For Pondering

Edward Winter

Since January 2024 the main C.N. page has highlighted a documented quote, changes being made more or less daily. Here we bring together all past citations.


January 2024:

Give the source of a quote if it is known. If it is not known, do not give the quote.

Source: C.N. 8651.

‘Chess – even among masters and near-masters – is a lottery. The only difference between it and a real lottery is that at our game there are as many winners as losers.’

Source: W. Heidenfeld, Chess Springbok (Cape Town, 1955), page 39. See C.N. 10481.

‘Book openings are to a great extent ignored by good players. The stronger the players, the more the book openings are discarded.’

Source: Interview with J.H. Zukertort on page 8 of the St Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, 29 December 1883. See C.N. 9864.

‘The greatest difficulty of the game is to play it as well as one knows how.’

Source: W.E. Napier, item 243 in Napier’s Amenities and Background of Chess-Play.

‘We believe that his strength is his weakness; he plays such bizarre openings and such complicated games that very often he is just as much puzzled as his opponent, if not more so, as to the best course to follow.’

Source: J.R. Capablanca on Nimzowitsch, on page 1 of the New York Times (Sports Section), 16 February 1927.

‘You cannot make a move better than it is by wishful thinking, or by admiration for the spirit in which it is played. Otherwise we could all be Tals.’

Source: G. Botterill, August 1975 BCM, page 347.

‘The player who completes his development first is said to have the initiative, because he is thus able to start making blunders while his opponent is still occupied in bringing out his men.’

Source: page 14 of “Among These Mates” by Chielamangus, the pseudonym of C.J.S. Purdy, (Sydney, 1939). [Modernized option: ‘The player who completes his or her development first is said to have the initiative, because he or she is thus able to start making blunders while his or her opponent is still occupied in bringing out his or her men or women.’]

‘The victor of Hastings, the pathfinder in the thickest of chess theory, gifted with pleasant and lovable traits, a source of pleasure and joy and a teacher for thousands, he should not have been suffered to be without the comforts that make work easy and keep health intact. Instead he was made to work hard, he had to spend the valuable matter of his brain in many “entertainments” lasting six to ten hours in order to earn a barely sufficient livelihood.’

Source: Em. Lasker on H.N. Pillsbury, in an obituary on pages 25-27 of Lasker’s Chess Magazine, May 1906.

An observation by us on how writers should work:

When they know, they explain why they know. When they are uncertain, they explain why they are uncertain. When they do not know, they either say that they do not know or they say nothing. That is honest writing which treats the reader with respect, and there is no other kind worth doing.

Source: C.N. 8222.

‘A game consists essentially of a quest, a con-quest and an in-quest.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, January 1955, page 32.

‘We regret we find it difficult to work up any interest in scores of games, or bits of scores, which carry no clue of any kind as to source. Please give the who’s who, where’s where, and when’s when.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, April 1958, page 101.

‘We read again that the King’s Gambit is dead. It never quite recovered from its previous deaths.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, August 1970, page 226.

‘We read that So-and-so is a young player to be watched. We could name one or two older ones who should be kept under observation.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, December 1976, page 568.

‘A chess optimist is one who thinks he will never do anything as stupid again.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, November 1975, page 509.

‘Chess is a game for the salon no less than for the saloon.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, July 1955, page 210.

‘There is, of course, no such thing as “the best opening”. Beginners, we have always felt, are best started on the Giuoco Piano. With established players it largely becomes a question of temperament. Some day we may have a book where openings will be divided into the phlegmatic, the choleric, the stoic, the mercuric, the ecstatic, the pacific, the philosophic, etc., etc.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, July 1954, page 223.

‘The quip about Gossip pottering and Potter gossiping at a club is a pretty old one (W.N. Potter, 1840-1895). In chess it seems that longevity is the soul of wit.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, July 1959, page 185.

‘There can be nothing more satisfying than teaching the game to young players, nothing more delusive than to look deliberately for world champions. For every youngster with a spark of genius there are plenty with ignition trouble.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, November 1956, page 310.

‘“The squares on a chessboard are all equal”, says a new guide to the game. We shall just go on playing as if the discovery had not been made.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, June 1974, page 204.

‘Work through all the traps you can. But don’t forget, it is not enough to learn all the tricks of the trade – you must learn the trade.’

