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The History and The Culture of Chess

Chess in the Press - Issue #7
    May  2006

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Volume 1 Number 7 CHESS IN THE PRESS July 20, 1993
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A young enthusiast who hopes to make his mark in the chess world must
wend his way through the fragmentary nature of the chess education system
to collect enough pieces of the puzzle and attain mastery of the game. Let's
have a look at some of the pieces: a good chess teacher at school, a local
master who tutors promising youngsters, participation in scholastic
tournaments, peers to learn with at school and clubs, and some good chess
books. Lifelong continuity and pressure to improve is the role of many
parents whose children have a talent. Would we have ever heard of the names
of Polgar, Kamsky, or Waitzkin had their parents not encouraged them.
We wait and we search for the one who, like Picasso, doesn't seek but finds.
For most of us, the pieces are scattered across time and space, and the
evolution of our progress soars and sputters until the day arrives when we
know we've found as many fragments as we ever will, and hope it's enough.

"Moscow College Offering 4-Year Specialization in Chess." Anderson,
Raymond. New York Times (Nov 12, 1967), p. 127.
A chess degree is offered by the Institute of Physical Education in Moscow.
Thirty students, including 3 women, have won admission. Besides strategy,
students learn psychology of chess play, and the history of the game. Upon
graduation, students will work as professional trainers and prepare future
challengers for national and international titles. This degree is a tribute
to the popularity of chess in the Soviet Union. It is played on trains, in
parks, and virtually every school, factory, office and state farm has a
chess group. Scientists in Antarctica play by radio with opponents in
Moscow, as do sailors on fishing boats or aboard nuclear subs submerged for
weeks on armed vigil. There are 1,800 clubs with 3.5 million members.
Fifteen million school children are organized into chess groups and advised
by local experts. The leading group of youngsters is at the Modern Pioneers
Palace. About 200 of the most promising players receive guidance there.

"A Chess Master's Guide to Reform." Benjamin, Henry. Education Week (Feb
10, 1993), p. 30.
A reading and writing teacher of 5th-grade students, Benjamin also teaches
chess for free, and estimates that his chess students outlearn his "2 R"
students by double or more. He believes his chess program uses superior
instructional principles: "Choice"--the 12 students who spend their recesses
learning chess are volunteers. They stay as long as the value received from
chess is greater than recess pleasures given up. "Outcome-Based Criteria"--
the outcome is successful participation in the state elementary championship.
Curriculum planning from tournament lessons to learning the basic moves.
Last year's students won 83% of their games. "Individual Responsibility for
Learning"--each child learns at his own pace. There is no parent-to-teacher
pressure. "Individualized Monitoring & Instruction"--Benjamin plays chess
with the kids each recess, knows their needs, and tracks their progress.
Instruction is specific and timely to each child's case. "Immediate
Feedback"--the value of a decision is usually apparent shortly after a move
is made. There is no "grooving" of improper reasoning as sometimes happens
when feedback is delayed. "Self-Paced Mastery Learning"--the players progress
on their own timetables. No forced promotions. One player needed 3 hours to
learn pawn moves. He lagged behind in every area the first year, then
surpassed everyone the second because he mastered the basics before moving
on to higher skill levels. "Holistic Instruction"--chess contains sets of
skills that can be isolated, sequenced and taught. "Cooperative Learning"--
post-mortems are valuable because evidence suggests that we learn best by
sharing ideas. "Technology is Available"--chess computers and videos are
effective and have proven to be more valuable than textbooks. "Character
Improvement is Required"--the "Nintendo mentality" has to be conquered--
students lacking in circumspection, foresight, and self-control. Good chess
requires mental toughness. Why not graft the chess instructional techniques
into his standard academic principles? "It isn't that easy to do."

"Chess With Mongolian Lamas." Cammann, Schuyler. Natural History (Nov
1946), p. 407-411.
While serving in the US military, the author was sent to Inner Mongolia on
a special mission, and spent his spare time studying the life of the Mongols.
He asked the host-monk at a lama temple if they played any games. After
much reluctance, a chess set was produced. The game was called "shatara"
or "horse chess." The author was relieved when told that the game was
unlike Chinese chess, which he felt was "a rather dull game played with
inscribed counters on a maplike board." The Mongolian set was carved from
willow wood, then painted and varnished. The red (good) king was a Mongol
prince, and the green (evil) one a Chinese viceroy. Instead of queens, the
Mongols used the sacred white lion of Tibetan Buddhist folklore, while the
Chinese counterpart was an evil tiger. Camels were used instead of bishops.
The red side had a row of small Buddhist peacocks (celestial birds) as
pawns, while the green side used common hens. The author played the host-
monk and was surprised to find other monks behind their leader, coaching
him, making a move, or retracting a bad one themselves. The lama said,
"According to our custom, when a khan stands alone, no one has won the game.
We do not take advantage of a lonely man." At another monastery, the author
played with the young host-monk. The monk explained that they didn't often
play chess, as the Living Buddha, who was away on a pilgrimage, disapproved
of it as frivolous. Yet the level of play of the monks indicated that there
must have been many clandestine encounters of the forbidden game.

