Chess Related Novels & Stories

  • IM Silman
  • | Feb 14, 2011

member Adam Katz asked:

Do you know of any works of fiction that mention or give pride-of-place to chess? The older the better. I am a sucker for the 19th century, but, though I can find plenty enough in the 20th century (Eliot’s THE WASTELAND has an intriguing reference, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT, various memoirs) 19th century literature seems to be lacking on this front. There is, of course, Lewis Carroll. Still, any books at all that you can recommend I would greatly appreciate.

I came to you because you seem to have a literary bent (not just your own writing – you mentioned in a column that you like Nick Cave) but if you are not the one to whom I should be asking this question, can you point me to someone else who might know about such matters?

Dear Mr. Katz:

A few 19th Century titles that feature some chess related theme are:

ARABIAN KNIGHTS by Richard Burton (1885).

DIGBY, CHESS PROFESSOR by Charles Edward Barns (1889).

THE TURKISH AUTOMATON by Sheila E. Braine (1896).

THE STARTLING EXPLOITS OF DR. J. B. QUIES by Paul Celieres (1887).

CHECKMATED AND OTHER STORIES BY LEADING WRITERS Edited by L. Pylodet and Augusta Harriet Leypoldt (1886).

STRIFE OF LOVE IN A DREAM by Francesco Colonna (1890).

The fact is there are quite a few chess related novels (we’re just talking fiction here!) from the 19th Century. The best way of exploring all the possibilities is to buy (or find someone that has) a book titled: CHESS ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY: WORKS PUBLISHED IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE 1850 TO 1968 by Douglas Betts. This great book has over 600 pages of information covering the listed dates. It’s offered for 39 Euros on the Moravian chess site and is an indispensible reference source for bibliophiles like yourself:

Of course, most people would be more interested in books from the 20th or 21st centuries. A complete list of all chess related fiction would be huge, so I’ll only give the best, with a few others of potential interest thrown in.

I should add that I haven’t read most of them. Of course, I read all the classics (I’ll point out the one’s I read when I come to them), but I tired of chess-related fiction over 30 years ago (I lived, ate, and breathed chess, so I wanted to read about things that took me away from it!) and thus am not that well acquainted with the latest stuff. Keep in mind that we are only exploring chess FICTION. Thus, books like SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER by Fred Waitzkin isn’t a candidate for this list.


(Graded by Writing AND the Amount of Chess Content)

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT: A NOVEL, by Walter Tevis (Vintage, 2003) - This is about an 8 year old orphan that turns out to be a chess genius. Tevis is a serious writer, having penned THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH AND THE HUSTLER, so anything he does has to be taken seriously.

THE SQUARES OF THE CITY by John Brunner (Scribner, 1992) - Each character is a piece in a chess game, but it’s really about subliminal manipulation on a massive scale. Nominated for a Hugo award!

PAWN TO INFINITY (Ace, 1982). This is a chess-themed collection of stories that features a who’s who of great writers. The offerings of Zelazny and Anderson are very highly thought of.

Pawn to Infinity: The Marvelous Brass Chessplaying Automaton - Gene Wolfe

Pawn to Infinity: Unicorn Variation - Roger Zelazny

Pawn to Infinity: The Immortal Game - Poul Anderson

Pawn to Infinity: Midnight by the Morphy Watch - Fritz Leiber

Pawn to Infinity: Unsound Variations - George R. R. Martin

Pawn to Infinity: A Game of Vlet - Joanna Russ

Pawn to Infinity: Without a Thought - Fred Saberhagen

Pawn to Infinity: A Board in the Other Direction - Ruth Berman

Pawn to Infinity: Von Goom’s Gambit - Victor Contoski

Pawn to Infinity: Kokomu - Daniel Gilbert

Pawn to Infinity: Moxon’s Master - Ambrose Bierce

THE FLANDERS PANEL by Arturo Perez-Reverte (Bantam Books, 1996) - A thriller that’s about an art restorer who sets out to solve the riddle of a 15th-century painting (showing the Duke of Flanders and his Knight playing a game of chess), but instead comes across one murder after another (over a 5 century period).

THE EIGHT by Katherine Neville (Ballantine Books, 1990) - Another thriller/fantasy-adventure that became an international bestseller. It’s about a computer expert (who loves chess) who gets caught up in a search for a legendary chess set once owned by Charlemagne.

THE FIRE by Katherine Neville (2008) - A sequel to THE EIGHT, which begins twenty years after the first novel ended. Lord Byron is somehow tossed into the mix too!

