Chess and War

Edward Winter

(2002, with additions)


Our recent reading has included The Expression of Aggression in the Game of War Using Chess as a Bloodless Model by Eric Anton Kreuter (New York, 1991). To judge from the back cover, his qualifications for the task are two degrees (in business administration and psychology) and a track-record of having ‘authored several articles on such subjects as time management and employee motivation’.

The book’s introduction states: ‘To better study aggression as it relates to the phenomenon of war, one could look to the game of chess for insights into this form of universal human behavior’. In so doing, Kreuter relies, heavily and ill-advisedly, on Reuben Fine’s The Psychology of the Chess Player and two or three other chess books, such as The Chess Sacrifice by Vuković (whom he calls ‘Uvokovic’). Armed with this mini-library, Kreuter sets down some stunning insights:

‘War is a contest between advocates of differing views; a conflict of interests which cannot be resolved using peaceful means and usually results in a victory on one side and a defeat on the other side with heavy casualties shared by both. Therefore war is a conflict; to wage war is to engage in a forceful attempt to overthrow the enemy and move in via a takeover or a surrender by the enemy.’ (Page 27)

‘In applying the description of war to chess, it must be emphasized that any substitute for war is only a true substitute if it occurs on a much smaller scale. Chess fulfills this requirement. Chess is also a contest between two sides. The player has an opponent whom he wishes to destroy (checkmate) and against whose attacks he must defend himself. It is indeed a conflict where there is a beginning, a struggle, and an end.’ (Page 30)

‘Chess playing requires a similar deployment of strategies and tactics as in war. Certain chess games result in stalemates due to either a passive playing style or too many equal sacrifices. Stalemated chess games, like prolonged, victor-less wars result from both sides’ inability or unwillingness to execute a more aggressive style of attack.

Perhaps the same killing inhibition which stops a chessplayer from waging an all-out attack on the chessboard is affecting the society which is unable to penetrate enemy forces sufficiently enough to result in the end of the war.’ (Page 45)

By now we have quoted from the book ‘sufficiently enough’, yet it may still be wondered why Kreuter dragged chess into his analysis. The explanation on page 7 shows that his heart is in the right place:

‘To study war completely the psychologist cannot be limited to the laboratory. It is equally impossible and morally reprehensible to create an actual war between two groups of people for the purpose of conducting a field study.’

Let us at least be grateful for that.


On the same topic see an article by Franklin K. Young, ‘Chess and War’, on pages 136-137 of American Chess World, July 1901.

From page 234 of Warriors of the Mind by Raymond Keene and Nathan Divinsky (Brighton, 1989):

warriors of
        the mind

Latest update: 30 January 2020.

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