In condemnation of games
Saturday 22 February 1997
An enormous amount of mental energy is expended in this universal craze for bridge with no more tangible results than the exchange of relatively unimportant sums of money. Society as a whole is neither benefited nor damaged by this futile activity. It seems difficult to speak of it as an elevating recreation in the sense of Aristotle's diagoge. Proficiency at bridge is a sterile excellence, sharpening the mentral faculties very one-sidedly without enriching the soul in any way, fixing and consuming a quantity of intellectual energy that might have been better applied. The most we can say, I think, is that it might have been applied worse.
(From: Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga, 1944.)
The passion for playing chess is one of the most unaccountable in the world. It slaps the theory of natural selection in the face. It is the most absorbing of occupations, the least satisfying of desires, an aimless excrescence upon life. It annihilates a man. You have, let us say, a promising politician, a rising artist, that you wish to destroy. Dagger or bomb are archaic, clumsy and unreliable - but teach him, inoculate him with chess ...
I can fancy this abominable hypnotism so wrought into the constitution of men that the cabmen would go trying to drive their horses in Knight's moves up and down Charing Cross Road. And now and again a suicide would come to hand with the pathetic inscription inscribed to his chest: "I checked with the Queen too soon. I cannot bear the thought of it." There is no remorse like the remorse of chess.
(From Certain Personal Matters by HG Wells, 1898.)
Anyone who plays state lotteries for more than casual amusement is imprudent, except in cases where a pot is known to have appreciated through failure to be hit. Otherwise the statistical expectation of gain is a fraction of the price of the ticket ... We can applaud the state lottery as a public subsidy of intelligence, for it yields public income that is calculated to lighten the tax burden of us prudent abstainers at the expense of the benighted masses of wishful thinkers.
(From: Quiddities by W V Quine, 1990)
Whist and Chess
No two classes have been more flattered than the Chess and Whist playing community. We hope that our readers do not fall in with the theory that a Whist player is necessarily a paragon of perfection. In practice, we find Chess players are the vainest of mortals, and we never knew why. We listened to the speeches at the City of London Chess Dinner last month ... Taking it to be true that Chess players have the high qualities that the speakers claimed for them, we asked ourselves how is it that these great qualifites lead nowhere? ... Man was not born to be a Chess Player or Whist player alone; and the moment these games become other than a relaxation for the mind, they become ... a curse rather than a blessing. (The Westminster Papers, 1874)
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