ZUGZWANG by Ronan Bennett (2007) - A historical thriller about a city hosting an international chess tournament in 1914. Murders and other forms of chaos follow.

TOWER STRUCK BY LIGHTENING by Fernando Arrabal (Penguin, 1991) - Andorran Spaniard vs. a Swiss physicist (who happens to be a Marxist terrorist) in a battle for the chess championship of the world.

THE LUNEBURG VARIATION by Paolo Maurensig (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1993) - Chess (as metaphor for war), concentration camp, Nazis, and lots of mystery. A highly acclaimed piece of work.

THE DEFENSE by Vladimir Nabokov (Originally published in 1930) More recently titled: THE LUZHIN DEFENSE (in 2000, a major movie, starring John Turturro, appeared that was based on this) - This is a story about high level chess and insanity, and how both are often part of the same "package". I read this in my teens and really enjoyed it, but I'm not so sure that I'd like it as much now.

THE ROYAL GAME (A Novella, the original German title was: Schachnovelle) by Stefan Zweig (1942) - A man who is imprisoned and put into isolation is driven to the edge of mental/emotional collapse. The only thing that allows him to avoid total madness is a small chess book he steals that is filled with master games.

I loved this story when I read it in my teens, and I still love it today. In 1960, this tale was turned into an excellent (German) movie titled, BRAINWASHED directed by Gerd Oswald (starring Curt Jurgens & Claire Bloom). You’re not a real chess player if you haven’t read THE ROYAL GAME. Rest assured that after reading it, you’ll instantly gain 300 rating points (or, at the very least, you'll insist you're 300 points stronger than your published rating), and beautiful women will find you irresistible.

 by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins, 2007) - An acclaimed novel that prominently features chess, Jews, and murder, which poses the question: What if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska - and not Israel - had become the homeland for the Jews after World War II?

THE CHESS GARDEN by Brooks Hansen (Riverhead Trade, 1996) - A man serving in a British-run concentration camp for forcibly displaced Boers sends 12 letters to his wife. The letters describe a world where chess pieces live and die, fight and love, and even philosophize.

SHADOW WITHOUT A NAME by Ignacio Padilla (Spanish: 2000, English translation: 2002) - Two chess experts make a deal during WWII: “If my father won, the other man would take his place on the eastern front and hand over his job as pointsman in hut nine on the Munich-Salzburg line. If, on the other hand, my father lost, he would shoot himself before the train reached its destination.”



THE CHESS PLAYERS by Frances Parkinsen Keyes (1960) - A fictionalized tale about Paul Morphy. I read this when I was 15 and found it far too romantic for my tastes. However, most people seem to love it.

EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK by Stephen Carter (2002) – The main character in this book is a chess fanatic.

AUTO-DA-FE  by Elias Canetti (1935) – A Nazis dwarf called Fischerle is obsessed with becoming a great chess champion.

STALEMATE by Icchokas Meras (1963, English Edition 2005) – About a young chess prodigy who seems patterned after the young Reshevsky. A life and death game is played in a Polish ghetto where Isaac (the Reshevsky-like prodigy) faces a horrifying situation: If Isaac wins (against a Nazi Commandant), all the children in the ghetto will live, but Isaac will die. If he loses, he’ll live, but the kids will die. Only a draw will ensure a happy ending.

CARL HAFFNER’S LOVE OF THE DRAW by Thomas Glavanic (Random House, 2003) - This is a fictionalized account of the Lasker vs. Schlechter World Championship Match in 1910. “Haffner”, of course, is Schlechter (who was a famous drawing master).

REALITY INSPECTOR by John Caris (Westgate House, 1982) - A science fiction detective novel (with quite a bit of chess stuff … even chess diagrams!) that’s actually all about computer hacking!

THE IMMORTAL GAME by Mark Coggins (Poltroon Press, 1999) - A detective story (that pays homage to Hammett, Chandler, and others), it’s set in present day San Francisco and features an advanced form of chess software.

CHESSMEN OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1922) - The Chessmen of Mars, first published in 1922, is the fifth book in Burroughs’ Mars series, about the adventures of Earthman John Carter on the Red Planet.

DISCWORLD by Terry Pratchett. This features a chess variant called Stealth Chess. Thirty-eight Discworld novels have been published since 1983!

