not as widely known as Nimzowitsch, was nevertheless a first-rate chess player who played the way he advises in the following.
12. Play the opening like a book, the middle game like a magician, and the endgame like a machine.
J. C. Hallman recently published a book that caught my eye. In The Chess Artist he describes his trip to Kalmykia, and the chess city therein. When I read the following, I couldn’t help but laugh.
13. I would come to learn that chess tended to trail only the military and pornography in the exploitation of new technology.
Author of horror stories, H. R. Wakefield supplies us with the next one.
14. Chess…is, in my opinion, one of the few supreme products of the human intellect, if, as I often doubt, it is of human origin.
In one of Chernev's books, there is a chapter about great chess players who also wrote about chess. It was in that chapter that I discovered the beauty of Richard Reti’s writing.
15. [Chess] is the triumph of the intellect and genius over lack of imagination; the triumph of personality over materialism.
It was in the same book by Chernev that I chanced upon this quotation from Weiss.
16. Nature supplies the game of chess with its implements; science with its system; art with its aesthetic arrangement of its problems; and God endows it with its blessed power of making people happy.
Reti, who was the first person to defeat Capablanca after the Cuban became world champion, also made the following observation that made me pause for a long moment when I read it.
17. Chess is particularly the game of the unappreciated, who seek in play that success which life has denied them.
And since we just mentioned Capablanca, whose name comes up often in chess circles, he wrote the following, which forever gives me hope.
18. You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win. You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player.
You can find Capablanca losing not hundreds, but 70 games if you click here.
Our penultimate quotation is from yet another world champion, Max Euwe, who tells us how not to become a good player.
19. Whoever sees no other aim in the game than that of giving checkmate to one’s opponent will never become a good chess player.
We will end with what is by far my favorite quotation, which is destined to become collected by many. The author is a wise, but unknown student of the game.
20. Choose your move carefully, in chess as in life.