"The Morals of Chess" by Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin: “On the Morals of Chess” (1786)


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 or

strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.

1. 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 advantages or disadvantages 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?

2. Circumspection, which surveys the whole chessboard, or scene of action; the

relations of the several pieces and situations, the dangers they are respectively

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 the other

piece, and what different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its

consequences against him.

3. 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. And it is

therefore best that these rules should be observed, as the game becomes

thereby more the image of human life, and particularly of war . . .

And lastly, we learn by Chess the habit of not being discouraged by present

appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favourable change,

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 sudden

vicissitudes, and one so frequently, after long 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 own

skill, or at least of getting a stalemate from the negligence of our adversary . . .

If your adversary is long in playing, you ought not to hurry him, or express any

uneasiness at his delay. You should not sing, nor whistle, nor look at your watch,

not take up a book to read, nor make a tapping with your feet on the floor, or with

your fingers on the table, nor do anything that may disturb his attention. For all

these things displease; and they do not show your skill in playing, but your

craftiness or your rudeness.

You ought not to endeavour to amuse and deceive your adversary, by pretending

to have made bad moves, and saying that 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.

You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing or insulting

expression, nor show too much pleasure; but endeavour to console your

adversary, and make him less dissatisfied with himself, by every kind of 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.'

If you are a spectator while others play, observe the most perfect silence. For, if

you give advice, you offend both parties, him against whom you give it, because

it may cause the loss of his game, him in whose favour you give it, because,

though it be good, and he follows it, he loses the pleasure he might have had, if

you had permitted him to think until it had 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 may occasion disputes and doubts about

their true situation. All talking to the players lessens or diverts their attention, and

is therefore unpleasing.

Lastly, if the game is not to be played rigorously, according to the rules above

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 in danger and unsupported; that by another he will put

his king in a perilous situation, etc. By this generous civility (so opposite to the

unfairness above forbidden) you may, indeed, happen to lose the game to your

opponent; but you will win what is better, his esteem, his respect, and his

affection, together with the silent approbation and goodwill of impartial