Time ago a crazy dream came
I dreamt I was walkin' in World War III,
I went to the doctor the very next day
To see what kinda words he could say.
He said it was a bad dream.
I wouldn't worry 'bout it none, though,
They were my own dreams and they're only in my head.
I said, "Hold it, Doc, a World War passed through my brain."
He said, "Nurse, get your pad, this boy's insane,"
He grabbed my arm, I said "Ouch!"
As I landed on the psychiatric couch,
He said, "Tell me about it."
Talking WWIII Blues by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan - around 1962
The The above introduction juxtaposes some Bob Dylan song lyrics involving
psychoanalysis with a photograph of Dylan playing chess.
might quite correctly observe the forced connection (the person of Bob Dylan)
between the two and question the validity of their inclusion, particularly their
conspicuous position in the introduction of this article on Chess and
Psychoanalysis. Really, there is no rational connection between Dylan's
funny/poignant song and the fact that he was a chess player, except that if I
could establish one, I might have all the natural abilities with which to become a
The song ends:
Well, the doctor interrupted me
just about then,
Sayin, "Hey I've been havin' the same old dream!
But mine was a little different you see.
I dreamt that the only person left after the war was me.
I didn't see you around."
Well, now time passed and now it seems
Everybody's having them dreams.
Everybody sees themselves
Walkin' around with no one else.
"Half of the people can be part right all of the time;
Some of the people can be all right part of the time;
But all the people can't be all right all the time."
I think Abraham Lincoln said that.
"I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours."
I said that.
played myself at chess last night.
My id was black, my ego white.
Totaro recently bombarded me with a canister-and-grape flurry of chess
references specific to the field of psychoanalysis.
My own limited foray into this battlefield has been skirmishes with the
Ernest Jones and
on Paul Morphy and I restricted myself to exposing the flawed historic basis
(leading, presumably, to a flawed analysis) both of these Freudian analysts used
in insipidly trying to psychoanalyze, for whatever reason, a person long dead.
Whether the field of psychoanalysis is good, bad, helpful, chicanery or science,
is of no consequence here - our only purpose is to explore and document those
places where chess and psychoanalysis meet.
"There is a class of men—shadowy, unhappy, unreal-looking men—who gather in
coffee houses, and play with a desire that dieth not, and a fire that is not
quenched. These gather in clubs and play tournaments...but there are others
who have the vice who live in country places, in remote situations—curates,
schoolmasters, tax collectors—who must needs find some artificial vent for
their mental energy."
—H.G. Wells (concerning Chess)
“He who hopes to learn the fine
art of the game of chess from books will soon discover that only the
opening and closing moves of the game admit of exhaustive systematic
description, and that the endless variety of the moves which develop from
the opening defies description; the gap left in the instructions can only
be filled in by the zealous study of games fought out by master-hands.”
“At one point he likened it to
chess, where one can learn the opening moves and the end game moves, while
the middle game can be acquired only by actual practice and contact with
the games of great masters. Others since Freud have made many attempts to
systematize the teaching of psychoanalytic therapy more thoroughly, yet
there always remains a highly personal element in psychoanalysis which
makes it in a sense more of an art than an exact science.”
—Reuben Fine from
Freud: A Critical Re-Evaluation of
His Theories. Reuben D. Fine;
Publisher: David McKay. New York; 1962. Page 97. (Other books
by Fine: The Personality of the Asthmatic Child,
Psychoanalytic Observations on Chess and Chess
Distinguished Psychologists at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts,
(seated, front row): Sigmund Freud, Granville S.
Hall and Carl Jung;
(standing, back row): Abraham A. Brill, Ernest
Jones and Sándor Ferenczi.
Sigmund Freud: Four Centenary Addresses.
Ernest Jones; Basic Books; New York; 1956.
If the leading chess player of
America can desert that fascinating occupation for the arduous life of a
psychoanalyst it is not surprising that anthropologists, art critics and
historians, not to mention educationists, have done the same.
The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud: Years of Maturity,
1901-1919. Volume: 2.
Ernest Jones; Basic Books; New York; 1953.
