Marcel Duchamp and Chess

Marcel Duchamp and Chess

| 7 | Chess Players

Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp was a French chessplayer and renouwned artist. He was born in Blainville-Crevon, France on July 28, 1887 and died on October 2, 1968. He came from a family of artists and chess players. He had 4 brothers and 2 sisters.

In 1898, at the age of 11, he first played chess with his older brothers Gaston (Jacques Villon) (1875-1963) and Raymond (1876-1918).

In 1904, Jacques Villon etched La Partie d'echecs, featuring 17-year-old Marcel Duchamp playing chess with his sister, Suzanne (1889-1963).

In 1905, Marcel was studying art at the Acadamie Julien in Paris. He failed the entrance exams to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, then worked as a cartoonist.

In 1910, he began painting chess players playing chess. One canvas shows his brothers playing chess in their garden while his two sisters look on.

In 1911, he created a series of at least six drawings and two Cubist paintings of his brothers playing chess.

In April, 1912, he painted Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, in which motion was expressed by successive superimposed images. He entered the painting at the 28th Salon des Independants exhibition in Paris, but it was rejected. It was too radical at the time.

In 1913, he entered his Nude Descending a Staircase at the 69th Armory in New York City. It was viewed by 100,000 visitors during the month long exhibition.

In 1913, he worked as a librarian at the Bibliotheque Sainte Genevieve. One of his art pieces during this time was a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool.

In 1914, he was rejected for military service as unfit.

In June, 1915, he went to New York and worked as a librarian at the French Institute. In 1915 he created The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, known also as The Large Glass. He finished it in 1921.

In 1916, he began playing chess with New York art patron Walter Arensberg (1878-1954).

In 1917, he created his first readymade, a coat rack nailed to the floor. He named this Trebuchet, or trap, after a chess jargon for a pawn placed so as to trap an opponent's pieces.

In 1917, Duchamp sent a urinal, called Fountain, to the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, in which Duchamp was a founding member. However, the work was excluded and Duchamp resigned from the society.

Duchamp's official last painting was made in 1918. In December, 1918, he moved to Buenos Aires to avoid being drafted in military service in the United States. He spent most of the time playing chess, joined a local chess club, and took chess lessons from a local master. He remained in Argentina for 9 months.

While in Buenos Aires, he started two games simultaneously by cable with Walter Arensberg in New York. He invented a code for transmitting the moves so that costs would be minimal. He also designed a set of rubber stamps for recording chess positions.

In 1919, in a letter he wrote to the Stettheimer sisters, "My attention is so completely absorbed by chess. I play day and night, and nothing interests me more than finding the right move.... I like painting less and less." In 1919, he designed a chess swt with a traveling foldaway table and a board that has two stopwatches for timed games.

In 1919, he scandalized Paris and the international chess world by drawing a moustache and goatee to a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. He called it L.H.O.O.Q. In French, the letters sound like "elle a chand au cul." meaning "she has a hot ass."

In 1920, he moved to New York and joined the Marshall Chess Club which was then located above the Pepper Pot Restaurant on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. He played there every evening.

In 1922, he participated in the Metropolitan Chess League and was on the winning team (Marshall Chess Club). He also played Capablanca, who was giving a 21-board simultaneous exhibition. Duchamp lost, but that motivated him to study chess harder.

In 1923, he moved to Brussels to study chess and played in the Belgium chess championship. He score 7.5 out of 10 and took 3rd place. He then went back to Paris. Starting in 1923, he devoted most of his time to chess, abandonng his career as an artist. He was a member of the Rouen chess club.

He played in the 1924 World Amateur Championship in Paris (scoring 6 out of 14), four French championships from 1925 to 1928, and four Olympiads from 1928 to 1933. He tied for first place at Hyeres 1928 and won the Paris championship in 1932.

In 1924, he won the chess championship of Haute Normandie.

In 1924, he played in the Paris tournament. He then played in the 2nd French Chess championship in Strasbourg. The event was won by Robert Crepeux.

In 1924, Duchamp appeared in a scene from Rene Clair's short film, Entr'acte. He is seen setting on the edge of a roof playing chess with Man Ray.

In August, 1925 he designed the poster for the 3rd French Chess Championship held in Nice from September 2 to September 11. He played in the event, with 3 wins, 3 losses, and 2 draws and taking 6th place. He was awarded the title of chess master by the French Chess Federation (Federation Francaise des Echecs). The event was won by Robert Crepeux, who won it in 1924.

On June 8, 1927, he married Lydie Sarazin-Lavassor. It may have been a marriage of convenience. She was the daughter of a wealthy automobile manufacturer, and her marriage contract was to have supplied him with a steady source of income while he painted and played chess. During his honeymoon, he went every day to a chess club in Nice. When he returned, he spent several more hours studying chess positions. His marriage lasted only six months because of his obsession to chess. He spent most of his time playing chess around Nice, France. One story (told by his friend Man Ray) is that his bride was so frustrated at him for playing chess that she glued all the chess pieces to the board while he was asleep. They were divorced on January 25, 1928.

In September, 1927, he particpated in the 5th French championship, held in Chamonix. That event was won by Andre Cheron.

