Friday, August 18, 2006

Chess-playing Nobel Prize winners

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

The Nobel Prize is generally recognized as the highest commendation an individual can receive. It is awarded to people or organizations that have made outstanding contributions to society. Compared to others, the Nobel Prize nomination and selection is a long and rigorous process, and the winners are highly respected.

It is said that all great men play chess. It is not a surprise then that there are a good number of Nobel winners who play chess.

I have already written before about Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat who both won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. Almost everybody knows that Albert Einstein, 1921 Physics winner, was an avid chess player. Another peace awardee was Yasser Arafat in 1994.

For his peace efforts in the Vietnam war, Henry Kissinger won the 1973 peace award, while Willi Brandt won the 1971 award for the relaxation of tensions in eastern and Western Europe .

Samuel Beckett (1969, literature) had a lifelong passion with chess. He played a lot of games with Marcel Duchamp. He gives a move-by-move chess game in “Murphy” and one of his plays is titled “Endgame.”

Elias Canetti (1981, literature) wrote a 1935 book titled “Auto da fe,” in which the main character was a guy named Fischer who wants to become champion of the world. Please note that Bobby Fischer was born in 1943. Strange coincidence.
George Bernard Shaw (1975, literature) once said that “Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time.”

Sinclair Lewis (1930, literature) had such a passion for chess that he hired secretaries to play chess with him during the last years of his life. He is the author of “Main Street” and “Elmer Gantry.”

Robert Robinson (1947, chemistry) was an ardent chess player who was president of the British Chess Federation from 1950-53. He did extensive research on organic chemistry.

William Yeats (1923, literature) wrote that that the subjective goal of chess is self preservation, or more specifically self maintenance, and that it is impossible to win without losing some of one`s own pieces along the way, in an allegory to life.

Gerard Debreu (1983, economics) published his famous monograph, Theory of value: An axiomatic analysis of Economic Equilibrium, which shows that there exists a price system for which the aggregate excess demand correspondence vanishes.

Other chess playing Nobel winners are John Cornforth (1975, chemistry) who did extensive research on organic chemistry; William Golding (literature, 1983), author of “the Lord of the Flies;” Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982, literature), author of a lot of fiction and screenplays in Spanish; Boris Pasternak (literature, 1958), famous for his novel “Dr. Zhivago” and Wolfgang Pauli (physics, 1945), who did extensive research on Quantum Mechanics.

Frederick Soddy (1921, chemistry) did extensive research on radioactivity that proved that transmutation was occurring in radioactive elements. Isaac Singer (literature, 1978) wrote “Satan in Goray,” “Family Moskat” and “The Manor,” and a few dozens more.

John Steinbeck (literature, 1962) is better known for his novels “Of Mice and Men,” ”Grapes of Wrath,” which also won the Pulitzer Prize, and several novels that were made into movies, among them “Cannery Row” and “The Pearl.”

Henryk Sienkiewicz (literature, 1905) is one of the outstanding writers in the second half of the 19th century. Among his novels are “Quo Vadis,” set during the reign of Emperor Nero, which was made into a movie, and “Teutonic Knights.”

Cepca monthly. Mandy Baria, president of the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association, informed me that the August tournament of the club will be on Sunday Aug. 27 at the Bibo Chess Club at 1 p.m. This will also be a thematic tournament.

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