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


The Chess Book

Samuel S Copeland (2294) vs Carter F Peatman (1964)
2014 Southeastern FIDE Championship
Charlotte, North Carolina
Rd 1 11/1/2014

1. e4 c5 2. Ne2 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 Nc6 8. Qd2 O-O 9. O-O-O d5 10. Kb1 Nxd4 11. e5 Nf5 12. exf6 Bxf6 13. Nxd5 Qxd5 14. Qxd5 Nxe3 15. Qd2 Nxd1 16. Qxd1 Be6 17. Bd3 a5 18. h4 Rfd8 19. Qe2 Rd4 20. a3 Bxh4 21. Qe3 Rad8 22. Qh6 Bf6 23. Qxh7 Kf8 24. g4 b5 25. Re1 b4 26. Rxe6 fxe6 27. Qh6 Bg7 28. Qxg6 R4d6 29. Qg5 Rb8 30. axb4 axb4 31. Qf4 Ke8 32. Kc1 e5 33. Qc4 Bh6 34. Kd1 Kd7 35. Ke2 Bf4 36. g5 e4 37. fxe4 Be5 38. Qc5 Bxb2 39. Qa7 Kc8 40. Ba6 Rxa6 41. Qxa6 Kc7 42. Qc4 Kd7 43. Qd5 Kc7 44. g6 Bh8 45. Qf7 Kd7 46. g7 Bxg7 47. Qxg7 b3 48. Qd4 Ke8 49. Qh8 1-0

The engines play 13…Be6, while humans play the move in the game. The transition from opening to middle game ending with 16…Be6 looks favorable for White. After 17 Bd3 the most often played, and best, move is 17…Rfd8, but still White has a solid plus. I am reminded of the time Bobby Fischer had gone over a game his opponent lost, who was flummoxed as to just why he had lost. Bobby said, “The whole line is bad.”

What caught my attention was the second move, Ne2. Back in the day I played the Najdorf and when I beginning winning with it, opponents began playing alternative moves, not allowing me to play the Najdorf. The same thing happened a decade later when Longshot Larry “got good” playing the Dragon. Some players thought Longshot, who hovered between class ‘A’ and Expert, played two classes higher when defending while attacking with the Dragon. Longshot was strong enough to almost win with it versus “Hulk” Kogan. The Legendary Georgia Ironman and I happened to be watching the moment Boris reached for a piece but held his fingers hovering while the tension became palpable…When the Hulk retracted his hand it was like the air being let out of a balloon. The game was ultimately drawn. The Ironman adds that Longshot Larry did beat another Georgia chess legend, NM Guillermo A. Ruiz, a game that was published in the Georgia Chess magazine of the time.

Longshot Larry, a heating and air conditioning repairman, had been asked by Guillermo to come to his home and clean the system, so Longshot asked me to accompany him. Since Guillermo owned a cleaning service, considered too expensive by the owner of the Atlanta Chess Center, Thad Rogers, Longshot used Guillermo’s wet-vac. We were in the basement where a chess board was on a table, along with one book, an obviously well-used, dogged-eared copy of “The Game of Chess,” by Siegbert Tarrasch. I was positioned between Guillermo and Longshot, looking at Larry as he turned on the machine, beginning the extraction. When I asked Guillermo about his other chess books he said it was his only chess book. “You only need one book, if it is a good one.” Later Thad told me Ruiz had purchased a used copy. As we were talking black smoke began billowing from the machine. Guillermo must have seen the look on my face and turned around to see a cloud of heavy black smoke rising up the stairs. With the realization Ruiz literally jumped two feet into the air, then began screaming, but Longshot, with his head inside the closet containing the unit, could not hear. Ruiz ran over and began pounding on Larry, who then turned the machine off, but the damage had been done. The thing I recall most vividly on our way out is the light-colored drapes in the living room upstairs, which had been turned dark with soot. “How was I to know the thing did not have a bag?” Longshot asked on our way back to the House of Pain. “Ruiz is into the cleaning game, so I assumed the thing would work,” he said. I laughed when Longshot, who obviously did not get paid, said, “Man, I really needed that money.”