In 1928, he shared 1st place at Hyeres with Vitaly Halberstadt and J.J. O'Hanlon.

In July-August 1928, he played on the French team at the 2nd chess olympiad in The Hague. He played Board 3 and won 1 game (defeating Vladimir Petrov of Latvia), drew 11, and lost 4. He lost one game, to Hans Mueller, in 10 moves, the shortest game of the olympiad.

In September, 1928, he played in the 6th French championship, held in Marseilles. That event was won by Amedee Gibaud.

In 1929, he defeated Georg Koltanowski in 15 moves in a Paris tournament.

In 1930, he played his greatest number of tournament chess games. He played in an international tournament in Nice in April. In May, he played in an international tournament in Paris.

In July, 1930, he played on the French team at the 3rd chess olympiad in Hamburg. He played board 4 ( Alexander Alekhine played board 1, winning 9 out of 9). He won 1, drew 6, and lost 8.

In 1931, he played the reserve board for the French team at the 4th chess olympiad in Prague. He won 1, drew 3, and lost 5.

In 1931, he was a member of the board of the French Chess Federation and was a delegate to FIDE until 1937.

In the 1930s, he started playing correspondence chess and won several correspondence tournaments. He also became a chess journalist. He wrote weekly newspaper chess columns for the Paris daily newspaper, Ce Soir.

In 1932, along with Vitaly Halbertstadt (1903-1967), he wrote L'opposition et cases conjuguees sont reconciliees (Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled). It was published in a limited edition of 1,000 copies by L'Echiquier, Edmond Lancel, in Brussels. It is a study of some endgames, including one that arose from Lasker vs Reicheim in 1901. It was written in French, English, and German.

In 1932, he won the Paris Championship, ahead of Znosko-Borovsky.

He once observed "I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art - and much more. It cannot be commercialized, Chess is much purer than art in its social position."

In 1933, he played on the French team at the 5th chess olympiad in Folkestone. He played board 4. He won 1, drew 2, and lost 9 for a 16.7% winning percentage. His total olympiad result was 4 wins, 22 draws, and 26 losses.

In 1933, he won the Internationaler Fernschachbund, the European correspondence chess championship.

From 1934 to 1939, he played in the first correspondence Olympiad, and went undefeated.

By 1940, Duchamp realized that his ambition to be a great chess player was hopeless.

In 1941, Duchamp's good friend Henri-Pierre Roche wrote that "Duchamp needed a good game of chess like a baby needs a bottle."

In June, 1942, he settled permanently in New York to avoid the hardships of World War II in Europe. He had a studio on 14th Street. Duchamp and George Koltanowski formed the Greenwich Village Chess Club in 1942.

In the mid-1940s, Duchamp began an affair with Maria Martins. Her husband was the Brazilian ambassador in the United States.

In 1943, he designed a pocket chess set with a leather wallet, celluloid pieces and pin attachments, which he called 'Rectified Readymade.'

In 1944-45, he organized an Imagery of Chess exhibition at the Marshall Chess Club and the Julien Levy Gallery. He invited artists to redesign the standard chess sets or create works that explored the symbolism of chess. Duchamp designed the catalog and was the arbiter in a blindfold match given by Koltanowski on 6 boards, played in January, 1945.

In February 1947, he joined the London Terrace Chess Club in New York.

In August, 1947, he played in a chess tournament in New Jersey.

In 1948, he took 1st place in the preliminaries of the New York State Chess Association. The event was won by Larry Evans.

In 1949, he went 6-0 in the preliminaries of the New York State Chess Association in Rochester. The event was won by Max Pavey.

In 1950, he played in the New York State championship in Binghampton. He won 5 and lost 4. The event was won by Eliot Hearst.

In 1951, he particpated in the New York State championship in Syracuse, New York. He won 4, lost 4, and drew 1. The event was won by James Sherwin.

In August, 1952, he gave a speech at a banquet during the New York State Chess Association annual meeting in Cazenova. He said, "Beauty in chess is closer to beauty in poetry; the chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chess-board, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem... From my close contacts with artists and chess players, I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists." He participated in the 1952 New York State Chess Championship, won by John Collins. Duchamp took 16th place.

In 1953, he played in the New York State championship in Cazenova. Duchamp took 15th place.

In 1954, he married Alexina "Teeny" Sattler Matisse (1906-1995), who did play chess. She joined the Marshall Chess Club and was an entusiastic player. She was the former wife of Pierre Matisse, son of Henri Matisse.

In 1955, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

In 1957, Irish playwright Samuel Beckett wrote a play called Endgame based on Duchamp's endgame work.

In August 1957, he played in the New York State championship in Binghampton. The event was won by August Rankis. Duchamp won 4, lost 4, and drew 1.

In 1958, he won the London Terrace Chess Club Championship at the age of 71.

In 1959, he was a member of the board of directors of the American Chess Foundation. He also won the London Terrace Chess Club championship at the age of 72.

