Albert Einstein and Chess
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was born at Ulm in Wurttemberg, Germany, on March 14, 1879. The family moved to Munich in 1880. He may have first played chess in Munich. In 1936, he did tell a reporter that he played chess as a boy. He grew up in Munich, but left at age 15 when his parents moved to Italy in 1894. His parents then sent him to Switzerland to finish secondary school, which he completed in 1896.
In 1896 he renounced his German citizenship and enrolled in a Swiss technical school. He graduated with a teaching diploma in 1900 and became a Swiss citizen in 1901.
In 1902 he had an illegitimate daughter (Lieserl) with Mileva Maric, a Serbian classmate and mathematician. Einstein could not find a teaching post. Someone helped him get a job at the Swiss Patent Office as an assistant examiner.
He married Mileva in 1903. In 1904 his first son, Hans Albert, was born. Hans Albert was a chess player. Dr. Hans Albert Einstein died in 1973.
In 1905, at the age of 25, he received his doctorate after submitting his dissertation “On a new determination of molecular dimensions.” That same year he wrote articles on Brownian motion, the photoelectric effect, special relativity, and energy equivalency. The paper on the photoelectric effect later won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
In 1908, Dr. Einstein was licensed in Berne, Switzerland as a teacher and lecturer.
In 1910, he second son, Eduard, was born. Eduard suffered from Schizophrenia and is not known to have played chess. Eduard died in 1965.
In 1913, Albert Einstein supposedly played this game.
Einstein – Sell, Zurich 1913
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 O-O 8.e5 Ne4 9.Bd3 Nxc3 10.bxc3 Bxc3+ 11.Kf1 Bxa1 12.Bxh7+ Kh8 13.Ng5 g6 14.h4 Kg7 15.h5 Rh8 16.hxg6 fxg6 17.Qf3 Qf8 18.Ne6+ dxe6 19.Bh6+ 1-0
In 1914 Einstein moved to Berlin as a professor at the local university and became a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. He also served as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics.
In 1915 he presented a series of lectures on the theory of general relativity.
In October1918, Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941) and Albert Einstein first met at the home of Einstein’s friend and biographer, Alexander Moszkowski (1851-1934), also a chess player. Einstein wrote to his mother, Pauline, “Recently I made the acquaintance of the chess master Lasker, a small, fine gentleman with a sharply cut profile and a Polish-Jew, yet genteel manner. He has been world champion in chess playing for 25 years and is a mathematician and philosopher to boot. He stayed contentedly seated until 12 o’clock, even though a great tournament awaited him the next day.” Lasker won that tournament in Berlin ahead of Rubinstein, Schlechter, and Tarrasch. Lasker had been living in Berlin since 1908.
Einstein and Lasker become more closely acquainted with each other on walks together. Einstein wrote about those walks “during which we exchanged our opinions on a great variety of issues. It was a somewhat one-sided exchange, in which I was more the taker than the giver; for it was mostly more natural for this eminently productive person to develop his own thoughts than to adjust to those of someone else.
In 1919 he divorced Mileva and married his first cousin, Elsa Einstein. At age 43, she was 3 years older than him (he was now 40).
In 1920, Einstein said there were but 12 men in the world who understood what he was talking about in regard to relativity. Emanuel Lasker was a critic of the theory of relativity at the time. Lasker thought Einstein’s theory of relativity was wrong and that the speed of light was limited due to particles in space. Lasker did not think there was a perfect vacuum.
In 1921 Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the photoelectric effect.
In 1927 Einstein and Emanuel Lasker were living in Berlin and they became good friends. Lasker lived virtually around the corner from the Einsteins, at Aschaffenburgerstrasse No, 6a, in the Schoeneberg district of Berlin.
In December 1928 Einstein wrote to Dr. Emanuel Lasker, congratulating him on his 60th birthday. Einstein wrote, “Emanuel Lasker is one of the strongest minds I ever met in my life. A Renaissance man, gifted with an untamable urge for liberty; averse to any social bonds…. As a genuine individualist and self-willed soul, he loves deduction; and inductive research leaves him cold…. I love his writings, irrespective of their content of truth, as the fruits of a great original and free mind.”
In 1931 a pamphlet was written called One Hundred Authors Against Einstein. One of the authors was Emanuel Lasker.
Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933 and there was a nationalist hatred of Einstein, accusing him of creating “Jewish physics.” Einstein then fled Germany and was given permanent residence in the United States. He accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He was 54 years old when he first arrived in the USA. The director of the Institute was Dr. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967). Emanuel Lasker also fled Berlin about the same time that Einstein left, but went to the Soviet Union. Both of their homes were ransacked by the Nazis.