Source: D.J. Morgan, BCM, July 1964, page 213.

‘... the art of chess may be called the most tragic of all arts, because the chess artist, in a measure, is dependent on an element outside the scope of his power; that element is the hostile co-workers who through carelessness constantly threaten to wreck a flawless mental edifice.’

Source: A. Alekhine, New York Times, 1 August 1929, pages 21 and 23. See Alekhine on Carlsbad, 1929.

‘Chess reviewers, as a rule, are so indiscriminately laudatory that conscientious criticism is likely to be regarded as the work of a malevolent, splenetic and generally unpleasant individual, yet such ought not to be the case. It is an easy matter to write a gushingly favorable notice ...’

Source: F.M. Teed, International Chess Magazine, May 1886, page 109. See Reviewing Chess Books.

‘It is only a strong player who knows how weakly he plays.’

Source: S. Tartakower, Chess Pie, 1922, page 28.

‘Where openings are concerned, chess masters are like a flock of sheep; everyone follows the first master’s example.’

Source: J.R. Capablanca, in an article in Capablanca-Magazine, 31 July 1914, pages 89-91.

‘Every bad player seems to think himself quite competent to pass judgment on a loser’s game.’

Source: S.S. Boden, A Popular Introduction to the Study and Practice of Chess (London, 1851), page 24. See C.N. 10087.

‘Despite all the strictures against greed, nearly all players succumb to the temptation to grab first and think it over later.’

Source: I. Chernev, 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (New York, 1955), page 22.

‘To the folly of the lay journalist writing about chess there is no end.’

Source: Chess Amateur, October 1925, page 3.

Historians inch forwards. Hacks lurch backwards.

See Chess Thoughts.

‘If, in the magazine, we were to remove every item which some reader dislikes, we may well be left with two staples – and then we’re certain someone has already complained about their quality.’

Source: BCM, December 1973, page 515.

‘We do not approve of dry, completely objective annotations – this move is correct, this superior, this inferior, etc. An annotator should try rather to enter into the mind of the player, and explain his ideas.’

Source: C.J.S. Purdy, Chess World, 1 March 1946, page 33.

To add cultural depth to their output, many chess authors quote the masters of the past, i.e. they say (without specifying a source) what another writer said (without specifying a source) the master said.

See Chess Thoughts.

‘To those who have taken up chess as an intellectual and fascinating pastime, and who are often beaten at odds by players of inferior grammar, it will be cheering to know that many persons are skilful chess players, though in some instances their brains, in a general way, compare unfavourably with the cogitative faculties of a rabbit.’

Source: J. Mortimer, Daily Mail, 6 October 1906, page 9. See C.N. 6122.

It is high time that ‘the story goes’ went.

See Chess: the Need for Sources.

‘It is one of the most enticing riddles of the centuries-old attractiveness of chess that a phenomenon so deeply rooted in the materialistic and rapacious should offer a satisfaction which is so deeply spiritual and so innocent of harm to one’s fellow man.’

Source: I.A. Horowitz and Fred Reinfeld, How to Improve Your Chess: Second Steps (New York, 1952), page 119. See C.N. 8404.

‘Position is everything. To give up a pawn is sometimes a bolder venture than to abandon a queen.’

Source: I.O. Howard Taylor, Chess Brilliants (London, 1869), page v.

‘A great chess-player is not a great man, for he leaves the world as he found it. No act terminating in itself constitutes greatness. This will apply to all displays of power or trials of skill, which are confined to the momentary, individual effort, and construct no permanent image or trophy of themselves without them.’

Source: W. Hazlitt, Table-Talk (London, 1821), page 198.

Reporters report. Commentators comment. Historians tidy up.

See Chess Thoughts.

Nor does Chess Notes exist to offer a free scanning service for photographs (some of which we have acquired at considerable expense) to individuals who lack the relevant archive resources of their own.

See C.N. 7743.

February 2024:

Never trust any writer who compiles lists of chess quotations without providing sources.

Source: C.N. 2853. See Chess Thoughts.

Many chessplayers are sticklers for fact only regarding works of fiction.

See Historical Havoc.

‘Masters of the future may differ from the older ones in paying less attention to material advantages. In this connection, Sämisch has made one of the most telling comments I have ever encountered on the subject: he remarks that he finds it easier to sacrifice in a blindfold game than in a regular game – because in a blindfold game he finds it easier to ignore purely material considerations.’

