The Morals of Chess
by Dr. Benjamin Franklin
written in 1750
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
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
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 agreeably.
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.
2d, 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
3d, 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 things 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," 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 being untrue.