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The Web Site of Victor Niederhoffer & Laurel Kenner

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Proverbs of Tom Wiswell

Walking in Central Park one sunny day, carrying his toddler Galt on the shoulders, Vic spotted a man playing checkers under the trees. The meeting that ensued resulted in one of the most remarkable collections of proverbs ever assembled. The man under the trees was checkers champion Tom Wiswell. He began to make weekly visits to Vic's trading offices in Manhattan. On each visit, he wrote down a dozen or so proverbs applicable to winning in markets and life as well as board games. At his death, he had left some 10,000 or 15,000 proverbs in Vic's keeping. We are pleased to periodically post selections from the treasure chest.

(For more chess and checkers wisdom, visit the Web site of Grandmaster Nigel Davies, who has compiled a collection that includes many Wiswell sayings from Vic's archives; http://tigerchess.nigeldavies.net/wise_words.htm.)

(If you would like links to individual quotes, click here.)

A BETTER PERSPECTIVE: Years ago I discovered that by standing up and looking at the position from a distance I got a better understanding of the game. This helped me a great deal.

A CLEAN SLATE: After you lose a tough game there is only one thing to do: set them up and start all over again.

A COMMON FAILING: One of the greatest errors in Chess or Checkers is to think you have everything under control.

A DOUBTING THOMAS: If you want to be certain of your position, you must begin by doubting it.

A MASTER'S TRIPOD: Some players have ability and knowledge, but lack discipline; without the third leg the tripod falls.

A MOVE AT A TIME: You walk a mile a step at a time; you play a game a move at a time: and you must win a tournament a round at a time. Chess and Checker matches and tournaments require a great deal of patience. (reminds of saying: How do you eat an elephant? . A bite at a time.)

A ROSE GARDEN: You can't harvest winning games if you haven't planted the seeds of victory.

A TIME FOR ALL THINGS: There is a time attack and a time to defend, and there is a time wait and see; and you must know when to do what.

A WELCOME WIN: A blunder by your opponent obligingly covers a multitude of your sins.

A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING: The trouble with a loss is that it usually looks like a win or a draw.

A WONDER-FULL LIFE!  When you are playing and let your mind wander, you may soon start to wonder: What happened to my wins? What happened to my draws?  It may be a "board of recreation," but it demands strict attention at all times.

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED: Time, Space, and Psychology figure in nearly every game we play, yet most players fail to take them into serious consideration. Do you?

AMBITION: You have to burn the midnight oil if you want to set the Checker World on fire.

BEAU GESTE: It’s a nice gesture to show your opponent the draw play… after you’ve beaten him.

BIG GAME! :  Remember, when you are out hunting dragons, sometimes the dragon wins.

BITE THE BULLET: Don't wear yourself out on the "must" moves: save your time for the difficult moves.

BODY LANGUAGE: When you are in questionable position, don’t alert your opponent by twisting and turning; --look confident and ride out the storm.

BOTTOM LINE: Never interfere with your opponent when he is destroying himself. ---Napoleon.

BRILLIANCY ?: Sometimes when I win a beautiful game I think I am either a genius, or I’m lucky, and I know I’m not a genius.

BUILD WELL: A good game, like a good house, must have a strong foundation.

CHANGE OF PLANS: There are games where you must change the battle plan in the midst of the battle. For some, that is psychologically impossible, and they go down to defeat.

CONTROL: You will take charge of your game during the early stages, or your game will take charge of you during the later stages.

DEFEATS BEFORE VICTORIES: You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs and you can’t make an expert without breaking some egos.

DEVELOP THE NEGATIVE: When watching the good players in competition -- be sure to make note of the moves that are not made. That makes all the difference.

DOUBLE CHECK: Moves that were once thought to draw-are now known to lose; and moves that were once thought to win-are now known to draw. Play is always in a state of flux.

EN PASSANT: Victory makes us poets, defeat makes us philosophical.

ERRORLESS PLAY: In Chess and Checkers you can be ninety-nine percent right and still lose; one bad move can defeat ninety-nine good ones.

FALSE SECURITY: It is better that you lose an unsound game, than draw it and still think it is safe. Later, you might lose this same game in a more important event.

FOOL'S GOLD: The search for a foolproof system is always in vain.

GAMBLING GAMBLITEERS: Smart gamblers never gamble, and when a master sacrifices a piece, you can usually prepare to resign.

GO FOR THE JUGULAR: A player should never pull his punches, especially when he has the strong side.