THE CHESS MACHINE by Robert Lohr (2007) - About a chess playing automaton (sounds like The Turk, doesn’t it?) in 1770 Hungary. Throw in a chess prodigy and a dwarf, add a dash of murder, and you have a story.

ALL THE KING’S HORSES by Kurt Vonnegut (Short Story, 1951) - Features a true game of death where a prisoner (and his family and companions) is forced to play his Chinese captor for his/their freedom. The problem: these people act as actual pieces, and every American piece that’s captured will be immediately executed. Imagine the moral dilemma that this would create!

FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE by Ian Fleming (1957) - A novel in the James Bond series. One of the villains, Tov Kronsteen, is a chess grandmaster.

INVISIBLE CITIES by Italo Calvino (1972) - An experimental novel that has no actual plot and very little character development! The novel is structured as a dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan.

THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin (1978). For young readers. A murder mystery that won the 1979 Newbery Medal (probably the highest award one can win for children’s literature).

THE BISHOP MURDER CASE by S. S. van Dine – a pseudonym for Willard Huntington Wright (1928) - A Philo Vance mystery (there were six Philo Vance novels in all). They also made several Philo Vance movies. The one I saw was The Kennel Murder Case (1933), which starred William Powell (my favorite actor … in other words, I really enjoyed the movie!).

UNSOUND VARIATIONS (a novella included in the book, PORTRAITS OF HIS CHILDREN) by George R.R. Martin (1982) - “A single move in a chess tournament that one of the weaker players made ruins the lives of the rest of the team in ways both disturbing and unimaginable.”

If you ever worried that a chess blunder might have dire consequences, then this might turn your fear into full-blown paranoia! In any case, UNSOUND VARIATIONS won several prestigious writing awards, and the author is an acknowledged fiction/fantasy/horror heavyweight. This one is surely worth a look!

THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler (1939) - This classic speaks for itself.


(Great or not so great, you be the judge)

FORBIDDEN PLANET by Lionel Fanthorpe (using the pseudonym John E. Muller) (1961) - About an interstellar chess game played by superhuman entities using humans as pawns.

THE DRAGON VARIATION by Anthony Glyn (Hutchinson, 1969) - About the world of international chess. Got very good reviews at the time, but I wasn’t too fond of it when I read the thing in 1971. My main gripe was that the author’s understanding of the game was severely lacking, which made some of the chess battles a tad embarrassing. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I read it again.

TACTICS OF CONQUEST by Barry Malzberg (Penguin Putnam) - A very highly thought of author (and playwright, and musician!), but I don’t know anything about this particular book!

MASTER PRIM by James Whitfield Ellison (1968) - Features a Fischer-like character and even a full game that, in the novel, was between Prim and Eugene Berlin, but in reality it was Alekhine vs. Sterk, Budapest 1921. I discovered the game’s true identity on Edward Winter’s very interesting site, Chess Notes:

THE 64-SQUARE LOOKING GLASS: GREAT GAMES OF CHESS IN WORLD LITERATURE by Burt Hochberg (Times Books, 1993) - Forty-four entries that examine “the great game of chess in world literature.” They range from mysteries to poetry, tournament accounts to fantasy contests, allegory to journalism.

KING, QUEEN, AND KNIGHT: A CHESS ANTHOLOGY IN PROSE AND VERSE by Normal Knight and Will Guy (Batsford, 1975) - An anthology of over 250 passages of prose and verse, culled from many different countries and centuries.

CELESTIAL CHESS by Thomas Bontly (Ballantine Books, 1980) - A mystery novel about a medieval manuscript, a strange poem written by a monk during the reign of Henry II, and murder. 

SINISTER GAMBITS: CHESS STORIES OF MURDER AND MYSTERY by Richard Peyton (Souvenir Press, 1992) - A compilation of 17 short stories bearing chess-related themes, divided into three sections.

There is some heavy-duty stuff here – from Fritz Leiber to J. G. Ballard to Poul Anderson. We even get Agatha Christie!

ALEKHINE’S ANGUISH: A Novel of the Chess World by Charles D. Yaffe (McFarland & Company, 1999) - This is a fictionalized account of the life and career of world chess champion Alexander Alekhine.

LOS VORACES, 2019: A Chess Novel by Andy Soltis (McFarland, 2003) - About a twenty million dollar tournament in 2019. The rules: no seconds, no agents, no computers, no entourages, no pagers, no power palms, no phone calls – no outside contact of any kind – as the fourteen greatest chess players in the world gather to compete for money and fame.

