‘... Emanuel Lasker, whose brain was second to none, mastered every move of bridge without being a successful performer. I never saw him play bridge, but hearsay tells of his rigidity. I saw Capablanca play bridge. He played very well indeed, but woodenly. He whose chess was so fluid. These two great chessplayers failed to develop a “flair” for cards.’
This is the late Gerald Abrahams in his essay Mental Processes in Chess and Bridge on pages 120-132 of Not Only Chess (London, 1974). The account contradicts several other recorded views of Lasker and Capablanca’s card skills, but Abrahams was an author (and an authority) on both chess and bridge.
The view of G. Abrahams on Emanuel Lasker’s ability at bridge, quoted in C.N. 38, would seem to be confirmed by Milan Vidmar, writing on page 2 of his excellent memoirs Goldene Schachzeiten (Berlin, 1961):
‘Ich spielte einige Abende in Nottingham mit Lasker Bridge. Er war in diesem Spiel durchaus nicht der große Meister, den man in ihm hätte erwarten können. Er war auch durchaus kein sehr angenehmer Spielteilnehmer. Selbstverständlich weiß ich sehr gut, daß es eine große Kunst ist, in irgendeinem Spiel mit Anstand zu verlieren.’
John Rather (Kensington, MD, USA) writes:
‘Estimates of the bridge-playing (or other non-chess) abilities of chess masters are most often by persons who really are not qualified to judge. Thus statements of friends or admirers tend to exaggerate meagre talents. In this country only Sol Rubinow and Louis Levy could honestly be said to be masters of both chess and bridge (as represented by national duplicate bridge competition), and their chess accomplishments were not outstanding. For what it’s worth, Tobias Stone, who was a promising New York player in the 1930s, became a world-class bridge master after abandoning chess.’
From an item by E. Baumer Williams on pages 193-194 of the April 1921 Chess Amateur:
‘It was rather amusing lately after a pleasant game of bridge to hear the players going in for an animated discussion as to the respective merits of bridge and chess. Their endeavours to establish some sort of analogy between games so dissimilar struck me as about as illogical as the ancient attempt to discover what difference existed between “a herring and a half, and a scuttle of coals”. My friends, however, were comparing them somewhat in the same fashion as they might have compared a pair of mid-Victorian chimney ornaments – almost identical, with a shade of difference here and there.
The interest in the game of bridge seems to consist mainly in the luck of the cards dealt to one; perhaps, also, in the shillings – won or lost as the case may be. We chess lovers, however, would appear to “take our pleasures more seriously”. The noble game, containing no element of chance whatever, and depending entirely on the brain-work of the two opponents, appears to me to admit of no sort of comparison with the other.’
Other writers have developed various comparisons. In his Preface on pages xi-xii of Brains in Bridge Gerald Abrahams wrote:
‘Every chessplayer, it has been well said, has at least one other major vice. Some evidence of this is afforded by the fact that the list of acknowledged British bridge masters includes some chess players of at least County strength.
I recall that that brilliant chessplayer and excellent bridge player, the late Victor Wahtuch [sic – Wahltuch], expressed the view that bridge could involve some intellectual efforts comparable to those of hard chess. I expect that that utterance was biased by the fact that chess came very easily to him, who mastered it very early in life, and his bridge was a late acquisition. What is more important is the consideration that the intellectual activities involved in the respective games can be usefully compared and contrasted. If I am right in this, then it may well be that some player, chess conscious and bridge conscious, will from these pages acquire an extra insight into bridge. Who knows? The book may even improve his chess.’
Abrahams then added a footnote:
‘I do not, in this book, seek specific analogies in bridge to chess. There are certainly some comparisons to be made. “Smothered mate” and “Smother play”, for example; and “opposition” is suggested by many bridge endings. But what I am concerned with is the analogy between the mental process of persons engaged in manoeuvring, respectively with chess pieces, and the pieces of pasteboard that are used on the bridge board. One very important difference consists in the fact that, whereas most chess positions offer great range for thought, a very large percentage of bridge hands offer very little scope. But the two games have this in common: that it is easy to miss the demand for thought that is latent in the apparently simple position. On the other hand, a common factor is the large element of common sense which is basic to both games.’
