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Ten Great Chess Quotes

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Over the last few centuries, there have been hundreds of incredible quotes about chess. Some are insightful, some are profound, and some are simply funny. The following list is far from a complete list, and I deliberately avoided naming it the "top ten" chess quotes, as I'm sure I could find another list of ten that I liked just as much. That said, these ten quotes are all among my favorite chess quotes -- and I hope you'll enjoy them as well.

1. “When you see a good move, look for a better one.” –Emanuel Lasker

This classic quote from Lasker encapsulates one of the most important lessons every new player struggles to learn. Finding a move that seems sufficient – or even good – does not mean you’re ready to play it. Instead, you must search for the best move for a reasonable amount of time (what that means is largely dependent on the time control you’re playing with). Only then can you settle for the best move you’ve found so far.

2. “Even the laziest king flees wildly in the face of a double check.” –Nimzowitsch

This fun quote is a pithy way of explaining the power of the double check. Since no piece can block two attackers of the same, or capture them, a double check always requires the king to move…if he can.

3. “Chess is a fairy tale of 1,001 blunders.” -Savielly Tartakower

Isn’t this the truth? Every player makes mistakes, and there has yet to be player – human, computer or otherwise – that can come close to playing the game perfectly. It is the mistakes that make chess interesting, though most of us would probably prefer to see more “inaccuracies” than blunders among our moves.

4. “The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.”

This goes hand-in-hand with the last Tartakower quote. Since we can’t expect to play perfectly, we have to simply hope to make fewer mistakes than our opponents – and hope that they err last. A more accurate way of stating what Tartakower is getting at is that the player who makes the second-to-last losing move will win…but that’s not quite as catchy.

5. “Tactics flow from a superior position.” –Bobby Fischer

We’ve all heard that chess is almost entirely about tactics, especially at the lower levels of the game. And it’s true that for amateurs, nearly every game will be decided by a tactical error. But Fischer reminds us that the likelihood of making such an error is based only on our tactical skills; in order to be in position to get the most opportunities to show our tactical prowess, we must first reach good positions where the tactics are likely to favor us (and make finding the correct paths difficult for our opponents).

6. “The pawns are the soul of chess.” –Francois Andre Danican Philidor

This may not be an entirely accurate quote (“the soul of the game” is often quoted instead), but I doubt Philidor would mind our paraphrasing here. It was he, after all, that first acknowledged the overwhelming importance of pawns in a well-played chess game, one in which factors such as pawn structure and small material edges were more likely to determine the winner than major blunders.

7. “Many have become chess masters; no one has become the master of chess.”

This quote from Siegbert Tarrasch is yet another reminder that there is always room for improvement in our chess game. There’s nothing we do perfectly, and chess always provides us with more to learn and study. The incredible depth of this game suggests that even the mightiest computers will have plenty more to figure out for decades, centuries, and perhaps even millennia to come.

8. “Half the variations which are calculated in a tournament game turn out...

"...to be completely superfluous. Unfortunately, no one knows in advance which half.” –Jan Timman

Remember, it’s important to analyze all of your candidate moves, not just the ones that interest you. Timman reminds us that while it is tempting to take shortcuts, there’s no way of knowing whether you’re skipping over the critical line until you take a look at everything.

9. “The hardest game to win is a won game.” –Lasker

Of course, this isn’t literally true: it’s much harder to win when you are dead lost than when you are up a queen. But it is true that one of the most difficult skills to develop as a chess player is the ability to accurately convert wins when you have a small (but sufficient) advantage.

10. “A sacrifice is best refuted by accepting it.” –Wilhelm Steinitz

This quote by Steinitz is often correct even today, as simply allowing your opponent to keep their piece might simply give them a material advantage that can’t be overcome. But this quote is also about the changing of the guard in chess, as Steinitz moved high-level play away from unsound sacrifices to one where accurate play and the accumulation of advantages ruled the day.

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