Given the recent popularity of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, people in the Covid era may soon be searching their closets for that chess set they haven’t touched since university years. After all, who isn’t piqued by a 1500-year-old game whose basic rules are easy to learn, yet whose complexity is such that it took computer geeks 50 years to develop algorithms that could challenge a human?
When we think of professional chess players, we picture a handful of brainiacs. Not only have they memorized all the classic patterns of play, they possess both great imagination and visual memory. How else to think a dozen moves ahead, not only to plan their attacks, but also to anticipate each response of their opponent, and to defend against those as well? All of this demands extraordinary brainpower.
Astrologically, what do we expect of a grandmaster? From a tactical point of view, the buddhi, or analytic mind, must be strong. This would suggest a strong 5th lord, 5th house and Mercury, or some robust combination thereof. From a strategic point of view, we might expect a strong 9th lord, 9th house and Jupiter. And last but not least, we should expect a strong Mars, not only because it reflects a killer instinct, but because it is a karaka for logic.
With these expectations I mind, I examined the charts of 20 famous chess players, typically those who’d been accorded the rank of “grandmaster” in the modern era or, in the years before such a designation existed, had reigned as world chess champions in their era.
Typically, chess genius raises its head in early youth. All of the subjects in this study were introduced to the game when they were still kids. Some of them got interested by watching a family member play, while others were gifted with a book on chess and then, before you could say Sicilian Defense, Najdorf Variation, they were spending eight hours a day playing the game or studying classic moves in chess books or periodicals. Many of the greats competed in tournaments while still in grade school, often playing simultaneous games against multiple opponents.
After a review of this subject group, I made a few general observations:
- * The two most frequently-occurring ascendants were Cancer and Virgo, effectively making Mars and Saturn, respectively, their 5th lords. Since Mars rules logic and Saturn rules concentration, this agrees with what we perceive as the mental attributes of a chess player.
- * A separate examination of 5th house lords revealed that Jupiter turned up just as often as Mars and Saturn, albeit driven by two different ascendants, ie, Leo and Scorpio. Thus, Jupiter’s frequent presence as 5th lord covers the other essential attribute of chess players – wisdom and foresight.
- * Seven (35%) out of 20 subjects had the Moon in a Mars-ruled sign, roughly double the frequency compared to that (17%) expected by chance. No matter whether we consider it an attribute of speed, logic or competitive spirit, it again highlights the importance of Mars.
With respect to Mercury indicating a critical or discerning mindset, I noted the following prevalence in the study group:
- * Only a third of the group had a Budhaditya yoga. Even more surprising, only three out of 20 had a strong Mercury, while three out of 20 had a weak Mercury. As it happened, Mercury was far more often than not in a different sign from the Sun, an unexpected circumstance I struggled to make sense of. However, if we acknowledge the Sun as ego, and Mercury the intellect, perhaps their separation facilitates greater objectivity, for which there is a constant demand, since every chess player asks himself the same question over and over again: If I make this move, how will my opponent respond?
- * Seven (35%) out of 20 subjects had Mercury in a Jupiter-ruled sign, roughly double the frequency compared to that (17%) expected by chance. Thus, Mercury as karaka for intellect seems to function optimally in signs ruled by Jupiter, to which we attribute both foresight (strategy) and good judgment.
Finally, in reviewing the two planets whose influence already seems substantial in the horoscopes of chess players, note two salient observations about Mars and Jupiter:
- * In the Shadbala scheme, Mars was the highest-scoring planet for these chess masters, averaging 140% of the virupas required for optimal function. On closer inspection of their horoscopes, roughly half of the group had Mars in strong avasthas, ie, being in its own or exalted signs, being retrograde, or achieving digbala. Again, this simply reinforces one of my original expectations, that Mars plays a strong role by virtue of its competitive instinct, logic and speed.
- * Perhaps most remarkably, 14 (70%) out of 20 subjects in this study had a strong Jupiter, ie, in its own or exalted signs, retrograde, or having digbala. Again, this conforms to the character profile of a chess grandmaster – exhaustive knowledge of the game, the foresight to “see” multiple moves ahead from both one’s own and the opponent’s perspective, and the judgment to make the right moves with the best chance of a favorable outcome.