Einstein was an amateur chess player. He played chess with his neighbors and friends. He always had a chessboard set up at home. He was probably most active in chess in the late 1920s and early 1930s. However, he was not enthusiastic about chess. In the 1940s, Einstein told freelance writer Peter Bucky, “I do not like this kind of struggle. The reasons for my dislike in chess are, above all, ethical concerns. Namely, the main goal of the game is to beat the opponent by applying different tricks and deception.” (Peter Bucky, The Private Albert Einstein, p. 213).
In 1934 Einstein visited friends and relaxed with a game of chess. When he met children, he asked them if they liked music or could they play chess. He would occasionally teach a child the basics of chess, then tell that child to practice, then would play that child a game of chess the next time they met.
On March 28, 1936, an article appeared in the New York Times called “New Chess Theory Not for Einstein.” In an interview, he said, “I do not play any games. There is no time for it. When I get through work I don’t want anything which requires the working of the mind.” Einstein preferred playing the violin and sailing. Einstein did say he played chess as a boy.
In 1937, Einstein’s second wife, Elsa, died.
In 1938, Paul Nemenyi (1895-1952), a Jewish Hungarian scientist, fled to America and headed to Princeton to consult with Albert Einstein. He found a job working for Einstein’s son, Hans Albert, at the University of Iowa’s hydrology lab. There are strong indications that Nemenyi is the biological father of Bobby Fischer. He met Bobby Fischer’s mother, Regina, in 1942, at the University of Colorado.
In 1939 Einstein met Dr. Edward Teller (1908-2003). Teller was an avid chess player, but there is no indication they played chess.
In 1940, Emanuel Lasker wrote a book called Community of the Future. An exchange of letters survives in which Lasker asked Einstein to write a preface to his book. Einstein refused the request, saying “my views diverge on such important points from the ones you argue that I cannot support the book with a good conscience.” Some of Lasker’s idea of a ideal society was to have Jews immigrate to Alaska and erect camps to train people for the job market. Einstein did not agree with these ideas.
Einstein became an American citizen in 1940 at the age of 61. He also maintained his Swiss citizenship.
In 1947, a movie was made called The Beginning or the End. There is a scene in which a group of scientists go to the home of Albert Einstein (played by Ludwig Stossel). Einstein is seated by the fireplace with a chessboard and men on the coffee table.
Einstein died on April 18, 1955 at the age of 76.
Einstein knew Edward Lasker (1885-1981). On one occasion, Edward Lasker visited Einstein at Princeton and gave him an autographed copy of his book Go and Gomoku, written in 1934. Einstein, in return, gave Edward Lasker an autographed copy of one of his papers on relativity. The book given to Einstein later showed up in a Baltimore used bookstore. When someone told Edward Lasker about this, Lasker replied, “That’s all right. I left his relativity paper on the subway.” Einstein did not like Go at all because the similarity to military tactics. In the 1930s, Go was being played more and more at Princeton where Einstein lectured, and he must have seen the trend.
Einstein thanked Edward Lasker for his book, but then asked, “You are obviously an intelligent man; clearly a great deal of work went into this book. But why for such a trivial and unimportant topic?” Edward Lasker replied, “A friend of mine recently said the following, and I must say I agree with it: ‘We are born and we die, and in between these two events of a lifetime, there is a lot of time that must be wasted. Now, whether it is wasted by doing mathematics, practicing law, or playing games, it is really quite insignificant.’” Ed Lasker was quoting Clarence Darrow. In 1951 Einstein met a Go grandmaster from Japan and told the interpreter that he (Einstein) did not know much about Go.
Einstein is quoted as saying that “chess grips its exponent, shakling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom and independence of even the strongest character cannot remain unaffected.”
Einstein also said, “I always dislike the fierce competitive spirit embodied in [chess].”
Einstein wrote a preface to a posthumous biography of Emanuel Lasker, Emanuel Lasker, The Life of a Chess Master, published by Dr. Jacques Hannak in 1952 (written in German in 1942). Barnie Winkelman wrote to Einstein to see if he would write an introduction to Hannak’s book for an English edition. Einstein replied back with this forward.
Emanuel Lasker was undoubtedly one of the most interesting people I came to know in my later years. We must be thankful to those who have penned the story of his life for this and succeeding generations. For there are few men who have had a warm interest in all the great human problems and at the same time kept their personality so uniquely independent.
I am not a chess expert and therefore not in a position to marvel at the force of mind revealed in his greatest intellectual achievement – in the field of chess. I must even confess that the struggle for power and the competitive spirit expressed in the form of an ingenious game have always been repugnant to me.
I met Emanuel Lasker at the house of my old friend, Alexander Moszkowski, and came to know him well in the course of many walks in which we exchanged opinions about the most varied questions. It was a somewhat one-sided exchange, in which I received more that I gave. For it was usually more natural for this eminently productive man to shape his own thoughts than to busy himself with those of another.