Source: M. Euwe, Chess Review, March 1952, pages 74-75. (C.N. 10276) See Max Euwe (1901-81).

‘X’ is an imaginary prolific chess author (‘book-doer’ may be a better term) who decides to bring out an anthology of miniature games won by the world chess champions. A day or two’s casual clicking in his database suffices for the requisite ‘research material’ to be assembled. The book is quickly completed and, no less quickly, warmly welcomed by the review-doers.

See C.N. 8873.

‘Among the masters, it seems that clock management is the hardest part of the game. Only Lasker and Capablanca have mastered it, the former by his super-normal endowment of common sense, the latter by heaven-born genius.’

Source: Australasian Chess Review, 8 October 1936, page 288. (C.N. 9803).

To set the public record straight, a methodical approach can help: rebut misinformation and speculation, staunch their propagation, piece together the truth. First destroy, next blockade, lastly rebuild.

See Nimzowitsch’s My System.

‘Strategy is concerned with the setting of an aim and the forming of schemes. Tactics are concerned with the execution of the schemes. Strategy is abstract, tactics are concrete. Expressing it in a popular way: Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation.’

Source: M. Euwe, Strategy & Tactics in Chess (London, 1937), page 2. See Chess Strategy and Tactics.

Prime requisites for any journalist are an eye, nose and ear for cant, and an important function of journalism is pest control.

See Cuttings.

‘The chess player is critical and discriminating in his judgment of matters chessic, fastidious in his tastes generally and artistic in his temperament. A chess magazine to please him must therefore be critical and discriminating in the contents of its game, problem and analytical departments, fastidious in its choice of literary contributions and artistic both as to form and substance.’

Source: Em. Lasker, Lasker’s Chess Magazine, November 1904, page 29. See C.N. 7818.

Top-level chess masters may be criticized by bottom-level kibitzers, just as Formula One drivers may be denigrated by people not even good pedestrians.

See Chess Thoughts.

‘Some remarks on correctness in general. It is a great quality in combination with others, but in itself it does not furnish any absolute proof of superiority, any more than the possession of any other single faculty, like knowledge, memory, etc. A man’s vision may be clear, but he may be short-sighted, or he may turn his eyes in the wrong direction. A player may be exact in his combinations and calculations, but that does not necessarily include his having acquired sound strategical principles which often dispense with analysis altogether.’

Source: W. Steinitz, International Chess Magazine, May 1886, pages 114-115. See Steinitz Quotes.

Criticize the worst the most.

See Chess Thoughts.

‘It would not take more than a couple of weeks of careful instruction from a coach or a fan to realize that American football is an open-air chess game disguised as warfare.’

Source: A. Cooke, BBC Radio (Letter from America), 9 January 1971. See Alistair Cooke and Chess.

‘The man who criticizes books which tend to be scientific or literary is paid badly. Consequently no-one is induced to make a serious study of the act of criticism, with the result that much passes for great that is merely mediocre, and that the mediocre is praised beyond merit.’

Source: Em. Lasker, The Community of the Future (New York, 1940), page 181. See Reviewing Chess Books.

‘Capablanca told me that he is not as good a player as he used to be. I asked him why, and he said: “If a man gives all his life to any one game he becomes a crank.”’

Source: Daily Mail, 6 January 1931, page 7. See C.N. 8193.

‘In chess I am also a staunch supporter of classical clarity of thought. The content of a game should be a search for truth, and victory a demonstration of its rightness. No fantasy, however rich, no technique, however masterly, no penetration into the psychology of the opponent, however deep, can make a chess game a work of art if these qualities do not lead to the main goal – the search for truth.’

Source: V. Smyslov, 125 Selected Games (Oxford, 1983), page 5. (C.N. 502). See Vassily Smyslov 1921-2010.

‘The players of 1862 knew something very valuable that the players of today would do well to make note of: 1 P-Q4 leads to nothing!’

Source: R.J. Fischer, Chess Life, April 1964, page 84. (See C.N. 4641.)

