10 Inspiring Chess Quotes From the Masters

Illustration of chess pieces with speech bubbles

Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song

Over the last few centuries, there have been hundreds of incredible quotes about chess. These ten sayings—on everything from making major blunders in chess to the importance of the pawn as a strategic piece—offer wisdom from the masters of the game.

  • 01 of 10

    “Tactics flow from a superior position.”

    Bobby Fischer
    Bobby Fischer David Attie/Getty Images

    - Bobby Fischer

    We’ve all heard that chess is almost entirely about tactics, especially at the lower levels of the game. And it’s true that for amateurs, nearly every game will be decided by a tactical error. But Fischer reminds us that the likelihood of making such an error is based only on our tactical skills; to really show our tactical prowess, we must first reach good positions where the tactics are likely to favor us—and make finding the correct paths difficult for our opponents.

  • 02 of 10

    “Even the laziest king flees wildly in the face of a double check.”

    - Aron Nimzowitsch

    This fun quote is a pithy way of explaining the power of the double check. Since no piece can block two attackers of the same—or capture them—a double check always requires the king to move, if he can.

  • 03 of 10

    “Chess is a fairy tale of 1,001 blunders.”

    - Savielly Tartakower

    Every player makes mistakes, and there has yet to be player—human or computer—who can come close to playing the game perfectly. Mistakes make chess interesting, though most of us would probably prefer to make fewer blunders among our moves.

  • 04 of 10

    “The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.”

    - Savielly Tartakower

    Since we can’t expect to play perfectly, we have to hope to make fewer mistakes than our opponents—and hope that they err last. A simpler way of making this point is that the player who makes the second-to-last losing move will win, but that’s not quite as catchy.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    “When you see a good move, look for a better one.”

    -Emanuel Lasker

    This classic quote from Lasker encapsulates one of the most important lessons every new player struggles to learn. Finding a move that seems sufficient—or even good—does not mean you’re ready to play it. Instead, you must search for the best move for a reasonable amount of time. (What that means is largely dependent on the time control you’re playing with). Only then can you settle for the best move you’ve found so far.

  • 06 of 10

    “The pawns are the soul of chess.”

    - Francois Andre Danican Philidor

    Philidor was the first player to acknowledge the overwhelming importance of pawns in a well-played chess game, where pawn structure and small material edges are more likely to determine the winner than major blunders.

  • 07 of 10

    "Half the variations which are calculated in a tournament game..."

    "...turn out to be completely superfluous. Unfortunately, no one knows in advance which half​."

    - Jan Timman

    It’s important to analyze all of your candidate ​moves, not just the ones that interest you. Timman reminds us that while it is tempting to take shortcuts, there’s no way of knowing whether you’re skipping over the critical line until you take a look at everything.

  • 08 of 10

    “The hardest game to win is a won game.”

    - Emanuel Lasker

    Of course, this isn’t literally true: It’s much harder to win when you are behind than when you are up a queen. But it is true that one of the most difficult skills to develop as a chess player is the ability to convert material advantage into a win.

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  • 09 of 10

    “A sacrifice is best refuted by accepting it.”

    - Wilhelm Steinitz

    Allowing your opponent to keep her piece might give her a material advantage that you can’t overcome. But this quote is also about the changing of the guard in chess, as Steinitz moved high-level play away from unsound sacrifices to one where accurate play and the accumulation of advantages ruled the day.

  • 10 of 10

    “Many have become chess masters; no one has become the master of chess.”

    - Siegbert Tarrasch

    This quote is yet another reminder that there is always room for improvement in our chess game. There’s nothing we do perfectly, and chess always provides us with more to learn and study. The incredible depth of this game suggests that even the mightiest computers will have plenty more to figure out for decades, centuries, and perhaps even millennia.