UNDER THE BLACK SUN by Eric Woro (Axiom Publishing, 1995) - Vampires, a chess prodigy, sex, dead bodies strewn about like graffiti, a psychotic dead man, and perversions galore. From the book: “Martin tells her that ‘Golem never made it with a girl’, to which she replies, putting her hand on his leg, ‘Well, I’ve never made it with a ghoul.’”

CHESS WITH A DRAGON by David Gerrold (1987) - Mankind has to negotiate with an alien race called “Dragons.”

GRANDMASTER by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy (1984) - An old story: two chess prodigies meet. They grow up to be chess powerhouses. And then they face spies, assassins, mystic stuff in the Far East, murder, and evil! I recently shared a couple of beers with Seirawan in Amsterdam and he told me how he experienced this exact kind of thing (I wasn't surprised, because I have to fight evil and ninjas on a daily basis too)! In other words, it’s business as usual for us chess pros.

THE TWELVE CHAIRS (1928) by IIf and Petrov - Parts of it take place at a chess club.

INCIDENT AT THE SICILIAN DRAGON by Kent Smith (1981) - I remember seeing this book on the floor at the headquarters of the Players Chess News in LA (I was editor to that international chess paper at that time). I should have picked the book up, but instead I stepped on it and continued to my desk. I still have no idea what it’s about (it might have been the chess equivalent of WAR AND PEACE for all I know).

HENCE by Brad Leithauser (Penguin, 1989) - A chess genius, the world’s strongest chess computer, a big tournament at MIT, a messianic computer scientist in green shoes, and a bleeding televangelist. What more could anyone want?

MORAL VICTORIES by David Lovejoy (Echo Publications, 2008) - A “historical novel”, meaning the author tries to follow real history, but creates thoughts and dialogue that may or may not have had anything to do with the real person. In this case our hero is Savielly Tartakower, a famous grandmaster who was also one of the wittiest guys who ever lived (by the way, Tartakower has a tremendous set of books about his best games – a must buy, if you can find them). The novel sounds interesting.

THE CHESS PLAYER by Rolf Witzsche (2005) - A Russian chess champion is rescued from a mob that is obsessed on revenge for a nuclear war tragedy. The Chess Player is a chapter from the novel, BRIGHTER THAN THE SUN.

THE CHESS TEAM by James Sawaski (2005) - A book for young readers. If you guessed that the book was about the main character blundering in the High School Chess Championship, you would have guessed right. I think it’s a “triumph of the human spirit” kind of thing. Not my cup of tea, but then I’m a bad tempered old man and have given up on the human spirit long, long ago.

THE POSTHUMAN DADA GUIDE: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess by Andrei Codrescu (2009) - Quite a title! The blurb says: “The Posthuman Dada Guide is an impractical handbook for practical living in our posthuman world – all by way of examining the imagined 1916 chess game between Tristan Tzara, the daddy of Dada, and V. I. Lenin, the daddy of communism.” Wow.

EVEN DEAD MEN PLAY CHESS by Michael Weitz (Lachesis Publishing, 2009) - A mystery. Ray Gordon is a chess teacher who finds his student dead in his shop. Ray thinks it is murder, the police don’t agree. And off to the races we go.

THE MAGIC MEAN MACHINE by Beatrice Gormley (2010) - A book for children. It's about a little girl trying to win a 5th grade chess tournament. Since she often succumbs to nerves, Marvin the science wiz invents a device (a rewired Walkman) that will stimulate Alison’s hypothalamus. Allow me to pose a question: Is that legal?

TROTTER’S BOTTOM by Tanya Jones (2010) - A thriller. A woman is returning from maternity leave and is accosted by a Russian chess grandmaster (as I’ve always said, you can’t trust those Russian grandmasters). Naturally, theft and murder is the logical next step. Oh, did I forget to say that this is a comedy? (The title alone made me laugh … I’m still laughing).

THE CHESS PLAYER (Polish Title: SZACHISTA) by Waldemar Lysiak (1980) - Centered around the game of chess between Napoleon Bonaparte and The Turk.

LORD LOSS by Darren Shan (2005)- A 10 book series for children. The main character, Grubbs Grady, lives in a family of chess players.

STRIDING FOLLY by Dorothy L. Sayers (1939) - Supposed to have chess in it, but I’m not sure how much.

Finally, let’s finish on a really high note:

QUARANTINE by Arthur C. Clarke (1977), which appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, First Issue, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1977.