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES:I like to take the rejected and discarded lines and play them for wins: one such game lead to a world championship!

GOLDMINE OF THE BOARD: When I'm asked why I spend so much time on the endgame, I reply: "That's where the wins are."

GOOD WINS AND GOOD LOSSES: You can’t possibly win every game, so try to lose respectably, or even brilliantly.

GRESHAM'S LAW: Good playing, in the long run, drives out and defeats bad playing.

HAPPY ENDINGS: A good move may not seem to pay off in the opening, or in the middle game but it will show its worth in the ending.

HE ALSO SERVES..: The master knows exactly the right time to do nothing.

HE WHO PLAYS & RUNS AWAY: Knowing when to take the draw is the mark of a true champion.

HOBGOBLINS: Most players feel they always have to be consistent, but masters are more prone to change their opinions about their lines of play.

HOISTED BY MY OWN PETARD: I can stand falling into someone else's trap, but to lose by my own play is unbearable.

HOUDINIS: Having a champion in a loss-and winning it-are two different things: they are master escape artists and know many ways to avoid defeat. So beware!

IDIOT SAVANTS: There are genius players who have "sixth sense", but some of them do not have the other five!

IMPROVISATION: Masters are like generals; it takes an emergency to reveal their genius.

INACTION IN ACTION: Many games are won by the art of judicious leaving-alone of queens and men.  This negative habit often develops into a win.

INTUITION: What your instinct tells you, your brain should follow.

KEEP AN OPEN MIND: Chess and checker students lose games because they can resist everything but temptation.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: Knowledge alone cannot make a player, but lack of knowledge can surely unmake one.

LINKAGE: Odd little waiting moves are often the glue that holds the game together.

LIVING DANGEROUSLY: To infiltrate enemy territory is exciting and often rewarding; buy remember, spies can be shot on sight.

LOOKING AHEAD: You make a blunder in a game for one of two reasons: 1. You were not looking far enough ahead. 2. You were looking too far ahead.

LOOKING BACK: Exploring the lines of yesterday's masters may be as important as knowing today's latest moves.

LORELEI: Players are usually at their most confident peak -- just before they walk into -- disaster.

MAGIC POWERS: Some masters seem to lead charmed lives escaping certain defeat or winning hopeless games: but behind their charmed lives are years of work and study.

MAKE HASTE SLOWLY: Many players expect to understand Chess, or Checkers, in a comparatively short time; but they are doomed to failure, unless they are geniuses. (There are few Bobby Fischers or Marion Tinsleys.)

MATURING PLAYERS: You learn nothing the first ten years, compared to the ‘re-learning’ of the second ten.

MEMORY MACHINES: Don't try to rely solely on the books, your memory isn't good enough: try a little understanding.

MIGHT AND RIGHT: Numbers do not always guarantee victory: real power often resides in position and timing.

MIS-PLAYS: Sometimes when I make a blunder, I wonder if my hand is connected to my brain.

MUDDLING THROUGH: You rarely stumble into winning games, but you can easily stumble into losing positions; especially in the middle game.

NEW IDEAS WIN NEW GAMES: Your manuscript needs a continuous flow of new cooks and ideas. It should be a living, breathing document. Start one today.

NINETY-NINE PERCENT PERFECT ISN'T ENOUGH: When a pitcher has a perfect game for eight and two-thirds innings and then allows a hit, it is not a perfect game; and when you play perfectly for ninety-nine percent of the game, and then make a mistake, you lose perfection and the game.

NO GUARANTEED GAMES:  The good player knows when to play for a win, when to play for a draw, and finally, when to resign.

NO RADAR: In many cases the player who is closest to the danger does not recognize it until it it too late.

NO-RISK POLICY?: There is nothing more dangerous than a lack of caution unless, perhaps it's too much caution.

OLD BECOMS NEW: The older the play is, the more apt it will be new to your opponent.  I have won more games with ancient lines than with today’s latest developments.

OLD FAITHFUL: I have often been asked why I always play 11-15, and I reply: That's where the wins are."

ORIGINAL THOUGHT: The player who remains slave to the books will not become master.

PATIENCE: A little knowledge is dangerous thing, and this is especially true of Chess and Checkers.  It will be months and years before you see the light, but the long wait will be rewarded.

POINT OF NO RETURN: We don't always make one sudden losing move: rather we drift and make one weak move after the other, thereby feeding the seeds of defeat.

