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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Steinitz and Fischer

Having the white pieces in chess confers on a player the right to make the first move which is a slight advantage.

As noted earlier (11-6-2010) chessplayers are not noted for their modesty.

On one occasion, while engaged in one of his unsuccessful bouts with humility, Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), the first official world chess champion, offered to play a game with God. In fact he offered to give God “pawn and move odds”. That meant that he would remove one of his own pawns and let God also have the advantage of the white pieces. It is not recorded whether God accepted. A variation of this story has been told by commentator Charles Krauthammer the American Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist and political commentator.

The world had progressed well past this kind of foolishness when, in 1972, Robert James Fischer defeated Boris Spassky and the Evil Empire. Fischer became the only world chess champion in the second half of the twentieth century who was not connected to the Soviet Union. After the (real) fall of the Soviet Union it was made public that Fischer had been right in the sixties when he claimed that the Russians had combined against him in the earlier world championship competitions.

They say that when Bobby heard about what Steinitz had said nearly a hundred years earlier, his religious sensibilities were offended. Fischer exclaimed, “That is ridiculous. No one could beat God.” But he thought for a moment and then said, “But if I had the white pieces, I think I could draw.”


  1. No doubt he has been preparing for this match for the past X decades...

  2. If you mean the Fischer - Spassky match, Fischer was 29 at the time.

  3. Nah...I meant all the time off that he took (interrupted only by the Spassky rematch) and now he's dead (or is he!?!?)...off to play in the big tournament in the sky.

    Surely God would have to to let him into Heaven if he gets the draw, despite his various rantings.

  4. Yeah, if he gets the draw. I think his chances of getting a draw are pretty slim since Kasparav couldn't get a draw against Deep Blue.

    When thinking of Fischer I like to focus on the chessplayer and pass over the nut case.