A VERY short story about an extraterrestrial civilization that discovers chess after visiting Earth. Arthur C. Clarke was challenged to write a story so short that it could fit on the back of a postcard. Here’s the result:

Earth’s flaming debris still filled half the sky when the question filtered up to Central from the Curiosity Generator. “Why was it necessary? Even though they were organic, they had reached Third Order Intelligence.”

“We had no choice: five earlier units became hopelessly infected when they made contact.”

“Infected? How? The microseconds dragged slowly by, while Central tracked down the few fading memories that had leaked past the Censor Gate, when the heavily-buffered Reconnaissance Circuits had been ordered to self-destruct.

“They encountered a – problem – that could not be fully analyzed within the lifetime of the Universe. Though it involved only six operators, they became totally obsessed by it.”

“How is that possible?”

“We do not know: we must never know. But if those six operators are ever re-discovered, all rational computing will end.”

“How can they be recognized?”

“That also we do not know; only the names leaked through before the Censor Gate closed. Of course, they mean nothing.”

“Nevertheless, I must have them.”

The Censor voltage started to rise; but it did not trigger the Gate. “Here they are: King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, Pawn.”


  • 9 months ago


    Hello chess and literature lovers:

    Once in a while I write stories under the pen name Anaya Roma. I recently wrote one that might be of interest to people here. I use a game of chess as a literary device. The game in the story is based on a 15th century Catalonian poem about a chess game played between Mars and Venus, by the title of "Scachs D'Amor". See the end notes. Here is my story, for whatever it's worth (it's copyrighted):


    © 2016 Anaya Roma

    “Once upon a time, Mars and Venus met in a temple somewhere.

    Mercury was there, too,

    And he set up a slightly different game of chess for them to play,

    Where the King represented reason,

    The Queen was strong willpower,

    Thoughts were Bishops,

    Knights were sweetly eloquent praises,

    Rooks, desires arising in the mind,

    And pawns, fighters for victory.”[1]

    ~~~~Scachs d’Amor (verse one)[2]

    It was Ottavio’s birthday, and Olivia had invited him to her condo for lunch and a game of chess. She prepared Ottavio’s very own Cioppino recipe, and baked a loaf of bread from scratch. He brought a bottle of excellent Pinot Grigio. It all turned out perfectly, and it was a very enjoyable meal!

    After lunch, they went out to the back balcony, where Olivia had assembled the chess set. The temperature was a pleasant 71º F, and there was a light fog lingering among the trees. Every so often, the cicadas raised their chant. The cardinals and wrens came to the birdfeeder in a steady stream, adding their own songs.

     The chess set was a gift from Ottavio. He loved metalworking and woodworking, and had carefully welded the chessmen from brass and pewter. Each piece was perfect.  He had fashioned the chessboard as well. The squares were made of light basswood, and black walnut. It was an exquisite work of art. 

    Ottavio opened by moving his King’s Pawn two squares forward. Olivia countered by moving her Queen’s Pawn two squares forward. (1.e4 d5)[3]

              Ottavio pensively stroked his goatee, trying to decide which defense he would use, when Olivia said, “I had an interesting dream last night.” 

    A couple of minutes passed. Ottavio decided on a Scandinavian Defense, and captured Olivia’s Queen’s Pawn with his King’s Pawn. Olivia immediately moved her Queen to capture the King’s Pawn. (2. exd5 Qxd5)

              “Tell me about your dream”, said he, moving his Queen’s Knight to c3.


              "I dreamt I had been to a dentist appointment. This, in itself, was uneventful, but as I was walking through the parking lot towards my vehicle, I noticed there was a man dressed in a black suit, sitting on the hood of an old hearse.” Olivia paused to move her Queen out of harm’s way, back to d8, and continued narrating her dream. “As I was passing by, he said the following words to me, ‘There is nothing truer than death.’”  (3. QNc3 Qd8) 

                    Ottavio raised his eyebrows and mulled over her words, and then moved his King’s Bishop to c4. “An interesting statement,” was his remark. 

                    “I agree,” said Olivia, as she moved her King’s Knight to f6 (4. KBc4 KNf6). “But do you think what he said is correct?” 

                    “Since it was your dream, I’d like to hear your thoughts about it first,” he replied while moving his King’s Knight to f3. Olivia then moved her Queen’s Bishop to g4. (5. KNf3 QBg4) 

                     She offered her assessment of the dream. “I think his statement is valid. Life really is just a transient glimmer of light in an infinite ocean of darkness. Entropy and impermanence are the rule in the Universe. Life is the exception. It seems to bubble up from nothingness the same way virtual particles arise in a so-called vacuum.” 

