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Essay on Chess


Chess Makes You Smart!

It is known that the best way to learn more on chess is to teach others. When my grandson, David, was nine he liked to give instructions to adults and was glad for their sake. I approved this useful occupation but suggested that kids learn best by playing with their peers. Soon chess circles appeared in David’s school and in a local kindergarten where he taught beginners under my supervision. I proclaimed to the future champions: “Chess makes you smart!”

           This idea runs through the entire book “Essay on Chess that I have written recently. It is a well illustrated volume that contained 300 pages and 100 unique photos. My book can be enjoyed by players and non-players alike. Many of the stories are based on what I have seen and done in Russia and America.

         For over twenty-five years, I headed the chess club of the Moscow State University. At that time, it was the only educational institution in the world where chess was a part of the academic program, and on equal footing with the other athletic disciplines. During my tenure, I helped many university players to reach the master level, and thousands of students passed my chess exams. I personally knew most world champions and many of the leading grandmasters.

          I approached my subject from a new angle: the connection between chess and literature.

         The first chapter is titled “The Royal Game: today and yesterday”. Stefan Zweig’s novel “The Royal Game” was taken as the basis. The Austrian writer saw a parallel between the ‘imaginary’ and real chess where the invented young world champion was shown in detail during his meteoric career. Zweig predicted the appearance of such players in modern chess life. 

         Several stories were written with humor, even when they are disserting technical material. Humor is the other side of the coin of chess. During a tournament game, participants need to be silent for several hours, but after that everybody may talk in jest. Therefore, two Russian writers, Ilia Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, had included in their satirical novel “The Twelve Chairs” a whole chapter about the humorous adventures of the main character, the so called Grossmeister, Ostap Bender. Readers feel his presence in the next part of the book “Essay on Chess” that is titled romantic – “Dreams of Interplanetary chess”.

         The theme of another chapter, “Wizards in the Game”, was born in accordance with the desire of my pupils, admirers of Harry Potter. From the English writer, J. K. Rowling, one could observe that the ability to play chess was a natural trait of the main characters of her books. This subject dictated an expediency to tell about chess in England in the past, from Shakespeare’s times, till the present.

        Probably the Russian writer, Ivan Turgenev, was the best chess player among the literary classics. The title of his well-known novel, “Fathers and Sons”, serves as a pivot of the whole narration about the real situation in chess. Most often, fathers became the first chess teachers to their sons and daughters, even to those who were successful at the highest level

        This book has a subtitle “Professionals and Amateurs”. Grandmasters and masters are an important part of the chess world, so to say, the top of the iceberg. They play for the enormous audience, especially nowadays, when the Internet becomes usual. There is no doubt, chess lovers deserve to be present in the books written by chess professionals. I have done so, and I think that I have been the first to write about amateurs in this way.

        Chess history and current interesting events are highlighted in this writing. The author’s narration is not a textbook but its great numbers of instructions can help the readers to improve their chess skills.

         For the time being, the book “Essay on Chess” is a private family edition. I ordered a very limited number of copies, for those about whom I have written – well known professionals and unknown amateurs. Based on the readers’ responses, there is a great interest in the content of the book.

          In 1991, the U.S. President, George Bush the elder, and the First Lady came to Budapest for a short visit. Naturally, the Hungarian government wanted to show the eminent guests those celebrities in whom its country took a legitimate pride. First of all, the famous chess players, Polgar sisters, were introduced to George and Barbara Bush. Their picture together was included in this book. It was pleasant to get a flattering review from the President of the United States.

         Collecting information for this book, I learned that Arnold Schwarzenegger taught chess to his son, Christopher. This interesting fact was included in the story about the Kennedy family. The text was illustrated by a picture where John Kennedy Jr., the President’s son, played chess with his cousin, Mark Shriver, at the Moscow University chess club in 1975. On this photo, I welcomed the American visitors to the University. I was favorably received by the nice letter of Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California.

         Most of my friends read this book and then passed it on to other people, thereby generating considerable interest. Most likely, I am the only Russian speaking author who has the courage to tell readers of different countries about his abundant experience in chess and journalism.


        Everyone needs to have good time and reading about chess is a nice way to occupy leisure hours.

Dr. Josef Vatnikov,
International Chess Master