The Chess Lives of Fritz Leiber and George R.R. Martin

Two sf writers recently in the news for their chess prowess as well as their storytelling are Fritz Leiber and George R.R. Martin.

Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber

The article “Literary Chess – The Stories of Fritz Leiber” appears in the August issue of Chess Life, published by the U.S. Chess Federation. Unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall but his fans should be able to guess what it’s about. Leiber, a chess player with a very respectable rating, featured the game in his stories “The Dreams of Albert Moreland” (1945), “The Moriarty Gambit” (1962), “Midnight in the Mirror World” (1964), “The 64-Square Madhouse” (1966) and “Midnight by the Morphy Watch” (1974).

The “64-Square Madhouse” notably involved a human playing against a machine programmed by a psychologist to “read” its opponents. “Midnight by the Morphy Watch” was inspired by a presentation watch made for 19th-century chess genius Paul Morphy.


George R.R. Martin, when in Switzerland promoting Game of Thrones prior to Loncon 3, gave an interview to The Independent. Martin noted that his youthful enthusiasm for chess – he was rated an expert, one step below master – led to the day job that supported his early writing career.

“The importance of chess to me was not as a player but as a tournament director. In my early 20s, I was writing. I sold a few short stories. My big dream was to be a full-time writer and support myself with my fiction but I wasn’t making enough money to pay my rent and pay the phone bill – so I had to have a day job.”

In 1972, Bobby Fischer did Martin a huge favour by winning the world chess championship. “Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky in Reykjavík and won – and the entire American chess community went nuts!”

On the back of Fischer’s success, the game became hugely popular. Martin was hired to direct the Midwestern circuit for a national organisation that ran chess tournaments. “For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday – but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills.”

[Thanks to Dan Goodman and John King Tarpinian for the links.]

4 thoughts on “The Chess Lives of Fritz Leiber and George R.R. Martin

  1. Mike: You don’t have to change anything because the source at the end of the very interesting GRRM interview said it originally appeared in the INDEPENDENT ( BUT your interview links to the IRISH INDEPENDENT ( which is not the same newspaper and not from the same country. Martin

  2. The first time I ever met George R.R. Martin was in 1971, when he was a Grad Student at Northwestern University. There was an intercollegiate chess tournament there and I was part of the team from Clarkson College of Technology (now Clarkson University).

    But I was never very good at the game, at least by competitive standards, and gave it up completely the next year. That tournament was one of the first where a computer was one of the players. George wrote about it several years later in a nonfiction article for Analog titled “The Computer Was a Fish”.

  3. Unfortunately, the USCF website doesn’t post Chess Life articles online for free, but I am the writer of the piece, and if anyone would like to see it, let me know here and I can email a copy.

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