    Olivia paused while Ottavio moved his King’s Rook’s Pawn to h3. She continued, “The only difference is that life endures for a longer timespan than virtual particles… relatively speaking.”   

                    “That’s quite a mind-full,” said Ottavio, again stroking his goatee.  He then removed his rimless glasses and sat back in his chair. Olivia countered by capturing Ottavio’s King’s Knight on f3.(6. h3 QBxf3) 

    As Ottavio replaced his glasses, again leaned forward in his chair, and moved his Queen to capture Olivia’s Queen’s Bishop on f3. Then, he went on to say, “Without doubt, death is a fact, but what the mortician told you hinges on a rather narrow point of view.” 

               Again, he paused. Olivia knew better than to rush him. Ottavio lived life just as he played chess, slow and steady. She moved her King’s Pawn to e6.  (7. Qxf3 e6) 

    Ottavio moved his Queen again to capture the Queen’s Pawn on b7, and said, “He does have a point. Individual lives do seem to be mere flashes in the pan. As a mortician, though, he probably wasn’t thinking about quantum physics. Are you familiar with the workings of an internal combustion engine?” Olivia moved her Queen’s Knight to d7. (8. Qxb7 QNbd7) Ottavio then moved his Queen’s Knight to b5. 

    Olivia didn’t know much about engines, so she said no, and while she waited for Ottavio to resume his explanation, she moved her Queen’s Rook to c8 (9. QNb5 QRc8). 

    When Ottavio saw this, he countered by using his Queen’s Knight to capture Olivia’s Queen’s Rook on a7. 

     “Internal combustion engines have cylinders, pistons, and sparkplugs. The pistons fit snugly and are able to slide up and down inside the cylinders. To make things simple, I will describe the movement of just one cylinder in a car engine, without mentioning the starting mechanism, and all the other elements that are required to make a car move.”

     “Okay. I’m listening,” said Olivia as she moved her Queen’s Knight to b6. (10. KNxa7 QNb6).


     “In the first step, the engine’s crankshaft rotates, pulling the piston down, and a little valve lets a mixture of air and gasoline inside the cylinder.”


      Ottavio’s King’s Knight captured Olivia’s Queen’s Rook on c8, and Olivia’s Queen’s Knight captured the menacing Knight in return. (11. KNxc8 QNxc8).


     Ottavio continued his explanation, “Then the valve closes, and the crankshaft rotates some more, moving the piston back up into the cylinder. This compresses the fuel mixture inside the cylinder. Next, the sparkplug fires.”


     Ottavio moved his Queen’s Pawn to d4, “This flash ignites the fuel mixture and it explodes, pushing the piston back down, which rotates the crankshaft.”  Olivia followed his explanation closely.  “The crankshaft’s rotation pushes the piston back up into the cylinder again, and another little valve opens so that the gases produced by the burning of the fuel-air mixture have an outlet. This completes the combustion cycle.” Olivia moved her Queen’s Knight to d6. (12. d4 QNd6)


     Suddenly, they heard a gentle rustling among the trees off the balcony. They peered down and saw a nine-banded armadillo digging among the roots. They both smiled. After that brief distraction, Ottavio checked Olivia’s King by moving his King’s Bishop to b5. She immediately captured his Bishop with her Queen’s Knight. (13. KBb5+ QNxb5)


     Ottavio resumed his analogy. “But engines have several cylinders, pistons, and sparkplugs. My favorite is the 8-cylinder internal combustion engine. The one cylinder process I just described to you is repeated alternately in each cylinder, in order.”  His Queen then captured Olivia’s Queen’s Knight on b5, checking her King again. Olivia protected her King with her remaining Knight. (14. QXb5+ KNd7).


     Continuing his explanation, he added, “This four-stroke movement could be compared to breathing: inhaling, sparking, combusting, exhaling. It is a wonder to behold how the pistons move one after the other in sequence, thereby keeping the entire process going! Let me show you a 3D animation video clip I have on my phone.[4]


     Ottavio opened the app on his cellphone, and played the clip. When she had finished watching, Ottavio moved his Queen’s Pawn from d4 to d5.  Olivia captured this Pawn with her King’s Pawn. (15. d5 exd5)  Then Ottavio moved his Queen’s Bishop to e3.  


