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There is a class of men—shadowy, unhappy, unreal-looking men—who gather in coffee houses, and play with a desire that dieth not, and a fire that is not quenched. These gather in clubs and play tournaments...but there are others who have the vice who live in country places, in remote situations—curates, schoolmasters, tax collectors—who must needs find some artificial vent for their mental energy. —H.G. Wells, Concerning Chess THE players and their seconds now gathered in Reykjavik for the world championship match are neither shadowy nor unreal-looking men, and they are only occasionally unhappy. The same is true of the millions round the world whose imaginations have been fired by the battle of the giants, Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. They gather in chess clubs, if they are seasoned aficionados, or in front of the TV in the corner bar, or around a transistor radio if they are out in the boondocks. They scream instructions, encouragement or abuse at the contestants with all the futile energy of spectators at the World Series. The psychology of the Johnny-come-lately fans is much like that of the masses of men and women who take up any craze, and much of their enthusiasm will be evanescent. Far more complex, however, are the psychological bases of the quiet passion that has prompted countless millions to play the game through the centuries—and the unquiet passion that turns championship contenders into egomaniacs and monomaniacs. Chess originated as a war game. It is an adult, intellectualized equivalent of the maneuvers enacted by little boys with toy soldiers and has, throughout history, appealed to diverse peoples. It was played by the contemplative Hindus, the holy warriors of Islam, the chivalrous knights who were allowed to visit ladies fair in their boudoirs to play a board, and by the rambunctious sea rovers who had carried the game to Greenland (perhaps even to North America) by the 12th century. Dr. Karl Menninger, an aggressive Freudian analyst, once declared: "It seems to be necessary for some of us to have a hobby in which aggressiveness and destructiveness are given opportunity for expression, and since I long ago gave up hunting (because it is too destructive), I have found myself returning more and more to the most ancient of all games." Ernest Jones, official biographer of Sigmund Freud, seemed to agree with those sentiments when he wrote in 1930: "Chess...is a play substitute for the art of war." But in the same essay, The Problem of Paul Morphy, which discussed the paranoia that beset the American chess prodigy of the 1850s, he also moved Freud's much-debated interpretation of Oedipus onto the chessboard. Morphy, in Jones' somewhat questionable theory, had to sublimate a strong Oedipal urge to "kill the father." His own flesh-and-blood father was already dead, but Morphy had a surrogate father, Howard Staunton, the uncrowned chess champion of the world, whom he needed to kill at chess. (Unfortunately for Morphy's psyche, Staunton, in most unsportsmanlike fashion, refused to play and submit to being "killed.") Since Jones' essay, the psychoanalysis of chess has been increasingly preoccupied with sexual symbolism. Said Menninger about chess players: "Silently they are plotting (and attempting to execute) murderous campaigns of patricide, matricide, fratricide, regicide and mayhem." A great chess player, Manhattan's Reuben Fine, has popularized a psychology of chess studded with phallic symbols, spattered with anal-sadistic impulses and imbued with latent homosexuality. In successive rounds, Fine once defeated Botvinnik, Reshevsky, Euwe, Flohr and Alekhine, and drew with Capablanca. When Fine switched his major interest from chess to psychoanalysis, the result was a loss for chess—and a draw, at best, for psychoanalysis. Many psychologists, some Freudians included, now believe that the sexual symbolism in chess is vastly overdrawn. Jones emphasized that the king is the father image and that its most savage attacker is the queen of the opposite color. This, say the analysts, is a paradigm of the family in which mother is pitted against father. They ignore the fact that the king's most powerful defender is his own queen. For the mother-father conflict to have validity, the player must have crossed loyalties, which might well make him schizophrenic. Such symbolism aside, the motives and methods of chess players are as varied as their personalities. Even among the small number of men who have been world champions in this century there have been polar differences. Emanuel Lasker, title holder from 1894 to 1921, was a philosopher, mathematician and thoroughgoing "square" by most psychological standards. His satisfactions from chess appear to have been entirely intellectual. Cuba's Jose Capablanca (champion from 1921 to 1927), who gave up the orderliness of a projected career in engineering to become a chess giant and his country's hero, enjoyed competition in other lines than chess, notably tennis, bridge and the pursuit of women. Alexander Alekhine (1927-35, 1937-46) is best described in Fine's words as "the sadist of the chess world." He went through five marriages, was involved in a campaign of antiSemitism, dipsomania, and enough other psychopathology to fill a casebook. The Netherlands' Max Euwe (1935-37), as square as Lasker was, is a conventional paterfamilias and also a mathematics professor with a cool passion for order on the board. Since 1948, all of the world champions have been Russians—from Mikhail Botvinnik (three times) to Boris Spassky. Their personalities, temperaments and styles of play reflect not only East-West cultural differences, but also the peculiar status of chess in Communist countries. While chess is merely a game for the Russian masses, it is a profession or at least a second profession for the Soviet chess masters, who may also be engineers or physicists. Both teaching and play are state-supported, and grand masters get good pay and high honors. So when a grand master competes outside Russia, he is, to a