Duchamp’s Pipe: A Review Part 2

Published by North Atlantic Books, which can be found by clicking here:

Duchamp’s Pipe

The quoted text is pulled directly from the book.

Marcel Duchamp vs George Koltanowski

BEL Cup 01st Brussels 1923


1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. f4 c5 8.Bb5+ Bd7 9. Bxd7+ Nxd7 10. e5 cxd4 11. cxd4 O-O 12. Nf3 e6 13. O-O Nb6 14. Ba3 Re8 15. Qb3 Bf8 16. Rfc1 Bxa3 17. Qxa3 Qd7 18. Rc2 Rec8 19. Rac1 Rxc2 20. Rxc2 Nd5 21. Qc1 a5 22. g4 Nb4 23. Rc7 Qd5 24. Qe3 Qxa2 25. f5 exf5 26. gxf5 Qb1+ 27. Rc1 Qxf5 0-1

“For Koltanowski, it was as much about what attracted him to the game as it was how to attract others to the game. To that end, he developed a chess persona along the lines of a visionary chess maniac.”

“Koltanowski understood his memory as a different order of knowledge outside conscious effort – a trance state that the fortunate artist or chess player might experience.”

Duchamp said, “Chess is a sport. A violent sport.”

“After crossing paths at a few tournaments in Europe, from their Paris match in 1924 to The Hague in 1928, Duchamp and Koltanowski met again in 1929 at a chess match at the Tournoi d’Echecs, the Paris International Chess Championship. In an unexpected twist, Koltanowski lost to Duchamp in fifteen moves.”

George Koltanowski vs Marcel Duchamp

Paris 1929

E00 Queen’s pawn game

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 b6 5.f4 Bb7 6.Bd3 Nbd7 7.Nf3 e5 8.d5 g6 9.O-O exf4 10.Bxf4 Bg7 11.e5 dxe5 12.Nxe5 O-O 13.Qd2 Nxd5 14.Nxd7 Nxf4 15.Nxf8 Bd4+ 0-1

“Koltanowski only casually mentions the game in his Chessnicdotes – in which he relates a more detailed win in 1944:

Marcel Duchamp vs George Koltanowski

New York 1944

Grunfeld (D94)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. e3 Bg7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 c5 7. O-O cxd4 8. exd4 Nc6 9. Bf4 Bg4 10. c5 Ne4 11. Ne5 Bxe2 12. Nxe2 Nxe5 13. dxe5 Nxc5 14. Nd4 Qd7 15. Re1 Rac8 16. Qd2 Ne6 17. Rac1 Rxc1 18. Rxc1 Nxf4 19. Qxf4 Rc8 20. Rc3 Rxc3 21. bxc3 Qc7 22. Nf3 Qxc3 23. h3 Qc4 24. Qg5 f6 25. exf6 Bxf6 26. Qe3 d4 27. Qf4 Qxa2 28. Ne5 Qb1+ 29. Kh2 Qf5 0-1

“Marcel Duchamp, the renowned artist (Nude Descending a Staircase),

loved the game of chess. He played in the French Championship on a number of occasions, was a member of a French Olympic team, and his book, L’Opposition et les cases conjuguees (1932) was very successful.

His painting of a family chess game in the garden, which hangs in the Philadelphia Museum, is one of the more famous paintings including chess as its theme.”


“He helped the American Chess Foundation tremendously with his works of art and getting the support of the New York elite…I played him twice in Brussels tournaments, winning in both cases. In Paris, 1929, I lost.”

“Following his triumph against Koltanowski in 1929, Duchamp was at the pinnacle of his chess career. In the following year, in Hamburg, he played his friend Frank Marshall-whom he knew from his many evening games at the Marshall Chess Club in New York. That the game was a draw was an impressive result, given that from 1909 to 1936 Marshall (1877-1944) was the US Chess Champion.”