     Being a musician, Olivia commented, “Hmmm… You mentioned four-strokes. That reminds me of the four movements of a symphony!”


     “Yes,” he replied.


      “Ah! That I understand well!” said she, moving her remaining Bishop to d6. (16. QBe3 KBd6). Ottavio moved his Queen’s Rook next to his King, and Olivia moved her Queen to f6. (17. QRd1 Qf6).


     They were exchanging moves more rapidly now. The game gained momentum.


     “But… however interesting all that may be, what does it have to do with life and death?” inquired Olivia, as Ottavio’s King’s Rook captured her Pawn on d5.


     He paused for her to play before answering. She moved her Queen one square to her left. (18. KR+d5 Qg6)


     “Each moment of combustion inside a cylinder represents a single life, any individual life. It is, literally, a flash in the cylinder.” Ottavio moved his Bishop from e3 to f4.  Olivia captured this Bishop with her own Bishop. (19. Bf4 Bxf4) “But Life itself, with a capital ‘L’, is something else. It is composed of a sequence of individual lifecycles.  Life passes relatively briefly through each individual, but never really ceases to exist. In other words, the spark of life arises and ceases in each individual cylinder, but the Engine of Life keeps on going.” Ottavio moved his Queen to d7 capturing Olivia’s Knight and checking her King. She moved her King to f8. (20. Qxd7+ Kf8)


     “Death is a part of life. Since I am an engineer, I look at the whole design, not just the parts. Instead of focusing on death, I’d say that Life is the truth. There is nothing truer than Life. In fact, from a universal standpoint, there is only Life.” 


    Ottavio moved his Queen to d8. “Checkmate!” (21. Qd8++)


     Olivia smiled and said, “The King is dead. Long live the King!”


     “Yes, my dear. Life is about overcoming death.”




    [1]Scachs d'amor." Viquitexts, La Biblioteca Lliure. 8 ago 2013, 18:53 UTC. 9 gen 2016, 21:02

    [2] “Scachs D’Amor” (Chess Game of Love) is a 15th century poem written in Catalonian. This is my free translation of the first verse. The original poem may be found at this page:

    A Wikipedia Article in English man be accessed here:

    An English translation of the entire poem may be accessed here:

     [3] The game described in the poem is in itself unremarkable, but I am only using it here as a literary device. Here is the game in English algebraic notation:  1. e4 d5,  2. exd5 Qxd5,  3. QNc3 Qd8,  4. KBc4 KNf6,  5.KNf3 QBg4,


    6. h3 QBxf3,  7. Qxf3 e6,  8.Qxb7 QNbd7,  9. QNb5 QRc8,  10. KNxa7 QNb6,  11.Nxc8 Nxc8,  12.  d4 QNd6, 13. KBb5+ Nxb5, 14. Qxb5 KNd7,  15. d5 exd5,  16. QBe3 KBd6,  17. QRd1 Qf6,  18. Rxd5 Qg6,  19. Bf4 Bxf4,  20. Qxd7+ Kf8,  21. Qd8++


    [4] A very well crafted animation may be accessed here:




  • 20 months ago



  • 4 years ago


  • 5 years ago

    IM Silman

    spjacobi said: "Your bias against correspondence chess is showing again.  How else could you forget Woody Allen's hilarious short story, "The Gossage-Vardebedian Papers?"

    I have no bias against correspondence chess. In fact, I love correspondence chess (just don't have the time to play it).

    As for your, "How else could you forget..." comment, I didn't forget anything! I had never heard of Woody's short story! As a huge Woody Allen fan, I'll hunt it down and read it. Thank's for pointing it out.

  • 6 years ago


    A few additional comments:

    1) Yes, the book I edited, Masters of Technique, is a decent read (if I may say so myself).I made sure that the writers were top-notch, unlike some of the lower quality chess fiction one may find on the Web these days; and I also edited the content to make sure that the chess was technically accurate.

    2) My previous book, Engaging Pieces, contains an annotated bibliography of all chess novels and novellas published between the year The Defense come out and 2007. Interestingly enough, Silman's list omits Engaging Pieces, which itself contains four or five previously published short stories.

    3) Masters of Technique contains an Introduction written by Mark N. Taylor, a professor of English at Berry College and the editor of Georgia Chess. Taylor is working on a book-length annotated bibliography of every work of chess fiction (short stories, novellas, novels) ever published.


