Chess has been banned numerous times by religious authorities because of an association with gambling. With the exception of the prerevolutionary czarist regime of Russia, few, if any, secular powers have had concern with it. Chess clubs, it feared, were gathering sites for the give-and-take of subversive ideas.
Indeed, leading revolutionaries including Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, as well as many liberal intellectuals were fervent chess players. Trotsky’s very serious interest in chess is subject of an amusing anecdote, probably apocryphal, yet likely containing at least a grain of truth.
During a stay in New York, Trotsky frequented clubs and coffee shops where chess was played.
There is an irresistible account of a chess hustler at a local Brooklyn club learning for the first time of Trotsky’s sensational exploits as commander of the victorious Red Army.
“I don’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head, as he looked up momentarily from the game he was playing.
“Trotsky leading an army? “I could give that patzer the odds of a knight.”
Whatever the truth of our story, Trotsky, like others who carried their chess sets to war – Peter the Great, King Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon and Robert E. Lee among them – was, in fact, an irresistible force on the battlefield.
Was Trotsky’s own immersion in chess a factor?
Below is a win by Magnus Carlsen against Daniil Yuffa from the Qatar. Masters open.