Frank James Marshall vs Marcel Duchamp

Hamburg olypiad (Men) 07/13/1930

E12 Queen’s Indian defence

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b6 3.c4 e6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Nc3 Bb7 6.Qc2 d5 7.e3 O-O 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Nxd5 Bxd5 11.Bd3 h6 12.a3 c5 13.dxc5 Rc8 14.b4 bxc5 15.Rc1 Nd7 16.Ba6 Rc7 17.e4 Bb7 18.Bxb7 Rxb7 19.bxc5 Qxc5 20.O-O Qxc2 21.Rxc2 Kf8 22.Rfc1 Ke7 23.Nd4 Ke8 24.f4 Rab8 25.e5 Nf8 26.Rc5 Rb1 27.Rxb1 Rxb1+ 28.Kf2 Rb7 29.Rc8+ Ke7 30.Ra8 Ng6 31.g3 Kd7 32.a4 Ne7 33.Nb5 Nc8 34.g4 Rxb5 35.axb5 Kc7 36.g5 hxg5 37.b6+ Kb7 38.Rxc8 Kxc8 ½-½

“Koltanowski describes Frank Marshall

as an artist who loved the brilliance of chess: Love of the game for its own sake, rather than for the awards which fall in the path of a successful player, was apparent throughout Marshall’s career. Winning did not matter to him half as much as the creation of a masterpiece on the chessboard.” Koltanowski in Chessnicdotes

“At the least, Duchamp’s pipe is an latered industrial object that embodies a friendship of shared wit and a mutual love of Caissa. But the pipe is not only a utilitarian object; in chess it is part of the activity and environment in which it is used-held to the mouth in a physically intimate way, simultaneously concealing the smoker’s expression. Undulating smoke, the pipe’sn mutabel fumes enhanced concentration and reflection, creating a meditative state of mind within the comfort of habit. Duchamp’s pipe embodies a authentic gesture of exchange, infused with a Duchampian cocktail of ideas that unwrap the ebb and flow of their personal relationship.”

“Marcel Mauss askes: “What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?” This is the power of exchange. Embedded in the pipe, the relationship flows through the redolent smoke as ephemeral as thought. The pipe embodies something of Duchamp, something of Koltanowski, and something personal and “affectionately Marcel,” as Duchamp frequently signed his letters. The intimate nature of smoking – drawn from the mouthpiece, through the mouth and exhaled through the breath – is made visible in Duchamp’s pipe. The smoky vapors surround and scent both men, creating an atmosphere of communal enjoyment. Embodying the phenomenon of “the gift,” the pipe expresses an exchange beyond words or measure.”

“Mauss claims that “objects are confounded with the spirits who made them.” Given from Duchamp’s hands, Koltanowski’s pipe is not merely a material object; it is also an expression of kinship and reciprocity saturated with the smoky fragrance of the chess players. More than the sum of its parts, the pipe gives form to an altered significance. It is not surprising that pipe-smoking is linked to gift exchange in most world cultures.”

“I believe that pipe-smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.” – Albert Einstein

“Duchamp and Koltanowski puffed their pipes while playing chess, the transicent tendrils curling upward around each posture and gesture. The smoke veiled their thoughts and scented the surroundings. Smoke simultaneously revealed and concealed the chess game, joining the players together in an infrathin screed of smoke and intense concentration.”

“Duchamp’s attraction to Koltanowski derived from their mutual passion for chess, complemented by an interior mental focus that bordered on the mystical.”

“For Duchamp, chess was an art, its primary function cerebral “play.”

“Art is a road which leads towards regions which are not governed by time and place. – Marcell Duchamp

“A game of chess washes the mind.” – Koltanowski

“Koltanowski simply pursued the pure cerebral enjoyment of chess-and he made his passion contagious.”

“Duchamp enjoyed the pure intellectual play of the game; it was a cerebral pursuit without repetitious art production, and at the same time it required a great deal of imagination. Koltanowski found Duchamp’s chess choreography compelling. Both loved chess for its aestetic brilliance.”

Many people in the art world wondered why Duchamp “Gave up art for Chess.” They did not understand that Duchamp did not “give up art” because he knew Chess to be art or else he would not have said, “While all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”

The review ends with the Afterword: Coffee House Chess, by Irwin Lipnowski:

“All the human attributes of intuition, judgment, creativity, rational foresight, and computational skill become inconsequential in competing with the processing speed of a chess-playing program. Admittedly, human beings designed the program’s evaluation function and human beings have significantly improved the processing speed of computers. Yet it is difficult to overestimate the negative impact that computer chess development has had on the sense of accomplishment and self-esteem of chess masters and grandmasters.”

