  • 6 years ago


    Another Chess related book is The Memory Man by John Griffiths. It involves a chess grandmaster (I don't think he is based off a real person) who is recruited by the CIA because of his extraordinary memory.

  • 6 years ago


    Try the Masters of Technique anthology by Howard Goldowsky.

  • 6 years ago


    I agree with Mischa. Walter Tevis' novel The Queens Gambit is the best book about chess I have ever read. I heard that Heath Ledger was trying to get it filmed before he died.

  • 6 years ago


    Isaac Asimov's "Pebble In The Sky" has two characters that play a game of chess. The game was actually a real game between Verlinsky and Levenfisch in the 1924 USSR Championship. The last couple moves of the game in the book differed from the historical game, though.

  • 6 years ago


    I'd also recommend a chilling study of rivalry - 'Professor Pownall's Oversight' by H R Wakefield : ""Morrison and you are the most brilliant undergraduates who have been at Oxford in my time. I am not quite sure why, but I am convinced of two things; firstly, that he will always be above you, and secondly, that you have the better brain." So it proves, save for chess, Pownall showing himself to be the greatest player in Britain ... until a slip in the Masters final - versus Morrison - prompts him to murder his life-long rival. Pownall goes on to represent his country at the World Championship, but Morrison's ghost is waiting for him, guiding the pieces of his bewildered opponents. The subtle twist at the end should raise the hairs at the back of your neck.

    Also brilliant (and funny) is 'Slippery Elm' by Percival Wilde - dealing with how to (& how not to to!) cheat at chess ... but in a good cause! It's about sticking it to an extremely unpleasant but strong club player who hustles the weaker members. The club band together to hire a visiting superGM, to feed moves to their weakest player in a key game ... but they overlook one key thing ....

  • 6 years ago


    Gezari, Janet K.; Wimsatt, W. K., "Vladimir Nabokov: More Chess Problems and the Novel"

  • 6 years ago


    queen's gambit was a great read

  • 6 years ago


    Thank you very much for this extremely useful list!

  • 6 years ago


    There's a short story by Andy Soltis, written in the late 1980s I believe, in which Bobby Fischer comes out of retirement in the year 2005 to challenge the world champion, a computer named GM Logoff.  I may be getting some details wrong here, but this is how I remember it: 

    After 23 games, Fischer leads 12-11, needing only a draw to win the title; Logoff needs a win to retain the title by tying the match at 12-12.  Having fallen behind on opening theory, Fischer gets a bad position out of the opening, but comes back with some brilliancy to get a drawn position (by repetition).  He writes the final move (3rd repetition) down and claims the draw.  But his draw claim is rejected ... because he wrote it in traditional rather than algebraic notation (and FIDE had a rule, at least in the story, requiring algebraic).  His "N-B6" is therefore interpreted as the improper "Nb6" and he loses on time.  He walks out, never to be seen again. 

  • 6 years ago


    Roger Zelazny has a great short story in a book of the same title-"Unicorn Variations". The other stories are not chess related but the title story is very fun and features the game Halprin vs. Pillsbury, Munich 1901. Chess playing, beer-drinking mythical beings, awesome. I think it was written about 1970

  • 6 years ago


    David Eddings wrote a trio of novels called the Belgariad: The Pawn of Prophecy, The Queen of Sorcery, and Magician's Gambit.  The novels themselves have nothing to do with chess apart from the titles, but if you are into fantasy books, they are worth checking out (however, if you're into fantasy books, you've probably heard about them already...)

    The fourth book in Stephen King's Dark Tower Series (Wizard and Glass) makes references to a game called Castles, and while the rules are never explicitly given, enough can be inferred to make it obvious that it's based on chess.  A main overtone of the novel is the comparision between the men playing the actual game and their trying to outsmart each other elsewhere.

  • 6 years ago


    "Knight Moves" with Christopher Lambert is a good movie.  It is a murder mystery and he plays a chess master.

  • 6 years ago


    Thanks for putting this list together!  I have a lot of books to explore now.  Laughing

    I might have missed it in your list, but I don't recall seeing the recently published Masters of Technique, edited by Howard Goldowsky.  It is a good collection of  short chess fiction by notable contemporary authors.

  • 6 years ago

    FM spjacobi

    Your bias against correspondence chess is showing again.  How else could you forget Woody Allen's hilarious short story, "The Gossage-Vardebedian Papers"?  It's a pure chess story, if you're willing to forgive the brief final reference to Scrabble.

  • 6 years ago


    Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino

    stupendo story stalking some syzygies

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