When faced with 2 Ne2 I played the same way as Carter, but is it best? Check out how Bobby Fischer played against 2 Ne2, and notice how he changed to 2…Nf6 after having twenty years to study the game before his return match with Boris Spassky. 2…Nf6 is the choice of both Stockfish and Houdini, but Komodo plays 2…a6.

Swank, A. – Fischer, Robert James 0-1
B20 USA-op 1956
1. e4 c5 2. Ne2 Nc6 3. b3 Nf6 4. Nbc3 e6 5. Bb2 d5 6. Ng3 Bd6 7. Bb5 O-O 8. Bd3 Ne5 9. Be2 Ng6 10. Nb5 Nxe4 11. Nxe4 dxe4 12. Nxd6 Qxd6 13. g3 e5 14. c4 Bh3 15. Bf1 Bxf1 16. Rxf1 f5 17. Qc2 Ne7 18. O-O-O Nc6 19. Bc3 Nd4 20. Bxd4 exd4 21. Kb1 Rae8 22. Rfe1 Re5 23. d3 Rfe8 24. Qd2 exd3 25. Rxe5 Qxe5 26. Qxd3 Qe2 27. Rd2 Qxd3+ 28. Rxd3 Re1+ 29. Kc2 Re2+ 30. Rd2 Rxd2+ 31. Kxd2 f4 32. Kd3 Kf7 33. a3 Kf6 34. b4 b6 35. Ke4 Kg5 36. gxf4+ Kg4 37. f3+ Kh3 38. f5 Kxh2 39. f4 Kg3 40. bxc5 bxc5 41. a4 a5 42. Kd5 d3 43. Kxc5 d2 0-1

Keres, Paul – Fischer, Robert James ½-½
B20 Candidates Tournament 1956
1. e4 c5 2. Ne2 d6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O Nc6 6. c3 e5 7. d3 Nge7 8. a3 O-O 9. b4 b6 10. f4 exf4 11. gxf4 d5 12. e5 Bg4 13. h3 Bxe2 14. Qxe2 f6 15. b5 Na5 16. Nd2 fxe5 17. fxe5 Rxf1+ 18. Nxf1 Nb3 19. Rb1 Nxc1 20. Rxc1 Qc7 21. Re1 Rd8 22. Nh2 d4 23. cxd4 cxd4 24. Nf3 Bh6 25. Qa2+ Kh8 26. Qe6 Nd5 27. Nh2 Ne3 28. Bc6 Rf8 29. Nf3 Bf4 30. Nxd4 Bxe5 31. Nf3 Bd4 32. Rxe3 Bxe3+ 33. Qxe3 Qg3+ 34. Kf1 Qxh3+ 35. Ke1 Qf5 36. d4 Kg7 37. Kf2 h5 38. Kg3 Qg4+ 39. Kh2 Rf4 40. Qe7+ Kh6 41. Qe2 Qf5 42. Qe3 g5 43. Kg2 Rg4+ 44. Kf2 Rf4 45. Kg2 Qc2+ 46. Kh1 Qb1+ 47. Kh2 Qa2+ 48. Kh3 Qf7 49. Kh2 Qf6 50. Kg2 Kg7 51. Kg3 h4+ 52. Kg2 Rg4+ 53. Kh1 Rg3 54. Qe4 g4 55. Nh2 Qg5 56. Nf1 Rh3+ 57. Kg1 Rxa3 58. d5 g3 59. Bd7 Ra1 60. Bf5 Qf6 61. Qf4 Re1 62. d6 Re5 63. Qg4+ Kf8 64. d7 Rd5 65. Kg2 Rxd7 66. Bxd7 Qf2+ 67. Kh3 Qxf1+ 68. Kxh4 g2 69. Qb4+ Kf7 70. Qb3+ Kg7 71. Qg3+ Kh7 72. Qe5 Qh1+ 73. Bh3 Qxh3+ 74. Kxh3 g1=Q 75. Qe7+ Kh8 76. Qf8+ Kh7 77. Qf7+ 1/2-1/2