Duchamp’s Pipe: A Review

Duchamp’s Pipe

A Chess Romance

Marcel Duchamp & George Koltanowski

by Celia Rabinovitch

Published by North Atlantic Books, which can be found by clicking here:

Duchamp’s Pipe

The quoted text is pulled directly from the book.

This is a wonderful, enjoyable, entertaining, and easy to read, book. It is well written and deeply researched, much of  which emanates from the wonderful California Chess reference resource, ChessDryad (ChessDryad.com), where one finds on the home page of Chess History Archives:

What’s New

A brand new must-have book!

Intrigued by the title I decided to get in touch with the publisher to write a review. Prior to reading this volume these are the only books previously read concerning Marcel Duchamp:

When first learning of the book I was curious as to how a writer would be able to write a book concerning the gift of a smoking pipe. After all, so much has been written about Marcel Duchamp one would think it impossible to find anything new about which to write. I was wrong. In addition, I wondered about the title, “A Chess Romance.” Since it concerns two men, why not “A Chess Bromance?” After all, the definition of bromance is, “A platonic or nonsexual friendship between two men, usually two heterosexual men, likened to a romantic relationship.” (https://www.thefreedictionary.com/bromance) Replace the “B” with “R” and we have: “A love affair.” (https://www.thefreedictionary.com/romance)


“Duchamp’s last summer was spent in Cadaques, Spain. At five o’clock every afternoon he could be found at Cafe Melion. One time Laurent Sauerwein boldly decided to “intercept” Duchamp and speak with him. Before long a man appeared and a chessboard was produced, at which point, Sauerwein recounts: “I knew I had to shut up. the serious business was about to begin [and] Marcel kept focused, samurai-like, periodically puffing on his cigar…I didn’t stay until the very end actually, because…what was at stake on the chessboard seemed too intimate to watch.” Lewis Jacobs captured Duchamp in Cadaques, footage he later used in his 1982 documentary Marcel Duchamp: In His Own Words, in which Duchamp shares how chess “is a peaceful way of understanding life [and as with all games] you play with life. You are more alive than people who believe in religion and art.” In other words, the game is in the player’s hands, whereas art and religion require devotion.”

“Duchamp once stated that “chess is a school of silence.” (http://ubu.com/film/duchamp_drot.html) In 1964 the German artist Joseph Beuys, known for his dissenting action-performances, staged “The Silence of Marcel Duchamp Is Overrated.” With this work, Beuys criticized Duchamp’s apparent withdrawal from the art world and social responsibilities in order to “merely” play chess.”

“Duchamp’s chess-playing came to the fore in the last dozen years of his life, during which time he also re-emerged after decades of apparent self-imposed isolation from the “industry” of art: making, promoting, selling. In an address to a symposium at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, in March 1961 Duchamp said, “The great artist of tomorrow will go underground.”

I have read about Duchamp in an attempt to understand why he decided to devote time to Chess in lieu of devoting time to art. In 1928 Duchamp commented in a letter to Katherine Drier: “Chess is my drug; don’t you know it!”


“In 1951, Koltanowski expanded his readership by publishing his chess columns in popular magazines and in-house company newsletters. The San Francisco Fireman’s Fund Record published an article titled “The Walking brain,” about Koltanowski and his renowned Knight’s Tour Exhibition. In chess, the knight’s tour demonstrates a sequence of moves on the sixty-four squares of a chessboard whereby the knight visits every square once. To fill each square, Koltanowski asked the audience to suggest names or numbers in combination. He looked at the board, took a few minutes to memorize it, and proceeded to perform the tour while naming the contents of each square. He set another record at the San Francisco Chess Festival at the Marines’ Memorial Club on December 2, 1951, where he played a Blindfold Speed Chess Exhibition by playing fifty blindfold games, one after another, at ten seconds a move in eight hours and forty-five minutes.”