considerable degree, representing his country. In fact, some chess experts claim to see, in many of Spassky's games, as in Botvinnik's, a gray sameness that reflects much of Communist Russia's culture and character. The U.S.S.R. has produced few, if any, romantic, slashing players like Alekhine, who grew up under the Czars. Instead, modern Russian players tend to concentrate on establishing strong defensive positions. This, it has been suggested, may reflect a national feeling of threat by encirclement. Certainly the Russians seldom launch a blitzkrieg early in the game, preferring to win by attrition and a later counterattack. Consciously or not, this could be a re-enactment of both Napoleon's 1812 campaign and the 1941-45 war in which Hitler's blitzkrieg was eventually defeated by Russian doggedness. Furthermore, Soviet players seem to be more willing than most to settle for a draw, which salvages half a point, rather than going for broke and risking the loss of a whole point. Among the Russian champions, Spassky represents the calm, collected and efficient competitor that Reuben Fine includes in the "non-hero" class, able to do well in fields other than chess. Fine also notes that the easygoing Spassky is a depressive personality, perhaps because in childhood he endured the siege of Leningrad and spent some years in an orphanage. Spassky's father left the family when Boris was very young, and the future champion was raised by his mother. Fischer, too, was deserted early in life by his father and raised by his mother. Her name, incidentally, was Regina, a fact that has given Freudians an opportunity for endless speculation. Unlike Spassky, Bobby is considered by Fine to be a perfect example of the hero players, "who use chess to satisfy their fantasies of omnipotence." For Fischer, these fantasies are confined to chess. He is as monocentric as he is egocentric. Chess is his whole life, leaving little room for conventional social relationships with men and women. Some supporters deny that he is a misogynist, but he has given ample evidence of it, and Fine says that Fischer is afraid of women. Much of his openly outrageous behavior can be attributed to his emotionally deprived childhood. And his struggle to the summit since then has left him still without the inner security needed to accept defeat. He is a killer—not necessarily in the Oedipal sense—because he must win. In the lower ranks of the chess hierarchy, the character traits of world champions are usually expressed in less extreme forms. U.S. Grand Master Larry Evans, in fact, takes a coolly pragmatic approach to the game. "In chess," he says, "what counts is what you know, not whom you know. It's the way life is supposed to be, democratic and just." Being a chess professional, says Evans, "offers freedom, unlimited travel with all expenses paid. To me, the opponent is a neutral figure. Winning pays the rent." It is among the players who are frank (and in some cases rank) amateurs that the motivation for chess is more likely to be affective, at the level of ventilating aggression. Jim Rathmann, 23, bartender at the Bismarck Inn in Chicago, has identified with Fischer during the current match. As he chalks up a new win for the challenger, he exults: "He's going to crush Spassky! He's on an ego trip, but he's still the greatest chess player ever." As for himself, Rathmann says simply, "Winning gives me a feeling of power." Sibling rivalry is also a factor. William Zaszczurynski, who at 17 is already manager of the Chicago Chess Club, took up the game because his elder brother was playing it: "I couldn't beat him in wrestling, but with a little hard work I could get the better of him in chess." And among the relatively few American women who play chess (in Russia, where sex roles tend to be more elastic than in the U.S., considerably more women play), male-female rivalry emerges. Says Natalie Broughton, a Chicago suburban housewife: "My favorite gambit against male opponents is Sitzfleisch. If you sit long enough, staring and pondering, you don't have to have a fast mind. The other person will become so annoyed and tired that he finally slips." "Psyching out" the opponent is at least as old as the 16th century Spanish cleric Ruy Lopez de Sigura, who advocated placing the chessboard so that it would reflect light into the opponent's eyes. Smoke blowing is probably almost as old. Finger drumming on the table is a despicable ploy, and as a distracting gambit it is forbidden in formal play. So are humming and singing. But there are subtler, quieter ways of psyching. Many players have been accused of trying to hypnotize opponents. Former World Champion Mikhail Tal has been credited with a "laserlike gaze," and Bobby Fischer with a "strange magnetic influence"—long before the ludicrous Russian charge last week that the Americans had installed brain-boggling electronics in Reykjavik. Chess has equally noteworthy positive assets, which are not always realized. It is virtually the only game that is just as stimulating when played without money stakes as with them. It is truly egalitarian in that social status or wealth or brawn can confer no advantage. Neither can a high IQ. In fact, a New Jersey psychiatrist-chess player, Dr. Henry A. Davidson, has applied the theory of the idiot savant to chess and concludes that it would be possible for a blockhead to excel in the game, but adds tersely: "He usually doesn't." Manhattan's Dr. Ariel Mengarini, a nonanalytic psychiatrist, asserts that the typical amateur chess player has had a formal education and has a job that does not come up to his intellectual capabilities. He needs the kind of mental workout that he gets in chess. Equally important, to Mengarini, is the struggle. "But the beauty of chess," he says, "is that the rules are clear-cut. If you win, no one can take away your victory. In life, most of your wins are not clear-cut. If you've lost, there's nothing to do but shake hands with your opponent. This is most refreshing compared with most human relationships, including the world of business and sexual relationships."