POINT OF VIEW: Don't worry about how far ahead you can see, just make sure you're looking in the right direction.

POST-MORTEMS: Why is it in the heat of battle our play is seldom as good as it is the next morning.

PREVENTIVE PLAYING: Some players seem to have the knack of getting out of trouble; but it is even better if you have the knack of staying out of trouble.

QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY: Do not retain a lot of useless information; keep your manuscript lean by selectivity, and the study of transpositions. Study The Dyke, The Defiance, The Pioneer, and similar openings, because you are then studying many openings from one.

READER'S DIGEST: Do not try to remember more play than you can digest: it is better to know less and understand more.  That is real progress.

REASON-ABLE: Your intuition may, at times, lead you to the right move, but it won't really help until you find out why it works.

RECKLESS AND WRECKLESS ? The player who moves without a motive is an accident going somewhere to happen.

RESILIENCE: Your best quality is not in never losing, but in losing and coming every time you lose.

REVERSING ROLES: He liked to set traps, but he always turned out to be the trapped; not the trapper.

ROAD TO FAME: Oddly enough, a master is known for the moves he does not make, and a patzer for the moves he does make.

ROLLER-COASTER: When you sit down to play a master, fasten your seat belts, it’s apt to be a bumpy road.

SEIZE THE MOMENT: A passive move is best met with an aggressive reply-or an opportunity and the game, may be lost.

SELF-CONTROL: “The differences between great player are quite elusive and not so easily pinned down. All of these players can visualize far ahead and their knowledge is encyclopedic. Often I feel the differences are in the form of composure, self-control and faith.” Dr. Marion Tinsley


SHOCK TREATMENT: A good scare may eventually help you to make a good score.

SONDHEIM AND SHAKESPEARE: Don’t let your love for the game keep you from listening to some good music or reading a great book every day.

SOUND ADVICE: Do not play all the lines that you know, but know all the lines that you play.

STEP INTO MY PARLOR: When your opponent allows you to make a very inviting move, remember the story of the spider and the fly.

STICK-TO-IT-IVE-NESS: Some players possess hardly any talent except perseverance, and occasionally they become champions.

STRIKE WHILE THE IRON IS HOT: Exploit an advantage in the position immediately, before your opponent regroups and equalizes the game.

STRIKE... : When the time is right you must seize the moment, or forever hold your peace.

STYLISH PLAYERS: When I was a student, many years ago, I not only studied the games of the masters, I studied their styles; there is a difference.  The great ones always had a unique quality that bore the mark of a genius: A Capablanca, or a Wyllie.

TAKE THE DRAW AND RUN: If you insist upon trying to win a draw, you may succeed...for your opponent.

THE ATTRACTION: Chess and Checkers must be learned, and relearned, over and over.  That's what holds us, often for a lifetime!

THE BIG GAMBLE: There will be times in the game when your only chance is to take a long shot, knowing you may draw, but also knowing that you may lose: A throw of the dice in a game of skill.

THE BITTER END: Some games are lost in the first five minutes, but far more are lost in the last five minutes.

THE BOTTOM LINE : Knowledge is not much good without wisdom; and wisdom is not much good without knowledge. You need both to be a winner.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A game without danger, or doubt, or defeat, would hardly be worth the playing.  You must risk the slings and arrows of warfare to enjoy.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A gross mistake is a hundred and forty-four times worse than an ordinary mistake.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Never say die.  Good players may resign, but never give up.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The easiest way to solve a tough problem in nearly always wrong.

THE COMPLETE PLAYER: Knowledge in the opening: judgment in the midgame: genius in the ending.

THE COMPUTER AGE: In spite of all the computers the playing of Chess and Checkers is not basically different. Those who oppose the computers across the board will have to know much more play, and that is all for the best.

THE COPY CAT: After your surprise attack wins for you, some clever players adopt the same play, and score with it! Moral: Know the defense as well as the attack.

THE ENDLESS ENDING: You have to spend five years on the opening, ten years on the midgame, and a lifetime on the ending.

THE FOLLOW THROUGH: Once you get a win you have to know how to execute it, or your opponent may execute you.

THE ILLUSION: You are in the greatest danger… when your game appears the safest.

THE LONG AND THE SHORT: Good players appreciate "economy." They try to avoid long" Raggedy Ann" endings, yet they can handle them when necessary.