To my mind, there was a tragic note in his personality, despite his fundamentally affirmative attitude towards life. The enormous psychological tension, without which nobody can be a chess master, was so deeply interwoven with chess that he could never entirely rid himself of the spirit of the game, even when he was occupied with philosophic and human problems. At the same time, it seemed to me that chess was more a profession for him than the real goal of his life. His real yearning seems to be directed towards scientific understanding and the beauty inherent only in logical creation, a beauty so enchanting that nobody who has once caught a glimpse of it can ever escape it.
Spinoza’s material existence and independence were base on the grinding of lenses; chess had an analogous role in Lasker’s life. But Spinoza was granted a better fate, because his occupation left his mind free and untroubled, while, on the other hand, the chess playing of a master ties him to the game, fetters his mind and shapes it to a certain extent so that his internal freedom and ease, no matter how strong he is, must inevitably be affected. In our conversations and in the reading of his philosophical books, I always had that feeling. Of these books, “The Philosophy of the Unattainable” interested me the most; the book is not only very original, but it also affords a deep insight into Lasker’s entire personality.
Now I must justify myself because I never considered in detail, either in writing or in our conversations, Emanuel Lasker’s critical essay on the theory of relativity. It is indeed necessary for me to say something about it here because even in his biography, which is focused on the purely human aspects, the passage which discusses the essay contains something resembling a slight reproach. Lasker’s keen analytical mind had immediately clearly recognized that the central point of the whole question is that the velocity of light (in a vacuum) is a constant. It was evident to him that, if this constancy were admitted, the relative of time could not be avoided. So what was there to do? He tried to do what Alexnder, whom historians have dubbed “the Great,” did when he cut the Gordian knot. Lasker’s attempted solution was based on the following idea: “Nobody has any immediate knowledge of how quickly light is transmitted in a complete vacuum, for even in interstellar space there is always a minimal quantity of matter present under all circumstances and what holds there is even more applicable to the most complete vacuum created by man to the best of his ability. Therefore, who has the right to deny that its velocity in a really complete vacuum is infinite?”
To answer this argument can be expressed as follows: “It is, to be sure, true that nobody has experimental knowledge of how light is transmitted in a complete vacuum. But it is as good as impossible to formulate a reasonable theory of light according to which the velocity of light is affected by minimal traces of matter which is very significant but at the same time virtually independent of their density.” Before such a theory, which moreover, must harmonize with the known phenomena of optics in an almost complete vacuum, can be set up, it seems that every physicist must wait for the solution of the above-mentioned Gordian knot – if he is not satisfied with the present solution. Moral: a strong mind cannot take place of delicate fingers.
But I liked Lasker’s immovable independence, a rare human attribute, in which respect almost all, including intelligent people, are mediocrities. And so I let matters stand that way.
I am glad that the reader will be able to get to know this strong and, at the same time, find and lovable personality from his sympathetic biography, but I am thankful for the hours of conversation which this ever striving, independent, simple man granted me.
Here is a game attributed to Albert Einstein. The game was first published in Freude am Schach (The Pleasure of Chess) by Gerhard Henschel in 1959.
Albert Einstein – Oppenheimer, Princeton 1933
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Nf6 6.O-O Nxe4 7.Re1 d5 8.a4?! [8.d3] b4?! [8...Bc5] 9.d3 Nc5?! [9...Nf6] 10.Nxe5 Ne7 11.Qf3 [threatening 12.Qxf7 mate] f6? [11...Be6] 12.Qh5+! g6 13.Nxg6! hxg6 [13...Rg8 14.Nxe7+ Kd7 15.Qxd5+ Ke8 16.Qxg8] 14.Qxh8 Nxb3 15.cxb3 Qd6? [15...Kf7] 16.Bh6 Kd7 17.Bxf8 Bb7 18.Qg7 Re8 19.Nd2 c5 20.Rad1 [or 20.Re2] a5 21.Nc4! dxc4 [21...Qc7 22.Bxe7] 22.dxc4 Qxd1 23.Rxd1+ Kc8 24.Bxe7 1-0
Some have attributed the above game to Albert Einstein’s son, Hans Albert (1904-1969), and played at Berkeley in 1945 where Hans taught. But Hans Albert did not play chess. There is no indication that J. Robert Oppenheimer was in Berkeley in 1945. He was either at Los Alamos, New Mexico or Princeton, New Jersey in 1945. He was at Berkeley from 1929 to 1933.
Andy Soltis, writing in the July, 1979 issue of Chess Life on page 372 in an article called “Science at Play” says this game was apparently played in the late 1940s when Hans Albert Einstein, son of Albert Einstein, and Robert Oppenheimer were both on the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley.
Another source says that Black was not Robert Oppenheimer the physicist, but Max Oppenheimer (1885-1954), the European artist.
– Bill Wall