Shelby Lyman on Chess: I Could Give Him a Knight
Sunday, February 7, 2016
(Published in print: Sunday, February 7, 2016)

Chess has been banned by religious authorities numerous times because of an association with gambling.

With the exception of the pre-revolutionary Czarist regime of Russia, few secular powers have had a concern with the game. Chess clubs, that regime feared, were gathering sites for the give-and-take of subversive ideas.

Indeed, leading revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, as well as many liberal intellectuals, were fervent chess players.

Trotsky’s very serious interest in chess is the subject of an amusing anecdote — probably apocryphal, yet likely containing at least a grain of truth.

During a stay in New York, Trotsky frequented clubs and coffee shops where chess was played. I recall hearing an irresistible account of a chess hustler at a local Brooklyn club learning for the first time of Trotsky’s sensational exploits as commander of the victorious Red Army.

“I don’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head, as he looked up momentarily from the game he was playing. “Trotsky leading an army?”

“I could give that patzer (a poor chess player) the odds of a knight.”

Whatever the truth of that story, Trotsky, like others who carried their chess sets to war — Peter the Great, King Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon and Robert E. Lee among them — was, in fact, an irresistible force on the battlefield.

Was Trotsky’s own immersion in chess a factor?

Full article here.

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