The Morals of Chess
by Benjamin Franklin
The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very
valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life,
are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits
ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have
often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with,
and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that
are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By
playing at Chess then, we may learn:
1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the
consequences that may attend an action; for it is continually
occurring to the player, "If I move this Piece, what will be the
advantage or disadvantage of my new situation? What use can my
adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to
support it, and to defend myself from his attacks?"
2d, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of
action: - the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations;
the dangers they are repeatedly exposed to; the several possibilities
of their aiding each other; the probabilities that the adversary may
make this or that move, and attack this or that Piece; and what
different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its
consequences against him.
3d, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. This habit is best
acquired by observing strictly the laws of the game; such as, if you
touch a Piece, you must move it somewhere; if you set it down, you
must let it stand.
Therefore, it would be the better way to observe these rules, as the
game becomes thereby more the image of human life, and particularly
of war; in which if you have incautiously put yourself into a bad and
dangerous position, you cannot obtain your enemy's leave to withdraw
your troops, and place them more securely, but you must abide by all
the consequences of your rashness.
And lastly, We learn by Chess the habit of not being discouraged by
present bad appearances in the state of our affairs; the habit of
hoping for a favourable chance, and that of persevering in the search
of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety
of turns in it, the fortune of it is so subject to vicissitudes, and
one so frequently, after contemplation, discovers the means of
extricating one's self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty,
that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hopes
of victory from our skill; or, at least, from the negligence of our
adversary: and whoever considers, what in Chess he often sees
instances of, that success is apt to produce presumption and its
consequent inattention, by which more is afterwards lost than was
gained by the preceding advantage, while misfortunes produce more
care and attention, by which the loss may be recovered, will learn
not to be too much discouraged by any present successes of his
adversary, nor to despair of final good fortune upon every little
check he receives in the pursuit of it.
That we may therefore, be induced more frequently to choose this
beneficial amusement in preference to others, which are not attended
with the same advantages, every circumstance that may increase the
pleasure of it should be regarded; and every action or word that is
unfair, disrespectful, or that in any way may give uneasiness, should
be avoided, as contrary to the immediate intention of both the
parties, which is, to pass the time agreeable.
1st, Therefore, if it is agreed to play according to the strict
rules, then those rules are to be strictly observed by both parties;
and should not be insisted upon for one side, while deviated from by
the other: for this is not equitable.
2nd, If it is agreed not to observe the rules exactly, but one party
demands indulgences, he should then be as willing to allow them to
3rd, No false move should ever be made to extricate yourself out of a
difficulty, or to gain an advantage; for there can be no pleasure in
playing with a man once detected in such unfair practice.
4th, If your adversary is long in playing, you ought not to hurry
him, or express any uneasiness at his delay; not even by looking at
your watch, or taking up a book to read: you should not sing, nor
whistle, nor make a tapping with your feet on the floor, or with your
fingers on the table, nor do anything that may distract his
attention: for all these displease, and they do not prove your skill
in playing, but your craftiness and your rudeness.
5th, You ought not to endeavour to amuse and deceive your adversary
by pretending to have made bad moves; and saying you have now lost
the game, in order to make him secure and careless, and inattentive
to your schemes; for this is fraud and deceit, not skill in the game
6th, You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing
or insulting expressions, nor show too much of the pleasure you feel;
but endeavour to console your adversary, and make him less
dissatisfied with himself by every kind and civil expression that may
be used with truth; such as, you understand the game better than I,
but you are a little inattentive, or, you play too fast; or, you had
the best of the game, but something happened to divert your thoughts,
and that turned it in my favour.
7th, If you are a spectator, while others play, observe the most
perfect silence: for if you give advice, you offend both the parties:
him against whom you give it, because it may cause him to lose the
game: him in whose favour you give it, because, though it be good,
and he follow it, he loses the pleasure he might have had, if you
had permitted him to think till it occurred to himself. Even after a
move or moves, you must not, by replacing the Pieces, show how they
might have been placed better; for that displeases, and might
occasion disputes or doubts about their true situation.
All talking to the players lessens or diverts their attention; and
is, therefore, unpleasing; nor should you give the least hint to
either party, by any kind of noise or motion; if you do, you are
unworthy to be a spectator.
If you desire to exercise or show your judgment, do it in playing
your own game, when you have an opportunity, not in criticising or
meddling with, or counselling the play of others.
Lastly, If the game is not to be played rigorously, according to the
rules before mentioned, then moderate your desire of victory over
your adversary, and be pleased with one over yourself.
Snatch not eagerly at every advantage offered by his unskilfulness or
inattention; but point out to him kindly, that by such a move he
places or leaves a Piece en prise unsupported; that by another, he
will put his King into a dangerous situation, &c.
By this general civility (so opposite to the unfairness before
forbidden) you may happen indeed to lose the game; but you will win
what is better, his esteem, his respect, and his affection; together
with the silent approbation and the good will of the spectators.
When a vanquished player is guilty of an untruth to cover his
disgrace, as "I have not played so long, - his method of opening the
game confused me, - the men were of an unusual size," etc all such
apologies, (to call them no worse) must lower him in a wise person's
eyes, both as a man and a Chess-player; and who will not suspect that
he who shelters himself under such untruths in trifling matters, is
no very sturdy moralist in things of greater consequence, where his
fame and honour are at stake? A man of proper pride would scorn to
account for his being beaten by one of these excuses, even were it
true; because they have all so much the appearance, at the moment, of