(11) The next paper, "On Beginning
the Treatment," 24 published in January and March of the following year (
1913), dealt with the various problems that arise at the inception of the
treatment. This paper is full of worldly wisdom garnered from his years of
experience. What to say to the patient in the first interview, how much to
explain, arrangements about time and money, the suitability of various cases,
are among the matters he treated. Freud was always very apt at analogies, and
here he remarked that those who are learning "the noble game" of chess soon
find out that only the openings and the end game permit of systematic
presentation; much the same applies to a psychoanalysis. He admitted, however,
that even here the variations among patients are so great that none of the
rules he proposes has any absolute validity; they all may have to be altered
according to the case. One can only describe an average procedure.
Freud played a good deal of chess
in coffee houses in the earlier years, but he came to find the concentration
more of a strain than an enjoyment, and after 1901 he gave it up altogether.
An evening spent at a theater was a rare event. It had to be something of
special interest to him, such as a performance of a Shakespeare play or a
Mozart opera before he could tear himself away from his work.
The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud: The Formative Years
and the Great Discoveries, 1856-1900. Volume: 1.
Ernest Jones - author; Basic Books; New York;1953.
To return to the choice itself,
Freud had a very orderly mind (and also orderly habits), and his power of
organizing a mass of facts into a systematic grouping was truly remarkable;
his command of the literature on the subject of childhood paralyses, or on
that of dreams, is one example alone of this. But on the other hand he rather
spurned exactitude and precise definition as being either wearisome or
pedantic; he could never have been a mathematician or physicist or even an
expert solver of chess problems. He wrote easily, fluently, and spontaneously,
and would have found much rewriting irksome
There were two quite distinct
groups of strictly personal friends: those he got to know in his medical and
scientific work, mostly older than himself; and a little group of about his
own age. The latter, fifteen or twenty in number, constituted what they called
the Bund (Union). They used to forgather regularly once a week in the Café
Kurzweil for conversation and games of cards and chess.
Freud had one important hobby, but
few relaxations apart from holidays. He played a certain amount of chess, but
gave it up entirely before he was fifty since it demanded so much
concentration which he preferred to devote elsewhere. When alone he would
sometimes play patience, but there was a card game he became really fond of.
That was an old Viennese four-handed game called tarock. He was playing this
in the nineties, and probably earlier; later on it became an institution, and
every Saturday evening was religiously set aside for it.
There is no point in giving a list
of twenty or thirty names, since none of them were of much importance to
Freud. His chief friends were Bloch, Oscar Rie, and Königstein. It was about
this time that he was giving up chess for tarock, the card game to which he
remained faithful; they would often play this until one or two in the morning.
When Freud spoke later of the ten years of isolation one must understand that
this referred purely to his scientific, not to his social, life.
Letters of Sigmund
Ernst L. Freud - editor, Sigmund Freud - author, James Stern - transltr, Tania
Stern - transltr. Publisher: Basic Books; New York; 1960.
To Martha Bernays discussing the death of Freud’s friend,
Vienna, Sunday September 16, 1883
“For fourteen years he hardly ever
left the hospital, whirled like a fast-moving automaton out of the building and
into the restaurant, into the coffeehouse, and back. His recreation consisted of
playing cards and chess, at which he was a master, and in spite of the agitation
it produced in him and which sometimes caused him to be exceedingly ruthless, it
was a pleasure comparable to a theater performance to watch him at play and to
listen to his original, biting wit.”
(Freud's colleague in the General Hospital who committed
suicide in 1883 L.T.)
To Martha Bernays
Vienna, Wednesday March 19, 1884
It grew more and more easy, after a
warm bath I could walk quite well, then I dashed into the laboratory, made up
my mind to start work again, in the afternoon played chess in the coffeehouse,
and on receiving a brief visit from Prof. Hammerschlag I decided to return it
in the evening. This I did; of course they were all rather concerned and soon
threw me out again, but here I am in the saddle once more, have no pains
despite the long day, only feelings of fatigue which is understandable, can
work again and am immensely, immensely pleased that I have recovered by my own
Freud: A Life for Our Time.