‘Chess openings are, like everything else, governed by the tyrannical law of fashion. Tried friends are neglected and superseded by upstarts of doubtful origin, whose only claim to favour is that some chess swell patronized them on a more or less important occasion. All the wisdom and science of analytical writers will fail to dethrone one opening or raise another on the pedestal of public favour.’

Source: J.H. Zukertort, Chess Monthly, October 1879, page 53. (See C.N. 2233.)

‘And well ’twould be if chess alone
Disputes ’twixt nations settle could,
Instead of pawns of flesh and bone,
The men of ivory or wood.’

Source: W.S. Branch, Chess Amateur, October 1914, page 19. See Chess and Poetry.

‘And yet there are people who maintain that Karpov and Korchnoi are stronger than Lasker and Schlechter. They must be joking.’

Source: W. Heidenfeld, Draw! (London, 1982), page 30. See The Lasker v Schlechter Controversy (1910).

‘... the more I play chess the less I care for any other indoor game, and I have found no recreation, not even the reading of some masterpiece of literature, so intensely moving, so enthralling, so completely absorbing as a keen struggle across the chessboard.’

Source: R.P. Michell, BCM, March 1904, page 113.

‘On principle, I accept no gambit as the first player, for if I must defend myself as the second player and should also defend myself as the first player, when should I then really enjoy the pleasure of attack?’

Source: S. Tarrasch, St Petersburg, 1914 tournament book (Yorklyn, 1993), page 177. (C.N. 2018.) See Chess Jottings.

The pen-portrait is a form of chess reporting that has fallen into desuetude (as has the word desuetude).

Source: C.N. 2637. See London, 1899 Pen-portraits.

With some websites a mere ten-second visit suffices to note something awry. Or much less than that in case of references to oneself.

See Chess Thoughts.

‘A chessplayer should have an equal share of confidence and diffidence; those who are over-confident are apt to despise their antagonist, and the too timid see difficulties in that which is easy; it is not a bad plan to undertake difficult things as easy, and easy things as difficult.’

Source: W. Lewis, A Series of Progressive Lessons on the Game of Chess (London, 1831), page 22. (C.N. 2395.)

‘Zukertort has good-naturedly and not unkindly expressed the opinion that if I had been less experimental and less hazardous in my play I might have secured higher positions in tournaments; and Mr Minchin in his great and very successful work [the London, 1883 tournament book] did me more than justice; if, however, I have had less success than some other players, I have derived more amusement and real pleasure from the combinations of the game, besides which if I am not original in chess I am nothing.’

Source: H.E. Bird, Modern Chess and Chess Masterpieces (London, 1887), page 5. (C.N. 3085.)

‘Mistrust is the most necessary characteristic of the chess-player.’

Source: S. Tarrasch, The Game of Chess (London, 1935), page 79. The original edition, Das Schachspiel (Berlin, 1931), stated on page 110: ‘Mißtrauen ist eine der notwendigsten Charaktereigenschaften des Schachspielers.’ See C.N. 5684 and Siegbert Tarrasch.

Chess historians and bibliophiles have to reconnoitre not only the majestic boulevards but also the squalid backstreets.

Source: C.N. 3913.

When chess masters die, good writers go to their bookshelves. Bad writers go to Wikipedia.

See Chess Thoughts.

Praise received should be quoted sparingly, and never when from a disreputable source.

See Chess Thoughts.

‘... even busy people should try to co-operate in the sharing of good things.’

Source: W.H. Cozens, BCM, February 1957, page 40. See C.N. 10815.

‘He has the lamentable distinction of being – throughout the English-speaking world, anyway – the most under-estimated chess writer in the world.’

Source: CHESS, April 1965, page 230, concerning Werner Lauterbach. (C.N.s 3413 and 3416.)

March 2024:

‘It is a curious thing, this business of making problems. The mathematical and the artistic faculties (for want of better adjectives) seem blended together, as they are in scarcely any other pursuit. To the looker-on, this crouching by oneself over a chessboard for hours at a stretch, continually shifting a few units of force, of different functions, along two dimensions, seems an inconceivable waste of time. To the composer, it seems that his brain is working at its highest tension, and producing its finest capabilities. As for the rest of his body, it has hardly a conscious existence, during those hours. When it does wake up and protest, it is time to put away the chessmen.’

Source: B. Harley, Mate in Two Moves (London, 1931), page 170.

Latest update: 1 March 2024.

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