Aside from the frequent “sacrifices” of critical pieces on the chessboard in the pursuit of a winning game, the profession itself also seems to demand a grandmaster’s sacrifice of his life as well. Although there are exceptions, many world-class chess players have achieved little else by way of mundane career. In Soviet Russia such dedication was often encouraged by the state via free cars and accommodation, monthly stipends for living expenses, and reimbursed costs for tournament travel, all in the name of preserving Russia’s reputation for world chess mastery. Other countries have rarely been quite so supportive.
Aside from the mundane demands on a grandmaster’s time, there is also the physical and mental strain. More than a few world-class players have suffered from high blood pressure, hypertension and mental breakdowns. By way of example, consider the varied lives of just four chess luminaries:
Paul Morphy, was born 22 June 1837 into a wealthy New Orleans family, and learned chess as a child by watching his father and uncle play. He earned a law degree but on graduation at age 20 was too young to practice, so he went to New York to compete in the first American Chess Congress. After winning the tournament, he toured Europe to play the best of the era, winning easily in most cases. In France he contracted gastroenteritis, for which the accepted medical treatment of the day involved leeches. Weak from blood loss and unable to stand, Morphy insisted on playing a scheduled series of matches against a German master, whom he beat.
Back in America, he toured the country and played several more matches, then abruptly retired at age 22, for which reason he was later dubbed “the Pride and Sorrow of Chess” because he’d abandoned his brilliant career while still so young. After the Civil War, he was frustrated to find most clients in his law practice just wanted to discuss chess rather than their legal problems. One July day in 1884, after returning home from a long walk in the sweltering heat, he instructed his domestic help to prepare a bath of ice-cold water. He was later found lifeless in the tub, having apparently suffered a stroke precipitated by the shock of entering the cold water, dead at age 47.
Morphy’s birth time is unknown, but even from the Chandralagna, we can see strength in his horoscope. Lagnesh Saturn is doubly strong in the 9th, ie, exalted and retrograde, a measure of concentration and strategy. The game-playing 3rd lord Mars forms Chandra-Mangala yoga with the Moon, signifying competition, logic and speed. The analytic 5th lord Mercury is in Parivartana with Venus, both in positive houses. Jupiter is exalted in the 6th, highlighting competition and foresight.
José Raul Capablanca, born 19 November 1888, learned chess at age four by watching his father, a retired military officer, play with friends. He joined the Havana Chess Club at age eight but was discouraged by the family doctor from playing too frequently because he became too tense. When he was admitted to New York’s Columbia University, he tried out for the varsity baseball team and was awarded the shortstop position. But when he joined the Manhattan Chess Club and began devoting so many of his waking hours to chess, he lost his financial support and never earned his degree in chemical engineering.
In due course, he accepted a job in the Cuban Foreign Office, which gave him financial security, and allowed him time off to compete in chess tournaments throughout America and Europe, before and after WW1. At one point, he played an exhibition game in Cleveland against 103 opponents, a record for the day. During this period, he went through a tumultuous time in his marriage while having an affair with another woman, and was diagnosed with dangerously-high blood pressure due to hypertension. He later died at age 54 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Despite his achievements, Capablanca in his final years admitted wishing he’d studied music or medicine, resented that chess had dominated his life, and confessed that baseball had been the true love of his life.
Capablanca’s horoscope reveals some of the classic indications for superior gamesmanship. The 3rd lord Mars is in a kendra, forming Parivartana yoga with Jupiter in the 3rd. The Moon is powerful in the 9th house of strategy, being both exalted and full, where it forms Kesari yoga with Jupiter. The 5th lord Saturn aspects its own house.
Bobby Fischer, born 9 March 1943, learned chess at age six from a chess set bought at a variety store. He was raised in Brooklyn by a single mother who’d separated from both her husband and the man who was allegedly Bobby’s biological father. Despite his mother being Jewish, Fischer grew up intensely anti-Semitic, even going so far in later years to deny the Holocaust. Aside from chess books, his library was full of anti-Semitic and racist literature.
At age 14, Fischer became the youngest ever US Chess champion, and at age 15, the youngest Grandmaster to date. From 1963 onward he swept the field, culminating in his famous World Championship win over Boris Spassky in 1972, a Cold-War-era triumph that was celebrated as American exceptionalism in the face of a longstanding Russian stranglehold on the game. But after that, Fischer became reclusive and erratic. He joined the cult-like World Church of God and became more extremist in his views. He has been variously diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, Asberger’s syndrome, and paranoid personality disorder.