Peter Gay ; Norton; New York; 1998
I give myself over to my
fantasies, play chess, read English novels; everything serious remains
banished. For two months not a line of what I am learning or surmising has
been put into writing. Hence I live as a sybaritic philistine as soon as I am
free of my trade. You know how constricted my indulgences are; I may not smoke
anything good, alcohol does nothing for me at all, I am done begetting
children, my contact with people has been cut off. Thus I vegetate, harmless,
taking care to keep my attention diverted from the theme I work on during the
FREUD'S PAPER "On Beginning the
Treatment," with its reassuring, reasonable tone, is representative of the
series as a whole; he was offering flexible suggestions rather than ironclad
edicts. The felicitous metaphor—chess openings—that he enlisted to elucidate
the strategic initial moment in psychoanalysis is calculated to woo his
readers; the chess player, after all, is not tied to a single, dictated line
of procedure. Indeed, Freud observed, it is only just that the psychoanalyst
should have some choices open to him: the histories of individual patients are
too diverse to permit the application of rigid, dogmatic rules. Still, Freud
left no doubt that certain tactics are plainly indicated: the analyst should
select his patients with due care, since not every sufferer is stable enough,
or intelligent enough, to sustain the rigors of the psychoanalytic situation.
It is best if patient and analyst have not met before, either socially or in a
medical setting—certainly one among his recommendations that Freud himself was
most inclined to flout. Then, the patient duly chosen and a starting time set,
the analyst is advised to take the initial meetings as an opportunity for
probing; for a week or so, he should reserve judgment on whether
psychoanalysis is in fact the treatment of choice.
Collected Papers. Volume: 2.
Contributors: Sigmund Freud - author, Joan Riviere - author; Basic Books;
New York; 1959
FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE
TECHNIQUE OF PSYCHO-ANALYSIS 1 ON BEGINNING THE TREATMENT. THE QUESTION OF THE
FIRST COMMUNICATIONS. THE DYNAMICS OF THE CURE. (1913)
H E who hopes to learn the fine
art of the game of chess from books will soon discover that only the opening
and closing moves of the game admit of exhaustive systematic description,
and that the endless variety of the moves which develop from the opening
defies description; the gap left in the instructions can only be filled in
by the zealous study of games fought out by master-hands. The rules which
can be laid down for the practical application of psychoanalysis in
treatment are subject to similar limitations.
I intend now to try to collect
together for the use of practicing analysts some of the rules for the
opening of the treatment. Among them there are some which may seem to be
mere details, as indeed they are. Their justification is that they are
simply rules of the game, acquiring their importance by their connection
with the whole plan of the game. I do well, however, to bring them forward
as 'recommendations' without claiming any unconditional acceptance for them.
Freud for Historians
Peter Gay; Oxford University Press; London; 1986
If it is change, then, that makes
history possible; it is persistence that is the foundation of historical
understanding. Like the game of chess, human nature constructs dramatic and
inexhaustible variety from a few elements and a handful of rules.
Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic
Contributors: Margaret J. Black - author, Stephen A. Mitchell - author;Basic
Books; New York; 1995
The psychoanalytic process can be,
and has been, conceptualized in many different ways. The metaphors that are
chosen to illustrate principles of clinical technique often provide the best
indication of the underlying assumptions of each analytic model. Freud's
metaphors all have an adversarial quality: war, chess, hunting wild beasts. As
the ego psychologists shifted the focus from the id to the ego, from the
repressed to the central nexus of psychological processes, their models of the
analytic process also began to change.
The Childhood of Art: An Interpretation of Freud's
Contributors: Sarah Kofman - author, Winifred Woodhull - transltr.;
Columbia University Press; New York; 1988
In "applying" psychoanalysis to
art, Freud advocates the murder of the father and his substitutes. Clearly,
the public worships the artist and all other "great men." Yet in Moses and
Monotheism, where Freud tries to define the nature of the great man, he
shows that no thinker, artist, technical expert, or great chess player is
worthy of the name. Success in a life of action is no more satisfactory as a
criterion, as Freud shows by deliberately citing the examples of Goethe,
Leonardo da Vinci, and Beethoven. The concept of the "great man" is vague, and
connotes nothing more than the presence of numerous human capabilities in the
individual so designated.