“Humphrey Bogart came to San Francisco for the premier of The African Queen in March 1952. The San Francisco Chronicle staged an exhibition in which Koltanowski played Bogie while blindfolded. Playing to the crowd, Kolty muttered, “This guy is dangerous and I’m not kidding.” Bogie, of course, had played tough-talking detective Sam Spade in the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon, which was set in San Francisco. Dark Passage, release in 1947, just five years before the chess match, was set on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, not too far from Kolty and Leah’s apartment on Gough Street in the Cathedral Hill area. The event sparked Kolty’s flair for drama-combined with San Francisco’s foggy atmosphere in his blood. He played up the intensity of their contest both on the radio and in the newspaper. Photographs of the match show a Koltanowski intensely concentrating to defeat Bogie-which he did, in forty-one moves.”

“In late 1952, Kolty was the prime mover behind a new organization, Chess Friends of Northern California. It had its own magazine-Chess in Action-and he was the action. This was just one part of his lasting legacy. In the decades to come, Koltanowski published chess columns all over the world, wrote books, and broke ever more chess records. Upon his death on February 5, 2000, his Chronicle (itl) column had run for fifty-two years, at that time the longest-running chess column in journalism. He was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame in 1986, and awarded an honorary Grandmaster title in 1988. He was the greatest showman since P.T. Barnum, besting the great blindfold chess exhibitioners before him with his self-appointed title of World Blindfold champion. He was a true Dean of American Chess-so named by the United States Chess Federation-and there will never again be anyone like him.”

The Pipe

“WAS DUCHAMP’S PIPE A UTILITARIAN object? Was it an altered readymade with transformed meaning? Or was it intended to embody Marcel and George’s chess relationship? Duchamp was known to make gifts of his work to those he was close to or admired. An admirer of the artistry of industrial objects, Duchamp gathered ideas from plumber’s shop windows, department stores, iron works, and industrial sites. He admired their lack of embellishment combined with stalwart purpose in their machined manufacture. In choosing his pipe ebauchon, he chose its blocky original form. [The majority of pipes sold today, whether handmade or machine-made, are fashioned from briar. Briar burls are cut into two types of blocks; ebauchon and plateaux. Ebauchon is taken from the heart of the burl while plateaux is taken from the outer part of the burl. While both types of blocks can produce pipes of the highest quality, most artisan pipemakers prefer to use plateaux because of its superior graining. https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Smoking+pipe+(tobacco)%5D  Commercially designed tobacco pipes take refined shapes with curved contours, while those hewn by artisan often employ eccentric forms. By contrast, Duchamp’s extraordinary pipe allows the rough geometric shape of the raw ebauchon to linger, evoking the memory of its crude industrial manufacture.”

“THUS UNFOLDS THE EXCHANGE BETWEEN Duchamp and Koltanowski and the game they loved-a love triangle with the art of chess. The characters are incongruous: Marcel Duchamp, the audacious, ironic French artist; George Koltanowski, a memory-gifted Belgian Jewish chess champion who escaped the Holocaust in Europe; and the game of chess itself, embodied by the goddess Caissa. First referred to in Europe in the sixteenth century, Caissa became the patron goddess of chess devotees who, like George, would invoke her to inspire their game. The poem “Caissa, or: The Game of Chess” (1763), by the linguist Sir William Jones, (http://www.chessdryad.com/caissa/caissa.htm) expresses in heroic couplets Dubhamp and Koltanowski’s mutual chess obsession: “No prize we need, our ardour to inflame;/we fight with pleasure, if we fight for fame.”

“As part of the wandering intelligentsia of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century-buffeted by political upheavals and wars and circulation through countries-Duchamp and Koltanowski survived by wit, artistry, and alliances, their worlds meeting in the game of chess. And just as in romances, the two character’ motives are colored by friendship, rivalry, and a shared admiration for the elusive chess mistress. Their exchange of chess and ideas for over a quarter century was embodied by Duchamp’s pipe. Their encounters cut across three continents-Europe, South America, and North America-and span three decades, through various chess tournaments, informal chess clubs, and cities including Brussels, Paris, The Hague, Buenos Aires, Havana, and New York City. Surviving the chaos of World War II, and as part of the European flight to America, these two men lived through the major upheavals of the twentieth century. And while they played-in cities and tournaments, or in smoky private clubs-they reflected on chess strategy and opened their senses to its marvelous duration, all the while smoking their pipes.”

End Part One