C.N. 2591 referred to the bridge books of Abrahams and Wahltuch, and it may be wondered which other chess figures have written about bridge. In the early 1940s André Chéron brought out Le système Culbertson, and he also co-authored, with Emile Borel, Théorie mathématique du bridge (of which an English edition was subsequently produced). An article by Chéron entitled ‘Les échecs et le bridge’ appeared on pages 33-39 of the March-April 1935 issue of Les Cahiers de l’Echiquier Français. Emanuel Lasker wrote extensively on bridge in his late-1920s books Encyclopedia of Games and Das verständige Kartenspiel.
Alan Truscott, who has written a large number of books on bridge (as well as the Foreword to Abrahams’ Brains in Bridge), was not a chess author but he gained some prominence as a player in the 1940s and early 1950s.
A final jotting is that C.J.S. Purdy became involved in a dispute in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding the number of published books on bridge. As reported on pages 154-155 of the November-December 1965 Chess World, an article by Frank Cayley in the Herald of 4 January 1966 had suggested the existence of ‘10,000 books on bridge’. Since this figure exceeded the common estimate of volumes on chess, Purdy risklessly offered $500 to the first person who could prove the 10,000 claim. (‘He will have to write most of the books himself or pay other people to.’) Purdy reported that M.V. Anderson was ‘inclined to place the total number of books in and out of print in various languages at “under 500”.’
R. Letelier, L. Pachman, V. Ragozin and L. Schmid (from page 256 of XIV. Schach-Olympiade Leipzig 1960)
The following remark is by Harry Golombek in a review of Schachgenie Aljechin by H. Müller and A. Pawelczak (Berlin-Frohnau, 1953) on pages 160-161 of the May 1954 BCM:
‘... [Pawelczak’s] categoric statement on page 52 that “Aljechin war ein ausgezeichneter Bridgespieler” (Alekhine was an excellent bridge player) is quite false. I played quite a lot of bridge with Alekhine in 1939 in South America and, even by my modest standards, Alekhine was a very weak bridge player. I well remember his wife remarking to him, after he had made some particularly atrocious mistake, “If you go on like this you’ll lose us our château in France”.’
See too ‘Recollections of Alekhine’ by Harry Golombek, Chess
Review, May 1951, pages 140-141. That article was also
published on pages 191-196 of Fred Reinfeld’s The Treasury of
Chess Lore (New York, 1951). Reinfeld himself expressed a
view on Alekhine (‘There is general agreement that he was
abominable at bridge’) on page 170 of The Great Chess Masters
and Their Games (New York, 1952).
C.N.s 4462, 4828, 5143, 5151, 5300 and 5450 referred to various persons who have written books on both chess and bridge: J.C.H. Macbeth, Emanuel Lasker, P. Anderton, S. Novrup, M. Golmayo and P. Lamford.
A further addition, pointed out by Wayne Komer (Toronto, Canada), is Kenneth Harkness, who wrote Invitation to Bridge (New York, 1950).
Moreover, Lars Venø Jakobsen (Aalborg, Denmark) has mentioned to us that in addition to writing many chess books Jens Enevoldsen was the author of 200 bridge opgaver (Copenhagen, 1970).
See C.N. 7135.
A detailed examination of Emanuel Lasker’s involvement in bridge is provided by the chapter ‘Nicht nur Schach Emanuel Lasker als Bridgespieler’ by Robert van de Velde on pages 332-363 of Emanuel Lasker: Denker Weltenbürger Schachweltmeister edited by Richard Forster, Stefan Hansen and Michael Negele (Berlin, 2009).
Robert van de Velde (Amsterdam), informs us that he has now begun further research into Lasker and bridge (and other card games) and that among his recent discoveries is a Latvian book by Lasker on card games:
Kāršu spēles; Rokas grāmata visiem, kas vēlās iemācīties kāršu spēles. Derīgi padomi, aizrādījumi un paskaidrojumi tiem, kuŗi jau spēlēt prot. Sastādītā pēc Dr Emanueļa Laskera [,] un citiem autoriem. Rīgā [≤ 29-10-1936]; ‘Praktiskās Bibliotēkas’ izdevumā Rīgā, Avotu ielā 33.
According to a stamp on the copy inspected, publication must have been before 29 October 1936. In 1991 the book was reissued twice with revisions, by different publishers, the number of copies being specified as 20,000 and 30,000.
Mr van de Velde also mentions the existence of books on bridge by Emanuel Lasker in Dutch, translated by Salo Landau. Landau himself authored monographs on bridge, such as Moderne bridge tactiek (Amsterdam, 1935/36).
To the Chess Notes main page.
To the Archives for other feature articles.
Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.