Why They Play: The Psychology of Chess
TIME magazine article (September 4th, 1972) by
Dr. Ariel Mengarini, a nonanalytic psychiatrist, asserts that the typical
amateur chess player has had a formal education and has a job that does not
come up to his intellectual capabilities. He needs the kind of mental workout
that he gets in chess. Equally important, to Mengarini, is the struggle. "But
the beauty of chess," he says, "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. If you've lost, there's nothing to do but shake hands with your
opponent. This is most refreshing compared with most human relationships,
including the world of business and sexual relationships."
Another non-Freudian, Dr. Kurt Alfred Adler, son of the
late Alfred Adler and an exponent of his school of individual psychology, goes
further. "To me," he says, "chess is a game of training in orientation for
problem solving, not only in strategy and tactics and plane geometry, but in
learning to use the pieces as a cooperative team. I would put little emphasis
on the elements of hostility and aggression, and dismiss completely the sexual
symbolism. The players are trying to overcome difficulties, and while they are
also trying to attain mastery, the game is a form of social intercourse."
How much raw competitiveness enters into the game
depends on the culture, says Adler. In collective societies such as Russia,
the player plays the board rather than his opponent. Competitiveness becomes
more pronounced in Western Europe and is rampant in the U.S. Whether a player
plays the board or against his opponent becomes a finespun argument in the
tens of thousands of chess games that are always in progress by mail.
Biochemist Aaron Bendich, of Manhattan's Sloan-Kettering Institute, summarizes
his motivation: "I play as an intellectual exercise, and I don't see my
opponent as an adversary. But there is an adversary—and that's me! If I lose
and allow myself to get angry with my opponent, I am really projecting onto
him the anger I feel with myself for having played badly."
Chess, Oedipus, and the Mater Dolorosa
by Norman Reider, M.D.; International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XL, 1959
The psycho-analytic study of play
and games has been particularly rewarding, but no game is so full of
possibilities for such study as that of chess. Chess is the royal game for
many reasons. It crystallizes within its elaborate structure the family
romance, is replete with symbolism, and has rich potentialities for granting
satisfactions and for sublimation of drives. Not without reason is it the one
game that, since its invention around A.D. 600, has been played in most of the
world, has captivated the imagination and interest of millions, and has been
the source of great sorrows and great pleasures....
paper on chess from the psycho-analytic point of view, presented to the Vienna
Psychoanalytic Society on 15 March, 1922 and duly recorded in the minutes, was
never published. Dr. Fokschaner, a dentist, entitled his paper, "Über das
Schachspiel." Hoffer recalls that it drew some parallels between chess and
obsessional neurosis, with an attempt to interpret symbolically the pieces and
their movements on the chessboard. In his discussion Freud was critical of
Fokschaner’s simplifications, and that ended the topic...
Jones developed the thesis that chess is a game of father-murder, which became
the pattern for most psychoanalytic studies on the subject. Yet the same theme
was advanced by an earlier writer, Alexander Herbstman (35), whose work,
published in Moscow in 1925, could not have influenced the psychoanalytic
literature. Herbstman, a physician, and a chess problemist, made a systematic
study of the form and content of chess. He paid tribute to Freud, Sachs,
Ferenczi, Rank, Jung, Richlin, Abraham, and Jones for elucidating the
unconscious. He began his essay by considering the preoccupation of the game
with royal figures, especially the king and queen, and quoted Freud as
follows: "In dreams the parents assume a royal or imperial form as a couple.