In March, 1961, Duchamp, who lived in Greenwich Village, played a chess game by telegraph with a small team of Amsterdam school boys during an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam called Bewogen Beweging (Moving Motion). A move a day was sent. Duchamp eventually won in 31 moves. He was 74. The Dutch players included Hans Ree, Tim Krabbe, Herman Grimme, and Hans Lauring.

In 1961, during an interview, he was asked what chess was. He said, "Chess is a sport. A violent sport. This detracts from it most artistic connections."

In 1963, at a retrospective exhibition, he played chess with a nude woman at the Pasadena Musuem of Art.

In 1964, a French movie was made called Game of Chess with Marcel Duchamp. There is a long interview with Duchamp about chess. the movie won the gran prix for the short subject category at the 7th Annual Bergamo Film Festival.

In 1966, he organized a chess exhibition called Hommage a Caissa. He produced 30 'ReadyMade' chess sets and sold them at the Cordier & Elkstrom Gallery in New York. In this exhibition, he played chess with Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol had the band Velvet Underground sent to provide the background music. Duchamp raised over $32,000 to support the American Chess Foundation. Duchamp founded a Marcel Duchamp Chess Endowment Fund to support American chess.

In 1967, he played in a chess tournament in Monte Carlo.

In March, 1968, he played a chess game with avant-garde composer John Cage (1912-1992) in Toronto, in which music was produced by a series of photoelectric cells underneath each square of the chessboard as the chess pieces moved about the board.

He died on October 2, 1968 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, a suburb of Paris.

Some of his chess quotes are as follows:

"Chess has no social purpose. That, above all, is important."

"Chess is purer, socially, than painting, for you can't make money out of it." - New York Times, 1956.

His four most famous chess paintings are:

   The Chess Game (1910)    The Chess Players (1911)    Joueurs d'echecs (Portrait of Chess Players) (1911)    King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes (1912) 

Hans Mueller - M. Duchamp, 2nd Chess Olympiad, The Hague 1928 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4 Bb4 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 Ne4 8.Bxd8 Nxc3 9.Nxc6 Nxd1+ 10.Nxb4 1-0

S. Gudmundsson - M. Duchamp, Olympiad, Hamburg 1930 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.e5 d4 6.exf6 dxc3 7.fxg7 cxd2+ 8.Bxd2 Bxg7 9.Qc2 Qe7+ 10.Be2 Be6 11.Nf3 Nc6 12.O-O O-O 13.Bd3 h6 14.a3 Rad8 15.Rac1 Ne5 16.Be4 Nxf3+ 17.Bxf3 c5 18.Rfe1 b6 19.Bc3 Bd4 20.Bg4 Qf6 21.Bxe6 fxe6 22.Re2 e5 23.Rce1 Qf5 24.Qxf5 Rxf5 25.Kf1 Rdf8 26.f3 h5 27.Rd1 h4 28.h3 Kg7 29.Re4 Rf4 30.Rxe5 Bxc3 31.bxc3 Ra4 32.Ra1 Kf6 33.Re3 b5 34.Ke2 Rg8 35.Kf2 Kf5 36.Re7 Rd8 37.Ke2 a5 38.Rh7 Kg6 39.Re7 Rd5 40.Re4 Rg5 41.Rxa4 bxa4 42.Rg1 c4 43.Kf2 Rb5 44.g3 Rb3 45.gxh4+ Kh5 46.f4 Kxh4 47.f5 Rb5 48.Rg4+ Kh5 49.Rxc4 Rxf5+ 50.Ke3 Kg6 51.Rxa4 Kf6 52.Re4 Rd5 53.Rd4 Rg5 54.Rg4 Rd5 55.Rf4+ Ke5 56.Re4+ Kf5 57.Rd4 Rc5 58.Kd3 Ke6 59.h4 Kf6 60.c4 Rh5 61.Re4 Kf7 62.Kd4 Rf5 63.a4 Rf1 64.c5 Kf6 65.Kd5 Rd1+ 66.Rd4 Rf1 67.Kd6 Rb1 68.c6 1-0

Frank Marshall - M. Duchamp, Olympiad, Hamburg 1930 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b6 3.c4 e6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Nc3 Bb7 6.Qc2 d5 7.e3 O-O 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 Bxd5 11.Bd3 h6 12.a3 c5 13.dxc5 Rc8 14.b4 bxc5 15.Rc1 Nd7 16.Ba6 Rc7 17.e4 Bb7 18.Bxb7 Rxb7 19.bxc5 Qxc5 20.O-O Qxc2 21.Rxc2 Kf8 22.Rfc1 Ke7 23.Nd4 Ke8 24.f4 Rab8 25.e5 Nf8 26.Rc5 Rb1 27.Rxb1 Rxb1+ 28.Kf2 Rb7 29.Rc8+ Ke7 30.Ra8 Ng6 31.g3 Kd7 32.a4 Ne7 33.Nb5 Nc8 34.g4 Rxb5 35.axb5 Kc7 36.g5 hxg5 37.b6+ Kb7 38.Rxc8 Kxc8 1/2-1/2

More from billwall
Bill Addison (1933-2008)

Bill Addison (1933-2008)

The Cognitive Psychology of Chess

The Cognitive Psychology of Chess