THE LONG HUNT: Strange as it seems, you often find your best play when you are not looking for it. In the past I have discovered some of my "cooks" while checking old play. So keep on looking, you never know what gold you will find.

THE LONG MATCH:  One win is just the first battle in a long, hard war.

THE LONG WAY HOME: Cut short your search for the short-cut: the long way is the short way and the right way.

THE MIDDLE WAY: The winning players are not too cautious or too aggressive; they have discovered the golden mean.

THE MOVE IS THE MESSAGE: Every time your opponent moves he tells you something, but you must listen closely.

THE NEW LOOK: Sometimes originality is just a new way of looking at an old line of play.

THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES: You must learn to pause and study the position closely: it will save you from many a defeat.

THE QUIET MASTERS: The greater the players the more they observe and the less they say: they file away the best play for future rainy days. That's why the Tinsleys and the Kasparovs are never without a good cook when one is needed. File away your good play and be ready for "The Day".

THE RAZOR'S EDGE:  It isn't only the number of games you win that count, it's the number of drawn games you don't try to win.  In short, don't overplay what you consider a slight edge.

THE RECIPE: After winning a good game, I always ask myself: “Where did I go right?”

THE RIGHT MIXTURE: Every player needs confidence—with a dash of self-criticism and skepticism.

THE RISING STAR: Move, by move, game by game, match by match, tournament by tournament: that’s how you become an expert, a master, or even a grand master.  Go for it!

THE STARS OF TOMORROW?:  If more good players wrote more good books, we'd surely have more good players.

THE THREE I’S: I don't think that the programmed knowledge of the computer will make the individual player an expert or a master. What really helps us improve is: our intelligence, our imagination, and our intuition.

THE UNBEATEN PATH: The conformist expert will probably draw many games, but the non-conformist expert will probably win many games? and become a master?

THE UNEXAMINED GAME: Little errors untended, I've discovered too often, have a way of turning into big ones.

THE UNEXPECTED: Unless you are prepared to expect the unexpected, be prepared to expect the unexpected defeat.

THINKING GAMES: The wood pusher thinks every other move, the master thinks every move, that makes all the difference.

TODAY AND TOMORROW: The styles of play may vary, but the basic ideas of winning and drawing remain constant.

TODAY IS NOW: Yesterday's wins and losses are yesterday's wins and losses -- and the yesterdays are gone.

TROJAN HORSE: Learning how to refuse proffered material-that may be tainted-is an art: cultivate it.

UNCERTAINTY IS CERTAIN: If you fear the unknown, the unexplored, and the unpublished, don’t play chess or checkers.

UNITY AND STRENGTH: It is important to keep your forces together, yet flexible, ready to attack-or-defend, as the game develops. Any general will tell you that a divided army is hardly headed for victory.

UNSOUND PLAY: A win by an unsound combination, however showy, fills me with artistic horror. --Wilhem Steinitz

UNTIMELY RESIGNATIONS: Some games are lost by asking for a draw when it is too late, and some are lost by resigning too soon: some players even resign when they have a win!

USE YOUR HEAD, LOOK AHEAD: Always look as far ahead as you can; and then look one more move.

V FOR VICTORY:  Vision, plus versatility, plus valor, lead the Vanguard.

VERSTILITY: Some players never fall for the same trap twice, they are very good at finding new ways to lose.

WE ARE ALL MORTAL: Was there ever a master who did not acknowledge the fact that, now and then, he was still a first class patzer.

 WHAT WE DO AND DON’T DO: Games are lost by errors of omission as much as by errors of commission.

WHEN FORCE BECOMES FARCE: The blunderbuss attack seldom, if ever, works in Chess and Checkers. Subtlety is the real secret of success and is more apt to win, whereas the clumsy combination is bound to fail. It is seldom necessary, or even useful, to bully your way to a win.

WINNING IS NOT EVERYTHING: The longer I live the more importance I attach to playing on the square, and the less importance I attach to "winning at all costs".

WISDOM AND PRECISION: Chess is the philosophy of life. -- Arthur Bisguier Checkers is the mathematics of life. -- Tom Wiswell.

YOU MUST FIGHT BACK: If you let a loss demoralize you the Game of Life is not worth playing. You have to set them up and play another game!

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS: The master doesn’t beat you, he let’s you beat yourself…and you cooperate.

YOUR MANUSCRIPT: The player who records his losses today won't repeat them tomorrow.

ZOOLOGY: A good player should be part fox, part elephant, part bloodhound, and part mule.