Of the four greatest players in the last hundred years—Morphy was a failure as a lawyer; Steinitz, the world champion for 28 years, died as a charity patient in the hospital on Wards Island, N.Y.; Capablanca was subsidized by the government of Cuba and did little but flirt and shoot pool when he was not playing chess; and Dr. Alexandre Alekhine, only 15 days before his death, said: "I am completely out of money and I have to make some to buy my cigarets."
Writing in the London Daily Mail 50 years ago, J. Mortimer, the chess editor, remarked: "It will be cheering to know that many people are skillful chess players, though in many instances their brains, in a general way, compare unfavorably with the cogitative faculties of a rabbit."
Several decades later a psychological study of a group of chess players, made by Professor A. F. Cleveland, showed that "a considerable degree of chess skill is possible to one who is mentally deficient in almost any other line."
3) Many chess matches are marred by nervousness and haste.
The temperaments of master chess players vary as widely as those of any other group of people. Far from possessing infinite patience, some of the finest players have lost important games because of fidgeting, haste, impulsiveness and emotional flaws.
Alekhine, considered by many to have been the greatest player of the 20th century, would fidget incessantly at the chess table, smoking a full pack of cigarets during an average game, drinking tea and coffee and eating chocolate. Upon losing a game—which happened rarely—he would sometimes pick up his king and hurl it across the room.
In the world championship match between Steinitz and the German Dr. Emanuel Lasker, the latter demanded a separate table during the 15th game, because Steinitz' noisy sipping of lemonade irritated him. And it is said that Lasker lost a crucial game to Dus-Chotimirsky at St. Petersburg because he was upset at his opponent's pretending to be engrossed in a book of philosophy while the game was in progress.
4) Sportsmanship and good manners are rare in chess tournaments.
We have already noted Smyslov's behavior. Only modern tennis champions seem to be more petulant, vain and childish than the masters of chess.
When Lasker was the world champion, Capablanca issued a challenge for a match, but the terms set by Lasker were so stringent and so favorable to himself that it took the Cuban 10 years before he was able to play Lasker on anything like equal terms.