Posted by: gruvenreuven | August 25, 2009

Chess & Torah

The Rebbe & Previous Rebbe Playing ChessIn the mid-70’s, early 80’s during my High School and College years, I was an avid chess player. I studied the game every free moment I had. I played non-stop, and spent may sleepless nights getting ready for tournaments. As a kid, spending my weekends travelling the country playing in National Tournaments was a real hoot. I lived and breathed the game. For all the energy I put into the game however, my only real “Claim to Fame” was probably the 1980 US Open where I tied for 1st in my class.

Unfortunately today I do not get a chance to play Tournament Chess anymore. Tournaments are typically played over a weekend, which would preclude me from playing on Shabbos. Not only that, but I simply do not have the time to devote to the study of the game these days. Regardless, I still love playing the same game that has been played since the 15th century by Kings, Statesmen, Masters, Grandmasters and regular Patzers like me.

Although the rules to the game are exactly as they were in 1475 when the rules of Chess were formalized, our understanding of the game is much deeper in these modern times. This expanded understanding can be attributed to the masters of the game that have preceded us. The various opening strategies all have been worked out over the years though game play and intense study. Although innovations in chess theory continue to be made, we are essentially expounding and refining opening theories laid down by Masters and Grandmasters before us.

Over the years the best responses to various opening moves have been worked out through top level play and published. Today, an amateur player can hold their own (in the opening stage of the game) by simply memorizing opening chess theory. Some believe this is a detriment to the game. There are those like the late former World Chess Champion and noted Anti-Semite Bobby Fischer (yemach shmoy) who proposed a variation to modernize the game.

Fischer proposed that the pieces behind the front line of pawns be placed randomly at the start of each game. This, Fischer said, would eliminate any “Opening Book memorization” advantage a player might have, thus taking the game essentially right to the middle game. An improvement? Modernization? Is this even still Chess?

Fischer’s variation, is simply just that, a variation, a new game unto itself. It is not Chess, but rather “Fischer Random Chess”. Fischer Random Chess, may be based on Chess, It might have some elements of chess, but is simply not Chess. (And most certainly will not be played during the next World Chess Championship)

Although I’ve played Fischer Random Chess, and understand the principles behind why this new game was introduced, I much prefer the beauty of the game of Chess as it has been played throughout the centuries.

The Torah has a similar concept to Torah itself. We learned in parsha Vaetchanan a few weeks ago, as it says in Devarim 4:2, “You shall not add to the words that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it”. In other words it’s not up to us to change the rules of the game, The rules were given to us by Hashem and can only be changed by Hashem, even if in our eyes it “improves or modernizes” the game. Perhaps when Moshiach arrives (May he do so speedily in out days) we will learn if it is permissible to arrange the board as Bishop, King, Knight, Rook, Queen, Rook, Knight, Bishop, (Which I think would make for a Fantastic Fischer Random Chess start position) but until then… 1.e4



  1. […] post: Chess & Torah « Gruven Reuven Tags: chess online, chess players, college, connection, free-moment, killer, leg-open, […]

  2. wow! great lesson and analogy…

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