Bob Dylan and Chess – The Chess Master

it appears that Bob Dylan was also a keen chess player. In the Bob Spitz biography, there are several paragraphs describing how Dylan used to try to psyche his opponent out by talking during the game. He also was known to do the same wild, nervous leg shaking motion while playing that he does when he is singing. There is also a report that Dylan’s manager paid Bobby Fischer so Dylan could play chess with him.

This photograph of Bob Dylan playing chess is just one of many snapped by Daniel Kramer who enjoyed extraordinary access during the prime of Dylan’s career. Kramer’s collection is coming to Hibbing, Minnesota this year for Dylan Days and through the summer. PHOTO: Daniel Kramer


 In the Bob Spitz biography, there are several paragraphs describing how Dylan used to try to psyche his opponent out by talking during the game. He also was known to do the same wild, nervous leg shaking motion while playing that he does when he is singing. There is also a report that Dylan’s manager paid Bobby Fischer so Dylan could play chess with him.

In the Bob Dylan art gallery online, one of the artists has done a sketch called “Only a Pawn in their Game” with Dylan playing chess, the title being taken from a song in the album “The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Jan. 1964). Also, if you have the issue of MOJO with Dylan on the cover there is a beautiful picture of him playing chess.



Here’s a picture from the 27.09.12 Rolling Stone Interview with Bob Dylan, nary a word in the entire interview about this interesting picture of Dylan seated before an empty chessboard with Anatoly Karpov looking on in the background.



The above, to which we shall return soon, was one of many photographs of Dylan in Woodstock taken byDaniel Kramer in 1964 and 1965. On the left is Dylan’s roadie Victor Maimudes. But as we all know only too well, being a chess player, and describing oneself as such, is far, far less about playing and more about that intangible state, both overwhelmingly joyous and depressing, whereby the game begins to dominate your waking thoughts, your bookshelf, your life. What interests me is that in the early-to-mid 1960s chess continues to crop up as a minor motif in Dylan’s work

Bob Dylan and The Band – Playing Chess- Tour 1974



Monologue by Bob Dylan: 

“First time I ever worked in East Orange, New Jersey.

Folks never go to East Orange, New Jersey; it’s a horrible town. I went there to play in a coffee house in East Orange, New Jersey. It was a chess playing coffee house out there. It was so bad…uh…so bad, people playing chess out there. Uh…that’s all they thought about out there was chess and chess and chess. People come up to me, you play your song, you play you a real quiet song. In the middle of the song you hear “Check”, [female laughter in background] And “Hey, that was a good move” and all kinds of stuff like that.

Hey folks it was so bad I had a little dream out there the first night I worked about this chess playing stuff. I dreamed I went to work out in East Orange, New Jersey, and, uh, about time I quit in two days I went there to ask the guy for my money. I says, “Can I have some money, I worked two days for ya?” He says, “Uh… Well OK, we don’t pay you money around here though” I says “Uh, yeah?” He says “Well” he says, uh, ”Yeah, we pay ya chess men”, I said “Uh, well give me my chess men then, I worked two days”. I sort of…didn’t really figure, I thought he was lying at first, but I took it anyway. He gave me a king and a queen for working two days. I said “Fine, that’s OK”.

So I took my king and queen and went down to a bar, nearest bar I could find. I walked in the bar and I ordered a pint. I… I got on the bar, “Bartender”, I says “Can I have a pint?” I’ll be damned if he didn’t give me a pint. He asked me for the money. I gave him my king and queen. I’ll be damned, you know he took that king and queen, threw it under the counter, and brought me out four pawns, two bishops, and a rook for change.

That’s a little story about East Orange, New Jersey.”

source :

Peter Svidler

Pyotr Veniaminovich Svidler is a Russian chess grandmaster.

Who is your favourite band/composer?

Bob Dylan and Tom Waits are the two people I listen to almost every day. But there’s a lot of other stuff – the list would take too long to try and complete.

Bob Dylan playing chess back in 1969.  The caption is ”Chess with Vic – Cafe Espresso, Woodstock by Daniel Kramer” 

Quote from Dave Van Ronk:

“The first thing you noticed about Bobby in those days was that he was full of nervous energy. We played quite a bit of chess, and his knees would always be bouncing against the table so much that it was like being at a seance. He was herky-jerky, jiggling, sitting on the edge of his chair.”

Winter 1960-1961
Dave Van Ronk Biography
Reference: The Mayor of MacDougal Street


Album: Another Side of Bob Dylan
Reference: Liner notes concerning a chess game:

“i could make you crawl

if i was payin’ attention”

he said munchin’ a sandwich

in between chess moves

“what d’ you wanna make

me crawl for?”

“i mean i just could”

“could make me crawl”

“yeah, make you crawl!”

“humm, funny guy you are”

“no, i just play t’ win,

that’s all”

“well if you can’t win me,

then you’re the worst player

i ever played”

“what d’ you mean?”

“i mean i lose all the time”

his jaw tightened an’ he took

a deep breath

“hummm, now i gotta beat you”


Novel written by Bob Dylan

in a hilarious grave of fruit hides the wee gunfighter warm bottle of roominghouse juice in the rim of his sheep skin/ lord thomas of the nightingales, bird of youth, rasputin the clod, galileo the regular guy & max, the novice chess player

Darling the Hypocrite immediately lights a fire to the floor & People Gringo pounds his fist on a book & says that rocking chair & watermelon are the same word only with different letters …St. Bread from the riot squad-entering with his chess pieces & a hilarious hard on & he laughs too

MAMMOTH NOAH & the orient marauders all on the morality rap & Priest of Harmony in a narrow costume-he’s with the angels now & he says “all’s useless-useless” & Instinct, poet of the antique zenith-putting on his hoofs & whinnying “all’s not useless-all is very signifying! ” & the insane pied piper stealing the Queen’s Pawn & the conquering war cry “neither-neither” & jails being cremated & jail in I fall’ g & newly arrived spirits digging-digging their finger nails-their fingernails into each other…


8 July 1984

Dublin Castle
Interview with Bono (U2)


Bono: Chess, do you play chess?

Dylan: Yeah, I play chess. Are you a chess player?

Bono: I am a chess player.

Dylan: I’m not that good actually.

Bono: I’ll challenge you to a game of chess.

Dylan: I don’t have it right now actually, I just don’t have one on me, but the next time you see me!

Bono: Oh, you can get these little ones you know, that you can carry around.

Dylan: Yeah, I take them on tour all the time, but nobody in the band will play me.

Bono: Really?

Dylan: Yeah, they say it’s an ego trip. They say I want to win, I don’t want to win, I just like to play.

Bono: When you put out a record that causes trouble – is it part of an overall plan, or do you just do it?

Dylan: No, I don’t ever put out a record to cause trouble – if it causes trouble, it causes trouble, that’s apart from me. If it causes trouble, that’s other people’s problem. It’s not my problem. I’m just not going to put out a record that I just feel – you know, if I feel like I’m inspired to make a statement, I’ll make that statement. But what happens after I do it, I don’t care about that.

Bono: What’s your opening game?

Dylan: My opening game, you mean king’s pawn up two – and all that? I don’t know.

Bono: You just takes it as it comes.

Dylan: Yeah. I don’t really play that seriously.

Bono: Well, I thought I did until I played Adam’s brother Sebastian – he was only about 13 years old and he beat me!

Dylan: Somebody may have a chess game here.

Bono: I’d love to play.

[Potential chess game interrupted by the arrival of Van Morrison]


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