Chess in Literature

By Bill Wall


Woody Allen, a chess player himself, wrote a humorous article on correspondence chess, called The Gossage-Vardebedian. Papers.  It appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1966.  See


Poul Anderson wrote a science fiction article on chess called The Immortal Game, which appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction in February, 1954.


Isaac Asimov mentioned chess in Pebble in the Sky, published in 1950.  The story mentions that chess has not changed except for the names of the pieces.  Schwartz and Grew play a 50 game chess match.  Grew mentioned other variations of chess.


Samuel Beckett (1969 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) wrote a play called Endgame in 1957.  It used chess as a controlling metaphor.  In another book, Murphy, written in 1935, a male nurse plays chess in a mental hospital with one of his patients.


Ronan Bennett wrote Zugzwang, a chess novel, written in 2007.  It was written in weekly installments for the British Sunday newspaper The Observer.  It centers around the 1914 St. Petersburg Chess International Tournament.  The book opens with the murder of a newspaper editor names Gulko.


Ambrose Bierce wrote a story surrounding chess called Moxon’s Master, published in 1893.  See


Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote The Chessmen of Mars in 1922.  See


Elias Canetti (1981 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) wrote Auto-da-Fe in 1935.  The character Fischerling is a world class chess player.


John Caris wrote the Reality Inspector in 1982 with a chess theme.  Computer hacking occurs at the Federal Reserve Bank while a world championship chess match is the backdrop.


Lewis Carrol wrote Through the Looking Glass in 1872 with a few chess references and the Red Queen.  Alice sees chessmen moving on a big chess board.


Arthur C. Clarke mentioned chess in his short story Quarantine, first published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Spring 1977.   See


Alexander Cockburn wrote Idle Passion: Chess and the Dance of Death in 1974.


Bryce Courtenay wrote The Power of One in 1989, with references to chess.  The doctor in the book is a chess player.


Lord Dunsany wrote The Three Sailor’s Gambit, which was published in The Smart Set in 1916.  See


T.S. Eliot (1948 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) wrote the Waste Land in 1922.  One of the chapters (chapter 2) is called “A Game of Chess.”


William Faulkner (1949 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) wrote a book called Knight’s Gambit, with six mystery stories, written in 1949.


Ian Fleming mentions chess in Moonraker, published in 1955.  He also has a chess scene in From Russia with Love, written in 1957.


Antony Glyn wrote The Dragon Variation in 1969, which has a chess theme.


William Golding (1983 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) wrote Lord of the Flies in 1954.  One of the quotes from the novel is “The only trouble was that he would never be a very good chess player.”


Robert Heinlein wrote The Rolling Stones in 1952.  It was about a kid who played chess and could see what the other person was thinking.


Hermann Hesse (1946 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) wrote Steppenwolf in 1929.  One of the chapters is called “The Chess Player.”  The novel mentions a gifted chess player.


Frances Parkinson Keyes wrote The Chess Players in 1960, centered around Paul Morphy.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) mentions chess in several of his works.  In Love in the Time of Cholera, written in 1989, the doctor and his friend plays chess until his friend commits suicide.


Paolo Maurensig wrote The Luneberg Variation in 1993, which has a chess theme.


Vladimir Nabokov wrote The Defense (Zashchita Luzhina or Luzhin’s Defense) in 1930.  In 1955, he wrote Lolita where the main character Humbert plays chess.


Katherine Neville wrote The Eight in 1988 with a chess theme.  It is about a computer expert searching for a chess set that belonged to Charlemagne.


George Orwell has several references of chess and a Chess Committee in 1984.


Arturo Perez-Reverte wrote The Flanders Panel, written in 2004, with a chess theme.


Joanne K. Rowling mentions wizard chess in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, written in 2004.


Fred Saberhagen wrote Pawn to Infinity in 1982 with a chess theme.


William Shakespeare mentions chess in The Tempest.


Henryk Sienkiewicz (1905 Nobel Prize in Literature winner) wrote about chess in several of his works such as The Knights of the Cross and With Fire and Sword.


Isaac Singer (1978 Nobel Prize in Literature) had a chess prodigy character in his book Shadows of the Hudson, written in 1997.


Grandmaster Andy Soltis wrote Los Voraces, 2019: A Chess Novel. 


Walter Tevis wrote The Queen’s Gambit in 1984.


Kurt Vonnegut has a short story with a chess theme in the short story “All the King’s Horses,” from Welcome to the Monkey House, written in 1998.


Charles Yaffe wrote Alekhine’s Anguish: A Novel of the Chess World in 1999.


Stefan Zweig wrote The Royal Game in 1941.  One of the passengers on a ship is the world chess champion.  The other chess player is Dr. B, who beats the world champion.  In the return match, the champion plays as slowly as possible, driving Dr.B. mad.