"Strobeck, Home of Chess." Geithmann, Harriet. National Geographic (May
1931), p. 637-652.
The author visited Strobeck, in the Harz Mountains, near Halberstadt in
Germany, where chess was taught to children in the school. The school
master introduced the author to 32 boys and girls aged 10 to 14. "This is
the only grade in which we teach the children how to play chess," he said.
"Here we teach the game every week during the last 3 months of the school
year--January, February, and March." They watched the children play and the
author was impressed with the courtesy and quiet they displayed whether
winning or losing. There was no talking or whispering. "Strobeck is the home
of chess," the school master said. "Don't fail to see the historical chess
tower or castle, where the chess champions of the town held their first
contests a half century before William the Conqueror landed in England."
The legendary origin of chess in Strobeck maintains that in 1011 A.D.,
Henry the Second of Germany decreed that the Wendish Count of Gungelin be
delivered to the Bishop of Strobeck, to be kept in solitary confinement.
The captive spent his long hours playing chess by himself, using a chalked-
out board on the dungeon floor and chessmen carved from wood. The Strobeck
peasants who guarded his door became interested in his mysterious game,
learned it, and passed it on to their friends and relatives. This legend
is perpetuated in the town's chess-inspired paper money. During World War I
the city printed a bill showing Bismarck as the world chess master. Every
year a tournament is held at the school, and a chess festival engulfs the
small city of 1,400 with parades, banners, and a living chess game. When a
Strobeck girl marries outside the community, she must play a chess game with
the chief magistrate to prove that she carries with her the knowledge and
traditions of Strobeck.

"Chess: The Bloodless War." Stocker, Joseph. American Legion (Sept 1982),
P. 14-15, 26.
Anecdotes which lend credence to the maxim that you don't have to be
nutty to play chess, but it helps. Noteworthy memory feats as well. Victor
Korchnoi refused to drive a car, because he was afraid somebody would
arrange an accident and kill him. Wilhelm Steinitz once spat on an opponent,
who then knocked him through a window. Frank Marshall played 155 games
simultaneously, winning 126, losing 8, and drawing 21. When he returned to
New York a week later, he was able to replay 153 of the games from memory.
What bothered him was forgetting the other 2. He thought he was losing his
grip. Most experts say memory is more important in chess than intelligence.
Dr. Henry Davidson, a New Jersey psychiatrist and chess player, concluded
that a blockhead could do well at the game, but "he usually doesn't."
Soviet chess stars enjoy fame and favors. When Mikhail Botvinnik became
world champion in 1948 and then attended a performance at the Bolshoi
Theatre in Moscow, the audience spotted him and rose in homage. Said Myron
Lieberman of the USCF, "With chess, it's one on one. There's no luck
involved. If you lose you can't blame the dice or the cards. It was you."
New York psychiatrist Dr. Ariel Mengarini said, "The beauty of chess is
that the rules are clear cut. If you win, no one can take away your victory.
In life, most of your wins are not clear cut."

"Nixon Gives a Chess Set and Clocks." New York Times (May 29, 1972), p. 2.
President Richard Nixon and his wife gave a porcelain chess set to the
people of the Soviet Union and specially designed clocks to its leaders.
The board was made of American walnut. The clock for Leonid Brezhnev was
set in petrified wood from Nixon's home state of California. A clock for
Aleksei Kosygin was set in green and salmon-colored granite from
Tennessee. The chess set design was inspired by a Medieval tapestry called
"9 Heroes" which was seen by the artist, Harry Burger, Jr., on a visit to
the Cloisters Museum in New York.

"Man Takes Cab Ride in His Own Stolen Car." San Francisco Chronicle
(Oct 15, 1990), p. A6.
A chess set was instrumental in a man retrieving his stolen car. Bogdan
Szetela was waiting for a bus in Philadelphia when he noticed a car drive
by that looked just like his own that had been stolen 11 days earlier. But
this car had a taxi light on top and "Crescent Cab Co." painted on the side.
Szetela hailed another cab and gave chase. Several blocks later he hopped out
of the cab and into the Crescent cab. He looked around and realized it was
his car, but with a different stereo, meter, radar detector, the works.
He told the cabbie to take him to South Street, which is frequently
patrolled by police. Spotting a police officer, "I lunged from the back
seat, put the car in park and grabbed the keys. I hopped out of the car and
told the cop, `That's my car!'" Police weren't convinced until he told them
he had left a chess set in the trunk before it was stolen. "They popped
the trunk, and sure enough." Checkmate.

Editor: Stephen Leary []
Chess in the Press is cross-posted to Chess-L on Bitnet & RGC on Usenet.
Back issues are available via anonymous ftp at
in the path: /pub/chess/uploads/texts/ChessInThePress.

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Chess History is a Pain!
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Six Chess Vignettes
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My Life as a Chess Criminal Celebrities Playing Chess
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