Superstition in Chess


Last week at the Marshall Chess Club, Jay Bonin wielded the sword and shield that brought the New York Knights enough luck for them to make it to the semifinals of the US Chess League, but not enough luck to get them to the finals.

Is there really luck in chess, the consummate game of skill? Of course, there is. I’m lucky if my opponent slept poorly the night before my game. I’m lucky if he plays the one sequence of opening movies that I studied for hours before the game. I’m lucky if he blunders horribly in a position that he could otherwise have won (although maybe I helped cause the blunder by creating so many problems for him at the chessboard that I wore hi down).

In King’s Gambit, I write about superstitions at the board. Players who insist in wearing their lucky T-shirt or underwear or keeping score with the same special pen. World champion Anatoly Karpov was famous for not washing his hair when he was on a winning streak. Grandmaster Nigel Short said of Karpov: “Unfortunately, he had long tournaments where he never lost a game—the guy got greasy.”

Care to share your chess superstitions, or special rituals before the game?

6 Responses to “Superstition in Chess”

  1. Atomic Patzer Says:

    It was nice meeting you on the 13th and thanks for signing my books. it was a fun evening.

    What I do before and after a tournament has become a ritual with me. Before the event, I like to get a pork-roll, egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast at a place near me in Trenton NJ and listen to real rockin’ music to set the mood. After the event, I get pizza (even though I’m on a low carb diet) to celebrate or to feed my depression.

  2. paulhoffman Says:

    As for the eating habits of three of the New York Knights before their matches, Pascal Charbonneau and Irina Krush dine at Piadina, an Italian restaurant down the street from the Marshall Chess Club. Jay Bonin usually has Chinese food just around the corner from the Marshall.

  3. Irvin Says:

    I have followed the same ritual for the last 10 years or so:

    Before any tournament I attend, weak or strong, I make sure to be in good spirits (this is specialy important if I want to enjoy the experience). Then I arrive with a full stomach, pace around a bit, saying hello to a few friends, watch the games for 45 minutes, remind myself once again that chess for a 47-year old run-of-the-mill master like me is a total waste of time and not a very pleasant experience.

    When it comes to chess, watching others suffer has become a very pleasurable activity!

    Seriously, though, Paul: I just finished your book and would love to talk about a few subjects in that book. You’re invited any time you’re in NY. Please, let me know…

  4. Robert Bonin Says:

    The one thing that may help is to avoid sex the night before a morning game. As with many other pursuits, sex can tire one out more than he/she thinks and it could effect game performance and concentration.

  5. paulhoffman Says:

    I write in King’s Gambit about different players’ views on whether sex before chess helps or hinders. The late Aleksander Wojtkiewicz told me that it depended on what kind of sex. Good sex, he said, could make a player more creative at the board.

  6. pollychess Says:

    Now that my chess seems to suck no matter what I do I’ve given up on superstitions in chess. 🙂 However I’ll admit to the following happening at times in the past:

    If I’d win facing one direction in the playing room, I’ll continue to play facing in that direction until I lose. If I lose I’d change directions in the next round. If I lost seated in both directions then I’d ignore taht ritual.

    BMR (Before Mon Roi) I would have lucky pens, or lucky colors of ink. Red was by far my most unlucky color of ink. I think I lost almost every game I ever played that was notated in red ink. Variations on red such as orange or pink were iffy. Blue, green and black were safer ink choices.

    I can’t say I have a lucky shirt. I have many chess themed blouses and sweaters. You may not have noticed, but I was wearing one of them at your Marshall CC book signing. Since I wear different ones to various tournaments it’s hard to say if I have better luck wearing one versus another.

    I do have some particular chess pins that I like to wear to tournaments. I feel naked if I don’t have at least one of them on my collar, or lapel. However I don’t feel they bring me luck or jinx me.

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