I knew the librarian in a smallish town who was a chess player and so he curated a pretty good set of chess books. One was a collection of chess-themed fiction. I believe this story, from 1953, was in it:


Also a short story called Von Goom's Gambit which was from 1966.

Both of the above originally appeared in scifi magazines which is why I think I read them in a book -- I did not read them in an old magazine.

The book therefore was printed no earlier than 1966 and I suspect was no newer than the mid 1970s.

There have been quite a few chess-themed science fiction or fantasy stories, and even some serious fiction like Nabokov but not so many stories that there could be much more than one such collection. I do think most of the stories in the book were fantasy (the two I listed were) but a third story called Slippery Elm about pre-chess-engine cheating was just humorous (that one was pretty old because the term "vitamin" had to be explained, I think).

The last story that may have been in the collection was called The Three Sailors' Gambit which I also may have encountered elsewhere since its author I think (Lord Dunsany) was pretty famous as a writer. (This story is about a chess "computer" more than a century ago.)

  • 2
    I remember an entire novel set on a giant chessboard with living chess pieces -Alice Thorugh the Looking Glass (1872) - and there is a novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997) which has a scene with a magical chess game. I think that the first "Berserker" story by Fred Saberhagen involved a chess game. I think that there would be enough chess stories for several chess anthologies. Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 20:01
  • @M.A.Golding: The stories in the collection are both shorter and chess is central to them. Berserker is not only about chess nor is the Harry Potter book.
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 20:31
  • Just FYI, Gene Wolfe has a chess themed short story "The Marvelous Brass Chessplaying Automaton" in "Universe 7" in 1977, aslo collected in "Storeys from the Old Hotel"
    – tgdavies
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 9:39
  • "There have been quite a few chess-themed science fiction or fantasy stories, and even some serious fiction like Nabokov but not so many stories that there could be much more than one such collection" I would be quite surprised if that were true. In fact, I would probably be willing to bet money that one can without too much effort find 10 anthology of chess-centred short stories, plus 10 scifi/fantasy chess-centred novels, plus 10 more chess-centred novels in other genres.
    – Stef
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 19:36
  • No idea, but have a very short chess short story. Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 13:18

4 Answers 4


The book "The Chess Companion" (1968) by Irving Chernev contains two of the four stories mentioned in the question: "The Three Sailors Gambit" by Lord Dunsany (which is definitely fantasy), and "Slippery Elm" (which was written by Percival Wilde in 1924, and was reprinted from his collection "Rogues in Clover" 1928). The latter story is a humorous hard boiled detective story in which the antihero enables a man to cheat at chess by passing him the moves written on Slippery Elm pills — there are no science fiction elements in this story).

Cover of The Chess Companion

The story "Slippery Elm" does have a fictitious reference to vitamins. The story (it has 40 pages) revolves around the "Metropolitan Chess Club". It has a member, J. Hampton Hoogestraten, who is intensely annoying to the other members for his vile cigars, for his boasting and for his habit of picking games with weaker players in order to make money off them.

The membership would dearly love to seem him taken down a peg or two. Although the club has strong players who could beat him, it is considered an honour for the best players to even play you. They want Hoogestraten to be humiliated by losing to the weakest player (Reynolds) in the club (whom in actuality Hoogestraten can easily beat).

They hire the services of a detective who sets out to fix the chess match (despite knowing nothing at all about chess). Hoogestraten is easily convinced to challenge Reynolds. They then set out to put Hoogestraten off balance by spreading rumours that Reynolds is practising and starting to beat other players in the club.

"Study — concentrated study, that's how he does it," he explained. ... He doesn't leave the room for his meals: they're brought to his desk — and they consist of nothing but vitamins".

Had Hoogestraten possessed a sense of humor -- which he did not -- he would have seen through the conspiracy on the instance. Instead he inquired nervously, "Where can you get vitamins?"

"Imported from Scotland," answered O'Niell gravely, "they're small animals like squirrels - only furrier."

Ultimately the match goes ahead. In another room they have a Russian grand master, called Niemzo-Zborowski, who is playing along. The master determines the moves for Reynolds and they are passed to him on slippery elm tablets, which he claims he is eating to counter the effects of Hoogestraten's cigars.

After some initial confusion (Reynolds does not understand the Russian chess notation) Reynolds starts to win, but offers a draw when his victory is clear. Hoogestraten is told that he will now be moved to the bottom of the club's rankings since he challenged Reynolds and did not win. Rather than be published in the year book at the very bottom he resigns from the club.

So it is unlikely to be the right answer either, but between these two books you have all four of the stories that you mentioned.

  • @releseabe I'm certain that "Slippery Elm" by Percival Wilde is one of the stories you referred to in the question, but I doubt that "The Chess Companion" is the book you are seeking. I'll edit in a quote from the story about vitamins.
    – user23087
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 15:19
  • Am I the only one confused here? You mentioned one book that contains two of the stories, and then described one story in detail. What are the two books that you mention in the last paragraph? And where do you refer to four stories?
    – Basya
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 11:03
  • The question refers to "Von Goom's Gambit ", The Chessplayers" by C.L. Harness, "The Three Sailors Gambit" by Lord Dunsany and "Slippery Elm by Percival Wilde.. Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 18:56

Could this be Chess in Literature, edited by Marcello Truzzi?

It contains the three stories you've mentioned; Von Goom's Gambit, The Chessplayers and The Three Sailor's Gambit

enter image description here

You can borrow the book for free from Archive.org

  • Hmm. Not to judge a book by its cover, but it does not ring a bell. I will borrow it and see what other stories. Worst case, there is another book with the stories I want to reread.
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 13:22
  • @releseabe - I can't find any other anthology that contains all three stories (or even any book that contains any two in combination)
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 13:28
  • It is probably it and the year is right. Fritz Lieber was a very good chess player by the way, like CA state champ in the 1950s and I guess I forgot he wrote a chess story. The story he should be known for is a trivia question for you: What story of his anticipated a "fashion" accessory that has become the norm in the past couple years?
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 13:34
  • @releseabe The answer to the trivia question is "Pbzvat Nggenpgvba" (rot13). By the way Fritz Lieber's last name is actually spelled Leiber and rhymes with cyber.
    – user14111
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 23:05
  • @user14111 not even close, not sure u were trying\.
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 23:11

The 1975 collection Chess in Literature has the three stories you mention.


I have an early hardback edition of "The Fireside Book of Chess" by Irving Chernev which contains quite a number of stories, although not all the ones mentioned. Some of the ones requested are too recent. It does contain "The Three Sailors Gambit" and a number of pieces of short humor, jokes, witty sayings and anecdotes, as well as interesting games and puzzles. One essay that I particularly remember is entirely alliterative, and begins, IIRC:

Cherished Chess! The charms of thy chequered chambers chain me changelessly!

The edition I have contains "The Royal Game" by Stefan Zweig, which I think was omitted from later editions. Since that book was published, there have been many other notable chess stories, such as "Unicorn Variation" by Roger Zelazny. I know of no single book that contains them all. I have not read "Slippery Elm" and did not know it existed. As M. A. Golding said in a comment, there are enough stories for several anthologies.

  • it is a subtlety but i do not count stories just because chess is mentioned or chess is played. i have not read the unicorn variation -- the story seems to be about the fate of humanity whereas slippery elm is really about chess.
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 15:21
  • I understand. "Unicorn Variation" describes a game of chess and the moves are taken from a very strange game (a Ruy Lopez variant) played in the early 20th century. My answer was simply too long for a comment. I recommend the book.
    – Wastrel
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 15:32
  • maybe unicorn variation counts.
    – releseabe
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 15:35

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