Chess Story Summary

  • Last updated on July 3, 2023
Author: Stefan Zweig
Title: Chess Story (also known as The Royal Game)
Publish Date: 1941
Genre: Novella
Page Length: Approximately 80 pages (varies depending on edition)


In Stefan Zweig's Chess Story, also known as The Royal Game, the author explores the depths of human psychology through the medium of chess. Set in the years preceding World War II, the story follows the protagonist, Dr. B, as he encounters a mysterious chess genius named Czentovic during a voyage on a ship.

Part I: The Setting
The story begins with an introduction to Dr. B, a rich and successful lawyer who appears rather reserved and melancholic. Dr. B is drawn to a game of chess played by passengers aboard a ship traveling from New York to Buenos Aires. He watches in awe as Czentovic, the world chess champion, amazes everyone with his impeccable skill. This encounter sparks Dr. B's interest and ignites a deep desire within him to challenge Czentovic.

Part II: The Background
As the ship continues its journey, the narrative transitions into a detailed account of Dr. B's early life. The readers learn about his childhood, education, and his critical involvement in a political situation that led to his imprisonment. It is during this period of isolation that Dr. B discovers a book on chess tactics left behind by a fellow inmate. Fascinated, he begins to study the game, finding solace in its intricate moves and strategies.

Part III: The Turmoil
The plot then delves into the torturous experiences endured by Dr. B during his imprisonment, which notably had an adverse effect on his mental state. Through his vivid description, readers can sense the despair and loneliness that consumed him. However, his determination to survive and his passion for chess ultimately allow him to endure the horrors.

Part IV: The Tournament
Finally, the story returns to the present as the ship nears its destination. Dr. B, unable to resist the temptation any longer, challenges Czentovic to a game. Surprisingly, Dr. B's prowess surprises everyone, including Czentovic himself. The chess match becomes increasingly intense as Dr. B employs subtle strategies and techniques learned during his time in prison.

Part V: The Climax
As the game progresses, the tension reaches its peak, and an unexpected turn of events pushes Dr. B to the brink of defeat. Overcome with anxiety, he experiences a mental breakdown, leading to a severe psychological state known as "schachspielerei" (chess lunacy). Czentovic, puzzled by Dr. B's erratic behavior, consults an acquaintance who happens to be a renowned psychiatrist.

Part VI: The Revelations
The psychiatrist recognizes Dr. B's condition and, with the others' consent, tries to help him. Through a series of therapy sessions, the source of Dr. B's trauma gradually unfolds. It becomes evident that the prolonged isolation he endured in prison left him with no human interaction, leading to an unhealthy obsession with chess.

Part VII: The Aftermath
With the psychiatrist's guidance, Dr. B begins to recuperate, slowly returning to his previous state of sanity. The story concludes with a chess rematch between Dr. B and Czentovic along with a reflection on the ongoing struggle between genius and madness.

Chess Story delves into various themes that captivate readers, such as the power of intellect, the psychological impact of isolation, and the fine line between brilliance and insanity. The novella explores the significance of human connection and highlights the importance of balance in one's life, emphasizing how an excessive focus on a singular passion can lead to detrimental consequences.


Chess Story is a thought-provoking novella that offers an insightful exploration of the human psyche. Stefan Zweig masterfully weaves together elements of history, psychology, and chess to create a compelling narrative that captivates readers. The story serves as a cautionary tale, reminding individuals of the potential dangers associated with obsession and the precarious balance required for maintaining a healthy mental state. Through this work, Zweig challenges readers to consider the consequences of isolation, the power of intellectual pursuits, and the delicate equilibrium between genius and madness.

Categories: Books