Ostojic, Predrag – Fischer, Robert James 0-1
B93 Herceg Novi blitz 1970
1. e4 c5 2. Ne2 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. a4 Qc7 7. Bd3 g6 8. f4 Bg7 9. Nf3 O-O 10. O-O Nbd7 11. Kh1 b6 12. Qe1 Bb7 13. Qh4 Rac8 14. Bd2 e5 15. Rae1 exf4 16. Bxf4 Ne5 17. Bh6 Bxh6 18. Qxh6 Nfg4 19. Qh4 Nxf3 20. Rxf3 f5 21. Rf4 d5 22. Rxg4 fxg4 23. Qxg4 Rf4 24. Qg3 dxe4 25. Bxe4 Bxe4 26. Nxe4 Rxe4 0-1

Spassky, Boris V – Fischer, Robert James ½-½
B24 St Stefan/Belgrade m 1992
1. e4 c5 2. Ne2 Nf6 3. Nbc3 d6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Nc6 6. O-O Bg7 7. d4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Bg4 9. Nde2 Qc8 10. f3 Bh3 11. Bxh3 Qxh3 12. Bg5 O-O 13. Qd2 h6 14. Be3 Kh7 15. Rac1 Qd7 16. Nd5 Nxd5 17. exd5 Ne5 18. b3 b5 19. Bd4 Rac8 20. f4 Ng4 21. Bxg7 Kxg7 22. Nd4 Nf6 23. c4 bxc4 24. bxc4 e6 25. dxe6 fxe6 26. Rfe1 Rfe8 27. Nb3 a6 28. Qd4 Rc6 29. Red1 e5 30. fxe5 Rxe5 31. Qxe5 dxe5 32. Rxd7+ Nxd7 33. Rd1 Nf6 34. c5 Kf7 35. Rc1 Nd7 36. Kf2 Ke6 37. Ke3 Kd5 38. Rd1+ Ke6 39. Rc1 Kd5 1/2-1/2

Spassky, Boris V – Fischer, Robert James ½-½
B26 St Stefan/Belgrade m 1992
1. e4 c5 2. Ne2 Nf6 3. Nbc3 d6 4. g3 Nc6 5. Bg2 g6 6. O-O Bg7 7. d3 O-O 8. h3 Rb8 9. f4 Bd7 10. Be3 b5 11. a3 Ne8 12. d4 cxd4 13. Nxd4 b4 14. Nxc6 Bxc6 15. axb4 Rxb4 16. Rxa7 Rxb2 17. e5 Bxg2 18. Kxg2 Nc7 19. exd6 exd6 20. Na4 Ra2 21. Bb6 Qe8 22. Rxc7 Qxa4 23. Qxd6 Rxc2+ 24. Rxc2 Qxc2+ 25. Bf2 Qe4+ 26. Kg1 1/2-1/2

1. e4 c5 2. Ne2 Nf6 3. Nbc3 e6 4. g3 Nc6 5. Bg2 Be7 6. O-O d6 7. d3 a6 8. a3 Qc7 9. f4 b5 10. Kh1 O-O 11. Be3 Bb7 12. Bg1 Rab8 13. h3 Ba8 14. g4 b4 15. axb4 cxb4 16. Na4 Nd7 17. Qd2 Rfc8 18. b3 a5 19. g5 Bf8 20. Ra2 Ne7 21. Nd4 g6 22. Nb2 Bg7 23. Nc4 d5 24. Nxa5 dxe4 25. dxe4 e5 26. Ne2 exf4 27. Nxf4 Ne5 28. Nd3 Rb5 29. Nxe5 Qxe5 30. Nc4 Qxg5 31. Be3 Qh4 32. Nd6 Bc3 33. Qf2 Qxf2 34. Rxf2 Rbb8 35. Nxc8 Rxc8 36. Ra7 Kf8 37. Bh6+ Ke8 38. Bg5 f6 39. Bxf6 Bxf6 40. Rxf6 Bc6 41. Kg1 Bd7 42. Rd6 Bc6 43. Bf1 1-0

Sheryl Crow The Book