A Fictitious Chess Book

Edward Winter



The extensive presentation of ‘sophisticated’ journalistic and political comment in Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow (London, 2004) merely underscores the authors’ naivety about, and indifference to, (pre-Fischer) chess history. An example of their unquestioning reproduction of chess-lore chestnuts long since refuted comes on page 24:

‘… a German book, Instructions to Spectators at Chess Tournaments, containing three hundred blank pages followed by the words “SHUT UP”.’

Why is that there? Because on page 79 of Bobby Fischer’s Conquest of the World’s Chess Championship Reuben Fine wrote:

‘A German wit in fact once wrote a book entitled Instructions to Spectators at Chess Tournaments. The book consisted of three hundred blank pages and one other page on which was written: KEEP QUIET.’

However, as discussed in C.N.s 857 and 884 (see page 121 of Chess Explorations) the German publication was no more than ‘a little pamphlet’.

(3099)

In C.N. 884 the ‘little pamphlet’ was identified as Regeln für Nichtmitspieler, published by Adolf Roegner of Leipzig. Does any reader possess a copy?

(3287)

The story so far of the alleged ‘Halt’s Maul/Hold your tongue’ publication can be told in a chronological sequence of four quotations:

i) From page 334 of the International Chess Magazine, November 1885:

‘The enterprising publisher, Herr Adolph Roegner of Leipzic [sic], has launched, under the title Regeln für Nichtmitspieler, a little pamphlet of rules for spectators, which may be recommended for its brevity if not perhaps for pertinence. The whole code is condensed, after the title page, in the two words “Halt’s Maul” (“Hold your tongue”).’

ii) From page 10 of Curious Chess Facts by Irving Chernev (New York, 1937):

‘A book published in German whose title is “Advice to Spectators at Chess Tournaments” is completely blank with the exception of one page. On this page there are but two words: “Halt’s Maul” (“Keep your mouth shut”).’

iii) From page 121 of Lessons from My Games by Reuben Fine (New York, 1958):

‘A well-known German joke tells of a Handbook for Spectators at Chess Tournaments which consisted of several hundred pages. All were blank except one, which had printed on it in block letters: KEEP QUIET.’

iv) From page 79 of Bobby Fischer’s Conquest of the World’s Chess Championship by R. Fine (New York, 1973):

‘A German wit in fact once wrote a book entitled Instructions to Spectators at Chess Tournaments. The book consisted of three hundred blank pages and one other page on which was written: KEEP QUIET.’

The progression from ‘a little pamphlet’ to ‘three hundred blank pages’ is notable, and we are still looking for the publication in question. In the meantime, a few leads can be set out here.

Adolf Roegner (1855-1910) was a chess dealer, and one catalogue issued by him was the subject of a news feature on page 169 of the June 1884 Deutsche Schachzeitung. Among the items listed as available from Roegner was ‘Spielregeln für Nichtmitspieler’:

‘Adolf Roegner’s Centralstelle für Schachbedarf, Albertstrasse 11 [Leipzig], hat nunmehr einen ausführlichen Preiscourant erscheinen lassen, auf welchen wir das Schachpublicum aufmerksam machen: derselbe enthält auf acht Seiten Verzeichniss von Spiel-Garnituren, Schachbreter Control-Uhren, Kautschuk-Stempel, Diagramme etc., Schachbriefpapier (allerliebst!), Spielregeln für Nichtmitspieler, Bilder …’

We also note that the chess library in The Hague holds (item L/N 44) a copy of Roegner’s 40-page ‘Haupt-Katalog’ dated 1885 (i.e. the year in which the above-quoted report appeared in the International Chess Magazine). It remains to be ascertained whether the catalogue mentions ‘Spielregeln für Nichtmitspieler’.

Finally, we have found that Roegner had already referred to ‘Halt’s Maul’ some five years previously, in a speech at the chess club of Nuremberg, his native city. The text of his address (entitled ‘Der Schachspieler, psychologisch betrachtet’) was published on pages 225-232 of the August 1880 Deutsche Schachzeitung, and page 231 contained the following passage:

‘Ebenso störend, wenn nicht störender, als die Nichtbeachtung des pièce touchée ist für den Spieler, nicht zu verwechseln mit “Schieber”, das unverfrorene Einreden in die Partie. Wir glauben hier die in München in dritter verbesserter Auflage erschienenen “Spielregeln für Nichtmitspieler” einschalten zu sollen. Sie lauten: “§1-101: Halt’s Maul!”.

Roegner’s speech seems to have been light-heartedly referring to a fictitious Munich publication, but in any case his words are not easy to translate into English. Below is our attempt:

‘A practice which for players – not to be confused with “plodders” – is at least as bothersome as non-observance of the touched-piece rule is unabashed butting-in during a game. Here we consider that the “Rules for non-participants”, published in a third revised edition in Munich, should be brought into play. They read: “§1-101: Hold your tongue!”.’

Pending further efforts to find out more about the ‘Halt’s Maul’ publication, we conclude with a portrait of Adolf Roegner:

roegner

(3356)

Irving Chernev also related the episode on page 18 of Chess Review, October 1933, and on page 7 of Wonders and Curiosities of Chess (New York, 1974). The text by Reuben Fine in Lesson from My Games can be found too on page 206 of the July 1958 Chess Review.



We have obtained from the Cleveland Public Library a copy of the Adolf Roegner item. It comprises one folded cover page and one folded page inside, i.e.:

Front-cover (with the title Spielregeln für Nicht-Mitspieler)
Inside front-cover: blank
Title page: same as the front cover
Reverse of title-page: blank
Printed page (‘Halt’s Maul’)
Reverse of that page: blank
Inside back-cover: blank
Back-cover: list of items from Roegner’s chess business and a chess diagram.

Below are the cover page, text page and back cover:

roegner

roegner

roegner

Under the title comes a reference reminiscent of Adolf Roegner’s remark in his light-hearted 1880 speech (C.N. 3356): ‘vierzehnte verbesserte Auflage’ (i.e. ‘14th revised edition’).

This, then, is the work which Reuben Fine described (in Bobby Fischer’s Conquest of the World’s Chess Championship, page 79) as consisting of ‘three hundred blank pages and one other page on which was written: KEEP QUIET’.

(3415)

C.N. 3356 commented:

‘We also note that the chess library in The Hague holds (item L/N 44) a copy of Roegner’s 40-page “Haupt-Katalog” dated 1885 ... It remains to be ascertained whether the catalogue mentions “Spielregeln für Nichtmitspieler”.’

Now Joost van Winsen (Silvolde, the Netherlands) has kindly supplied a copy of the relevant part of the catalogue (page 36):

roegnerroegner

roegner

(5023)

From page 24 of Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow (London, 2004):

chess

At the start of an article entitled ‘The Mystery of the Chess Spectator’ on pages 80-83 of the 1/2016 New in Chess Mr Edmonds has rightly dispensed with his claim about a ‘book ... containing three hundred blank pages’:

chess

Another chess poser is why any writer would use the words ‘It is said that there was once ...’, and especially on a matter where the facts have been clearly established.


(9721)

From page 81 of Lasker’s Chess Magazine, December 1905:

‘A book of extensive proportions has recently been published in Leipzig containing rules for the guidance of persons who may be spectators of games of chess. The entire contents of the book are the two words “Halt’s Maul” (hold your tongue).’



Latest update: 26 March 2016.

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