Chess Jokes: Practical and Otherwise

This blog will begin and end with my two favorite practical chess jokes.  In my recent blog, “What’s Inside YOUR Chess Mind?” I presented 10 chess positions discussed by Aagaard in his book that attempts to gain insight into the minds of chess players. Position 4 arose during a tournament game in Russia between Stern and Kushnitzky in the pivotal year of 1952.  In my first blog I only gave the position.  Here is that position again, along with the moves as they were played out in the actual tournament game.


As you can see the tournament game itself ended in a draw by stalemate.  Or did it?

What actually transpired was a marvelous practical joke.  As Aagaard tells the story, the diagrammed position is only partially correct.  Black actually had another pawn on a6 during the game.  But when Stern stood up to walk around the tournament hall during the game, Kushnitzky noticed that he could play the game to a stalemate if only his a6 pawn was off the board.  

 Hence, Kushnitzky simply removed the troublesome pawn from the board, and Stern did not notice its absence when he returned.  The moves played out during the game are as I have given them in the diagram.  But after the unearned draw, Kushnitzky explained his practical joke and, as a true gentleman would, resigned the game!

But not all chess jokes are of the practical nature, of course.  Some are just plain jokes.  And although most chess jokes that I have been able to uncover are not particularly funny, I did enjoy the following that appears in somewhat different form in Susan Polgar’s chess blog. 

In 1972 a group of Soviet gulag prisoners listened to the first five games of the Fischer-Spassky world championship match on a smuggled radio.   At that point the match was tied at 2.5 points each, and just before game 6 the prison guards discovered the radio, confiscating it before the hapless prisoners could learn the outcome of the match.

Some two weeks later, a new prisoner arrived in the camp.  Eagerly crowding around the newcomer, the prisoners pressed him for the final results of the match, whereupon he sadly replied, “I lost.”

Another joke that may or may not strike you as funny relates a conversation between two friends who meet each other on the street.

“My wife told me that if I go to the chess tournament tomorrow, she’ll take our children and leave me.”

“So what will you do?” inquires his friend.

“e4, as always” was the answer.

Let us return to jokes of the 'practical' nature, which I prefer.  In 2006 at the Corus chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, a nice joke was played on Veselin Topalov by Lauren Verster, a non-chess player who was attending the tournament for the Dutch television show De Wereld Draait Door (The World’s Going Crazy). The former MTV personality, upon arriving at the tournament to interview Topalov, proceeded to challenge him to a game. (photo above)

What was not known to Toplalov at the time is that tournament director Tom Bottema was secretly transmitting moves to Verster, who was wearing a wireless earpiece.  The game concluded when Verster offered the bewildered Topalov a draw in order to avoid playing into the wee hours of the morning. 

We cannot have a chess blog about jokes without something by the inimitable Bill Wall, who provides the world with the following limerick:

In chess, my wife has one ambition
To win under any condition.
But to this date
She has yet to mate
She just can't find the right position.

And finally, another wonderful chess hoax took place a year before the Stern-Kushnitzky game that began this blog.  The perpetrator of this joke was no less than the American champion Frank Marshall. In 1951, Alton Cook related that Marshall once agreed to help a postal player cheat by giving him advice during the course of the game. 

Shortly after they arrived at an arrangement for this ruse, the other player in the same game also approached the famous Marshall for advice.  Marshall, who must have been a marvelously wicked man, agreed to help the second man cheat as well.  In essence, Marshall was playing solitaire chess, using the cheaters to shuffle his pieces on the board, unbeknownst to each other.  The game continued in this manner for many months, with each player wondering how his opponent could play the great Marshall to a draw.

I am certain that many people who read this blog will have their own jokes or stories regarding practical jokes that they would like to share.  Please use the comments section to spread the fun!

 Note:  I thank RetGuvvie98 for correcting my error on the first joke above.  It was Black who had the extra pawn on a6.


  • 7 years ago


    Ive always wanted to meet marshall, just from his pictures he lookes like a fun guy.  great stories.

  • 7 years ago


    gud articlas n only thos person can get sucess wo learn 4m their mistak n check this out

  • 7 years ago


    I think what Darren Brown pulled fits this blog.


  • 7 years ago


    I played 21 moves against GM Ron Henley  (2556) in a simul. I playeda Nimzo-Indian in response to his d4. I had studied this opening, we were book in one variation through 13 moves and i played well for four more moves. I was a provional 1400 at the time. I have to admit that my position, a very closed position with few good choices, to collapse like a house of cards. Ron was nice enough to do a post mortum over a cup of coffee.

  • 7 years ago


    RC_Woods, my claim was that in this game 1300-player could have made white's moves. I still think that's a valid claim. The super GM chose not to present serious problems to the other player and white didn't try anything herself. They could have played an exchange slav and traded all the pieces. That would be mistake free game, but it wouldn't be an indication of surprising playing strength. It's the same here. In order for the joke to work, we (or rather Topalov) would have to be surprised by Verster's playing strength; this game, though flawless, does not such a surprising indication.

    Incidentally, I don't wish to detract anything from this excellent and funny blog by our arcane (though interesting) discussion.

  • 7 years ago


    Matthijs, I think a 1300 player would hardly ever last more than 15 moves against a Super GM. Considering the extraordinary opening knowledge of these guys, you'd have to be booked up well beyond the 1300 level to arrive in the middle game standing ok.

    (This is of course particulary true because, if you are not booked up so well, i'm afraid it would take more than 1300 play to prove your inappropriate novelty as playable to a super GM.)

  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago


    Thanks for the blog, the gulag joke may be the first plain chess joke that I enjoyed.

    I quite liked the idea of the Verster-Topalov game, although it wasn't very original, but I don't find the game a very compelling prop. White didn't really do anything that a 1300 player could not have done and Topalov may not even have noticed that his opponent was stronger than expected when he accepted the draw (which could have been politeness or disinterest or some mixture of the above). The joke would have worked better (at least for a chess-playing audience, which, being a Dutchman, I can assure you, does not comprise a large part of the audience of "De wereld draait door"), if she had played a really sharp Sicilian. Of course that would have required Bottema to use a computer (probably), but that shouldn't really be a problem.

  • 7 years ago


    A chess analyst is someone who tells you on the 11th move why the 8th was incorrect

  • 7 years ago


    Did Topalov find the practical joke funny, or was he offended at having to expend such effort against a prank? I think it's quite funny. Great blog, I love this kind of thing.

  • 7 years ago


    I originally posted the following story on the Old Farts group page, but perhaps it's worthy of wider circulation. I promise you it's true.

    Many, many years ago I was competing in a county under-18 championship. The tournament was held in a school and organisation was a shambles. It's probably harsh to criticise organisers who I'm sure were unpaid volunteers, but the fact was that - for example - rounds started late, not because the players weren't ready but because the organisers didn't get back from the pub in time.

    Anyway, there was a Best Game prize for the tournament, and a witty friend of mine decided to use this to bait the organisers. He copied the moves from a famous grandmaster game between Tal and [? can't remember], full of dazzling sacrifices and reputedly one of the most brilliant games ever played. He then attributed the game to the two weakest players in the most junior section of the tournament, and entered it for the Best Game competition.

    The result? It was awarded second prize!

  • 7 years ago


    On asking Spassky what does he like more sex or chess he replied "It depends from the position" Laughing

  • 7 years ago


    "I lost." haha

  • 7 years ago


    Entertaining as always, kg. I particularly liked the gulag joke.

  • 7 years ago


    This may or may not count as a joke depending on your definition, but I'm certainly reminded of Huebner - Rogoff, Graz 1972:

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