The Great Russian Chess Joke

10/28/2002 – Okay, it may not be vintage Seinfeld material, but it is one of the best-known jokes in the world. Certainly in chess circles. And it has the habit of creeping up on you and pouncing when you least expect it. The latest assault: on the Chess Olympiad home page, under the title "Jokes". We were first introduced to it by Garry Kasparov in 1986, but by far the best rendition was by the Russian chess magazine editor Alexander Roshal. More

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It was 1986, the Atari computer company had signed a advertising deal with Garry Kasparov. To celebrate they staged a dinner in Frankfurt with all top Atari managers in Europe present. It was a boisterous affair, with lots of jokes and stories. Somebody asked Garry to tell us a Russian joke. And there it came, for the first time:

In a park people come across a man playing chess against a dog. They are astonished and say: "What a clever dog!" But the man protests: "No, no, he isn't that clever. I'm leading by three games to one!"

Very nice. Especially when you hear it for the first time. But in the years that followed every Russian chess player – and we are talking every – has taken us aside and told us this joke. It is the chess joke to end all chess jokes. It comes in slightly different forms, as you can see on the Bled Chess Olympiad home page:

Paul visits his friend Steve and finds him playing a game of chess with his dog. 'This dog of yours is really clever,' says Paul. Steve responds: 'Not really. He only wins one game in three.'

One of the best renditions of the joke was captured by us on video in 1996, in Las Palmas, where we were doing an interview with the editor of the famous Russian chess magazine "64". Alexander Roshal was telling us about the world's best chess players and their characteristics.

In the end he volunteered to tell us a joke. He even agreed to allow us to tape it, when we assured him it would make people laugh. The video sequence was included on ChessBase Magazine 56. We return to it by popular request.


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