Another non-Freudian, Dr. Kurt Alfred Adler, son of the late Alfred Adler and an exponent of his school of individual psychology, goes further. "To me," he says, "chess is a game of training in orientation for problem solving, not only in strategy and tactics and plane geometry, but in learning to use the pieces as a cooperative team. I would put little emphasis on the elements of hostility and aggression, and dismiss completely the sexual symbolism. The players are trying to overcome difficulties, and while they are also trying to attain mastery, the game is a form of social intercourse." How much raw competitiveness enters into the game depends on the culture, says Adler. In collective societies such as Russia, the player plays the board rather than his opponent. Competitiveness becomes more pronounced in Western Europe and is rampant in the U.S. Whether a player plays the board or against his opponent becomes a finespun argument in the tens of thousands of chess games that are always in progress by mail. Biochemist Aaron Bendich, of Manhattan's Sloan-Kettering Institute, summarizes his motivation: "I play as an intellectual exercise, and I don't see my opponent as an adversary. But there is an adversary—and that's me! If I lose and allow myself to get angry with my opponent, I am really projecting onto him the anger I feel with myself for having played badly." "Chess," said Goethe, "is the touchstone of the intellect." To many better-than-average players, a well-played game embodies something more: it is a work of art, owing as much of its beauty to imagination and creativity as to the exercise of intelligence. However it is regarded, and however long or short a time the current worldwide flurry of interest in chess persists, the game will go on. It has endured for 1,400 years, and will outlive all the theorists.
Interesting article. I guess the question of motivation is one that each of us has to answer for themselves.
Good useful article. Thanks.
i'm coming back to it, almost finished reading it... and how very interesting this is
I wonder if anybody on here have noticed that they've begun to look shadowy, and unreal since the started playing. LOL
Reading the post here mentioning Reykjavik and Bobby Fischer brought this (for those of you that missed it) to mind from recent news regarding his exhumation in Reykjavik
Conducting a forum search for, "The World's great chess games Reuben Fine" this post was the result and I immediately recognized your annimated gif as the "Immortal" I first saw in "The World's great chess games" Edited by Reuben Fine 1983. (I have this book)
What a beautiful game!
Back to my search....... yours was not the result I was looking for, but what a nice diversion.
I wonder what the function of seconds is. I guess everybody on here knows but me.
what is this whole "carlsen plays like a computer" nonsense
by TheGreatOogieBoogie a few minutes ago
Positional response to e4?
by Strange_Idiom a few minutes ago
The bad thing about chess is its fixed starting position.
by qixel 2 minutes ago
If a knight starts on b1 ...
by ViktorHNielsen 4 minutes ago
12/5/2013 - Too Many Attackers, Too Little Defenders
by av83r 4 minutes ago
Kasparov or karpov? vote
by oasis1994-2009 5 minutes ago
what the #$%^was he playing and how did he win?
by Jaglavak 7 minutes ago
Scandinabian defence gambit???
by GreenCastleBlock 9 minutes ago
QG - Tarrasch vs Albin Counter Gambit
by pfren 11 minutes ago
What happens if you are a queen up
by chessdaddyo 12 minutes ago
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