Pestaño: What do Nobel prize winners have in common?

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

ASIDE from being highly intelligent and predominantly male (97.5 percent), you would be surprised to know that a great number of Nobel laureates play chess as their main hobby.

Baruch Aba Shalev, author of a book on the Nobel Prize, has said, “the Nobel Prize has come to be regarded as the best-known and most prestigious award available in the fields of literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, peace and economics.”

Surprisingly, there is no award for mathematics.


The category for peace was added in 1969, and is awarded in Oslo, Norway, while the others are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.

From the start “The Prize” (as it was sensationalized in Irving Wallace’s 1960 novel) became one of the most sought-after awards in the world, and eventually the yardstick against which other prizes and recognition were to be measured.

Each recipient, or laureate, receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money which depends on the Nobel Foundation’s income that year. In 2011, each prize was worth $1.46 million.

The prizes were instituted by Alfred Nobel, who made a fortune when he patented his discovery of dynamite and then sold the patents .Nobel could hardly have imagined the almost mythic status that would accrue to the laureates.

You will also be surprised, like myself, to realize that at least 185 Jews and people of half- or three-quarters-Jewish ancestry, have been awarded the Nobel Prize, accounting for 22 percent of all individual recipients worldwide. Of organizations awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, 25 percent were founded principally by Jews. The percentage of the Jews in the world is less than 0.2 percent.

An interesting fact is that most of the Nobel Prize winners who played chess were in the fields of physics, literature and economics.

Here are the Nobel chess-playing laureates: Albert Einstein (physics), Albert Michelson (physics), Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (physics), Max Planck (physics), Carl Wieman (physics), Zhores Alferov (physics), William Lawrence Bragg (physics), Percy Bridgman (physics), Richard Feynman (physics), Peter Kapitza (physicist), Sinclair Lewis (literature), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (literature), William Yeats (literature), Elias Canetti (literature), John Cockroft (literature), Samuel Beckett (literature), Ivo Andric (literature), Isaac Singer (literature), Henryk Sienkiewicz (literature), William Golding (literature), John Steinbeck (literature), John Nash (economics), John Harsanyi (economics), Edward Prescott (economics), Gerard Debreu (economics), James Heckman (economics), Simon Herbert (economics), Dudley Herschbach (chemistry), Sir Robert Robinson (chemistry), Herbert Sir Frederick Soddy (chemistry), John Cornforth (chemistry), Bertrand Russell (literature), Bernard Katz (medicine).

Here are a few more avid chess players: Menachim Begin (peace), William Henry Bragg (physics), Willy Brandt (peace ), Jimmy Carter (peace), Mikhail Gorbachev (peace),Winston Churchill (literature), Al Gore (peace ), Andre Gide (literature), Edward Kendall (medicine), Henry Kissinger (peace), Robert Mundell (economics), Pablo Neruda (literature), Barack Obama (peace), Boris Pasternak (literature), Theodore Roosevelt (peace), Anwar Sadat (peace ), George Bernard Shaw (literature), Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (medicine), John Vane (medicine), Woodrow Wilson (peace ), Muhammed Yunus (peace ).

Research on chess in schools demonstrates that playing chess helps children improve their logical and abstract thinking, decision-making and creativity. Might there be a correlation between great achievement and early exposure to chess?


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 02, 2012.


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