You find a parallel to this in stories. ‘There lived once a king and a queen’
when obviously the account is about the father and mother." He then developed
the thesis that the whole play of the game is an elaboration in numerous
varieties and derivatives of the oedipal situation. To him the game consists
primarily of the king, queen, and pawn, with the other pieces being displaced
images of king or queen. Herbstman also discussed the concept of ambivalence
as represented in chess, analyzed some dreams of chess, and attempted to
explain certain early legends of chess, on the basis of the oedipal
Other studies followed in
somewhat different directions. One is the use of clinical studies and
psychoanalytic therapy, as in Pfister’s work, the first convincing analysis
of the chess player by his chess play. Coriat discussed the general problem
of the symbolism of the pieces and also the way in which the styles or
habits of play revealed the players’ motivations. Fleming and Strong
reported the first systematic effort to use chess therapeutically in the
case of a 16 year old boy who worked through a problem of inhibition of
aggression by mastering the game, thus achieving a sort of belated mastery
over his own impulses. In another such study, Slap paid considerably more
attention to details of the ego factors involved in a patient’s
preoccupation with chess. The practicing psychoanalyst’s interest will often
lie in the clinical aspects of the game, and to him it should not be
surprising that a player’s interest in chess and his style of play reveal
dynamics consistent with his character structure; however, consideration
must also be given to the fact that the nature of skill in chess does not
depend only on derivatives of conflictual forces.
Another trend in pathobiography
was taken by Karpman and Fine, whose studies are biographical and
descriptive rather than clinical. Other psychoanalytic writings on the
subject, covering phases in the main described above, are by S. Davidson,
Menninger, and Ibanez. Menninger’s reflections on the game as a hobby are
unique in the sense that its informal therapeutic values are delightfully
Unconscious Motives of Interest in Chess
Isador H. Coriat; Psychoanalytic Review; 1941
unconscious motive which actuates chess players is not the pugnacity which
characterizes competitive games, but the grimmer one of father-murder. The
King is not actually captured, as was customary in the original purpose of
earlier games, but the goal of modern chess is “sterilizing him into
immobility.” The game is pre-eminently of an anal-sadistic nature and so
gratifies the aggressive aspects of the antagonism between father and son; its
unconscious motivation is the symbolic expression of a “wish to overcome the
father in an acceptable way.”
It seems from the material cited that the chief symbolic feature of chess can
be compared with the aggressive aspect of the Oedipus complex. The capture of
the King by checkmate eliminates him from the combat, it ends the game, the
King is dead or castrated into immobility, an end result which corresponds
with what Oliver Wendell Homes terms “the brutality of an actual checkmate.”
The English word “checkmate” is derived from the Persian or Arabic and means
literally that the “King is dead,” paralyzed, helpless and defeated, which is
synonymous with murder or castration.
The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology.
Edward Hoffman; Addison Wesley Publisher (Current Publisher: Perseus
Publishing); Reading, MA.;1996.
Trotsky enjoyed the Café Central as an incomparable institution of Viennese
life, exotically serving as home, office, and restaurant. When Count Leopold
von Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister from 1912 to 1915, was
told that a Communist revolution might erupt in czarist Russia, he exclaimed
with an incredulous guffaw, "And who, if you please, will make that
revolution? Mr. Bronstein [Trotsky] who is playing chess at the Central all
the time?" But the Café's famous headwaiter, Josef, is reported to have shown
no surprise upon hearing the news in 1917 that the Russian revolution had
broken out and that Trotsky was among its leaders. "I always knew that Herr
Doktor Bronstein would go far in life," quipped Josef, "but I shouldn't have
thought that he might leave without paying for the four coffees he owes me."
Adler enjoyed playing chess as a minor hobby, and may have sparred
occasionally with Trotsky. But he was finding himself busier than ever in
advancing a new psychological system that was becoming increasingly divergent
from the Freudian. Besides speaking at prestigious gatherings such as the
International Congress of Medical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Adler in 1913
published several important articles that further demarked his approach. These
included "On The Role of the Unconscious in the Neurosis," "New Principles for
the Practice of Individual Psychology," and especially,
"Individual-Psychological Treatment of the Neuroses."
Another journalist anxiously asked, "Do you think my son's beating me at chess
means he's really got a better brain than I have?" Soothingly, Adler answered
that, "It might not be so. I myself have frequently been beaten by men who I
do not suppose were any more intelligent than myself. I have even known quite
stupid people who played chess well."
I'll let you
be in my dreams if I can be in yours.