After violating a UN embargo against playing in Yugoslavia, Fischer was sanctioned by the US State Department. For years he lived in exile – in Hungary, the Philippines and Japan – in each of which countries he lived with or had romantic relationships with female chess aficionados. After being arrested in Japan for using his revoked US passport, Fischer was for a time state-less until Iceland offered him citizenship. He died there, age 64, after refusing medical treatment for degenerative kidney failure.
Fischer’s horoscope exemplifies many of the generic qualities of grandmasters noted earlier. His lagnesh Moon is in a Mars-ruled sign in the 10th house aspected by its dispositor Mars. His 5th lord Mars is exalted, forming Ruchaka yoga in the 7th house. His exalted Venus occupies the 9th house while his 9th lord Jupiter is strong by virtue of retrogression. As 6th lord, that same strong Jupiter in the 12th forms Viparita yoga.
Garry Kasparov, born 13 April 1963, got interested in chess as a child after seeing a problem set up by his parents on a chessboard, and proposed a solution. By age 10 he was being trained by a professional coach, and at ages 13 and 17, respectively, won the Soviet and World Junior Championships. He became the youngest ever World Chess Champion at age 22 by defeating then-champion Anatoly Karpov, and held the #1 world ranking for the next 20 years!
In 1997 he lost a highly publicized match to IBM’s “Deep Blue” supercomputer under standard time controls. Although this might have been regarded as a humiliation, it should also be noted that it took two generations of computer programmers and leading-edge computational power to match Kasparov’s native ability.
After Kasparov retired from chess in 2005, he devoted his time to politics and writing. An outspoken political dissident who became a fierce opponent of Putin, he’s lucky to have avoided incarceration or poisoning. Perhaps Putin dared not risk the public outcry in punishing a national treasure like Kasparov, who in chess-worshipping Russia is regarded as just short of a living deity. Leaving nothing to chance, however, Kasparov now lives in New York. He has since become a prolific writer, covering a wide range of subject matter, from his 5-volume grandmaster homage series My Great Predecessors, to his political wakeup call, Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. And Kasparov is not only prolific but clever. After Mike Pence called Putin a strong leader, Kasparov retorted that Putin is a strong leader “in the same way arsenic is a strong drink.” Checkmate!
Kasparov’s chart epitomizes many of the esteemed qualities of grandmasters. Lagnesh Mars and 9th lord Moon are in Parivartana, lending a distinctly aggressive gestalt to his horoscope. His 3rd lord Saturn, governing game skills, is swarashi on the nodal axis with Mars. Saturn and Mars in mutual aspect create a Dharma-Karma Adhipati yoga, while the association of Mars with Rahu in the 9th creates Raja yoga. His 5th lord Jupiter occupies its own sign where it forms another Raja yoga with his 10th lord Sun. Further note the cohesiveness of a chart wherein all three dharma lords stay within their respective water triad, and Jupiter stabilizes the Parivartana between Moon and Mars.
In reviewing the results of this analysis, we have thus seen how, among all of the planets, Mars and Jupiter have assumed a relatively dominant role in the horoscopes of so many chess grandmasters. As karaka of logic, speed and competitive instinct, Mars is perhaps the most significant. But just as every winning chess play is often a two-pronged attack of sorts, Jupiter is the other essential factor, bringing an exhaustive knowledge of the game, the strategic foresight to see multiple moves ahead, and the good judgment to make the right moves.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your chess clocks!
Alan Annand studied with Hart deFouw. He’s a graduate of the American College of Vedic Astrology and a former tutor for the British Faculty of Astrological Studies.
He’s also the author of several books. Kala Sarpa is a first-of-its-kind reference text on a unique pattern in jyotisha that is not discussed in shastra yet is part of India’s rich oral tradition. Stellar Astrology, Volumes 1-3 offer a wealth of time-tested techniques via biographical profiles, analyses of world events, and technical essays. Parivartana Yoga is a reference text for one of the most common yet powerful planetary combinations in jyotisha.
Aside from his Montreal-based crime novels, his New Age Noir crime series (Scorpio Rising, Felonious Monk, Soma County) feature astrologer and palmist Axel Crowe, whom one reviewer has dubbed “Sherlock Holmes with a horoscope.”
Websites: www.navamsa.com, www.sextile.com