Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (11)

10/30/2008 – The Editor of Chess Notes offers readers an opportunity to contribute chess input to the next edition of one of the finest general anthologies of memorable observations, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro. The quest is for the ten most famous chess quotations of all time, and naturally a rock-solid source is needed in each case. Readers' suggestions are invited.

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Chess Explorations (11)

By Edward Winter

In C.N. 5520 Fred Shapiro (New Haven, CT, USA), the editor of The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), announced that for the book’s next edition he would welcome suggestions for the ten most famous chess observations of all time. Since quotations without proper attributions are worthless, a rock-solid source is needed in each case, and below are our current suggestions (eight in all). Additions and all other proposals from readers will be very welcome.


François-André Danican Philidor (1726-1795)

  • ‘... les Pions. Ils ſont l’ame des Echècs.’ (Modern spelling: ‘... les Pions. Il sont l’âme des Echecs ...’)
    L’Analyze des Echecs by F.-A. D. Philidor (London, 1749), page xix.

  • ‘... the Pawns: They are the very Life of this Game.’)
    Chess Analysed [Cheſs Analyſed] by F.-A. D. Philidor (London, 1750), pages ix-x.

C.N. 5796 gave, courtesy of Jurgen Stigter (Amsterdam), a number of reproductions from the earliest editions of Philidor’s book. The first occurrence of the famous remark was on page xix of L’Analyze des Echecs (London, 1749):

Below, to show the context, is the full page:

Subsequent editions in French (e.g. dated 1752 and 1754) featured the identical text, but with minor variations in spelling and accents.

The first English edition of Philidor’s book, Chess Analysed [Cheſs Analyſed] (London, 1750), had the following (pages ix-x):


Peter Pratt (circa 1770-circa 1835)

  • [Chess is] ‘a gymnasium of the mind.’
    Studies of Chess by P. Pratt (London, 1803), page iii.

C.N. 3626 referred to misattributions of the quote to Lenin and Pascal. Regarding the latter we commented:

‘On a number of webpages which pluck “chess quotes” out of thin air and list them without any attributions or qualms the “gymnasium of the mind” phrase is ascribed to Blaise Pascal, although we have yet to see an (alleged) original French version of the remark. That may be because according to the Robert dictionary the word gymnase is not recorded in the French language (with the meaning in question) until 1704, whereas Pascal died in 1662. Moreover, Georges Renaud wrote on page 28 of issue 17 of Les Cahiers de l’Echiquier Français (1928) that there was “aucune allusion directe aux échecs dans l’oeuvre de Pascal”.’


William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

  • ‘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.’
    Table-Talk by W. Hazlitt (London, 1821), page 198.

The observation was discussed in a letter headed ‘Hazlitt and Chess’ from H.A.K., Bath, October 1855, on pages 372-373 of the 1855 Chess Player’s Chronicle. Its inclusion in the present list was suggested by Mark McCullagh (Belfast, Northern Ireland).


Henry James Byron (1835-1884)

  • ‘Life’s too short for chess.’
    Talbot, in Act I of Our Boys by H.J. Byron. Play first performed in London on 16 January 1875. Text published in 1880.


Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941)

  • ‘Nun, auf dem Schachbrett der Meister gilt Lüge und Heuchelei nicht lange.’
    Lehrbuch des Schachspiels by E. Lasker (Berlin, 1926), page 201.

  • ‘On the Chess-board lie and hypocrisy do not survive long.’
    Lasker’s Manual of Chess by E. Lasker (New York, 1927), page 262.

Note: ‘lie’ became ‘lies’ on page 235 of the London, 1932 edition.

The above painting of Emanuel Lasker has appeared in Chess Notes courtesy of David DeLucia (Darien, CT, USA). See C.N.s 5071 and 5103.


Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934)

  • ‘Das Schach hat wie die Liebe, wie die Musik die Fähigkeit, den Menschen glücklich zu machen.’
    Das Schachspiel by S. Tarrasch (Berlin, 1931), page 4.

  • ‘Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.’
    The Game of Chess by S. Tarrasch (London, 1935), page xi. Translated by G.E. Smith and T.G. Bone.


Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935)

  • ‘Zuerst hemmen, dann blockieren und schließlich vernichten.’
    Mein System by A. Nimzowitsch (Berlin, 1925), page 246.

  • ‘First restrain, next blockade, lastly destroy.’
    My System by A. Nimzowitsch (London, 1929), page 181. Translated by P. Hereford.

This woodcut of Aron Nimzowitsch by Erwin Voellmy was published in the Schweizerische Schachzeitung, September 1929, page 138.


Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956)

  • ‘Die Fehler sind dazu da, um gemacht zu werden.’
    Die Hypermoderne Schachpartie by S. Tartakower (Vienna, 1924), page 90.

  • Customary English translation: ‘The mistakes are all there, waiting to be made.’


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All articles by Edward Winter


Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then over 5,800 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.



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