Ron White shares his thoughts on Albert Einstein and the games he played.

Einstein did not spend all his time engrossed in ways to improve the world. He understood the value of taking time away from your work to enjoy life and get away from the stress of life for a while. His leisure time was not spent on ‘brain exercises’ and ‘brain games’ because as he said he did that all day long.  In an October, 1936 interview with the New York Times, Einstein said, “I do not play any games. There is no time for it. When I get through work I don’t want anything which requires the working of the mind.” He also said, “I always dislike the fierce competitive spirit embodied in [chess].” His preferred leisure time was spent playing the violin and sailing.

He did, however, have an avid interest in the game of chess (we would consider this a brain game, but Einstein did not), a game he learned as a boy. He did not consider himself excellent at it, but enjoyed playing with his friends and neighbors, and always had a chessboard set up in his home. He is quoted as saying: “Chess grips its exponent, shackling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom and independence of even the strongest character cannot remain unaffected.” Einstein also said, “I always dislike the fierce competitive spirit embodied in [chess].”

When he met children, Einstein would ask them if they enjoyed music or if they could they play chess. Occasionally he would teach the basics of chess to a child and then tell that child to practice. The next time he visited they would play a game of chess together.

One such child was Ralph D. Gardner, who met Einstein in 1934. At the time Gardner was just 11, and was not aware until years later that Einstein was in the midst of the greatest and most crucial time in his life. The Nazis had confiscated his possessions on one of his trips to the United States due to his outspoken criticism of the German government and Hitler. It was at that time Einstein joined the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University.

Gardner spoke German, something he picked up from his grandparents. He met Einstein through a neighbor and because Einstein was most comfortable speaking German the boy became a Saturday afternoon companion, playing chess before afternoon tea. “We played chess, with him suggesting how to avoid my wrong moves and how to maneuver pieces to better advantage. I don’t remember ever winning, though we probably never completed a game before tea was served,” Gardner said.

After tea Einstein and Gardner’s neighbor, Federal Judge Julian Mack, would depart to discuss private matters. Garner later discovered that the Judge and Einstein had helped people escape Nazi Germany (many were scientists) by getting them jobs at American universities.

To learn more about Albert Einstein, and find out “How To Develop The Mind of Einstein,” check out the CDs.


Resources: – Albert Einstein:

My Saturday Afternoons with Albert Einstein by Ralph Gardner:

How To Develop The Mind of Einstein, by Ron White: