Chess/music synaesthesia

What is even weirder than me having a sense of synaesthesia linking musical key signatures and chess openings is the fact that I never consciously realized that this was kind of a weird thing until today. Actually, calling it synaesthesia may be overstating it; it’s not like music springs into my head as I play an opening, but I definitely do feel a consistent correlation.

Here’s a list off the top of my head of chess opening/musical key associations, trying to think about it as little as possible so as to let my subconscious through:

Giuoco Piano: C major
– Evans Gambit: Bb major
Ruy Lopez: C major
– Open: E major
Sicilian Defense: G major
– Najdorf : D major
– Taimanov: E minor
French Defense: A minor
Pirc Defense: B minor
Modern Defense: B major
Queen’s Gambit Declined: Eb major
King’s Indian Defense: Bb minor
Grünfeld Defense: D minor
Benoni: B major (I know it is odd for this to be on the sharp side, but a pawn on c5 clearly implies a B natural in the tonic triad!)

Since I am doing this all subconsciously, it is hard for me to actually defend these associations, but I can identify some general correspondences. In general e4 openings tend towards the sharp side of the keys while d4 openings tend towards the flat side. I think there also seems to be some correlation between minor keys and Black only advancing his pawns one square. Both of these do seem to make some sort of sense: e4 openings are “sharper” and “brighter” while d4 openings are more “quiet” and “restrained”, while only advancing your pawns to the sixth rank is a little “sad”. But I would certainly not fight anyone who claimed that these associations basically make no sense at all.

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6 Responses to “Chess/music synaesthesia”

  1. Rob Weychert says:

    Fascinating! I’m looking forward to knowing enough about both chess and music theory to make these kinds of associations. By the way, if you don’t want to use the lowercase b, the HTML entity for the flat symbol is ♭.

  2. dfan says:

    (which as Rob tried point out to in followup comments that I will mercifully delete because WordPress automatically converted all his attempts to escape the HTML code, is & # 9 8 3 7 ;. Let’s hope that worked.)

  3. geenius says:

    OK, you know what’s really scary? I’m looking at some of your associations, and I’m thinking, Of course.

  4. geenius says:

    English Opening: A-flat major?
    Alekhine: G minor? Or maybe F-sharp minor?

  5. weng siow says:


    I came across your blog from a reference at ChessPub to memory and chess positions. Great blog.

    Re Music, I recently came across an interview with at Chessville where instead of notes to chess opening correlations, it was composers to chess players:

    “Well, for me the resemblance between Capablanca and Mozart is absolutely evident. I would compare Lasker with Beethoven, and Steinitz with Bach. Alekhine with his wealth of ideas and sense of harmony is akin to Rachmaninoff. Smyslov’s harmony is closer to that of Chaikovsky’s. Fischer is as monumental as Liszt. Tal reminds me of Paganini – the same self-abandon and fatalism. Botvinnik is associated for me with Wagner. Karpov’s chess is as simple and as complicated as Prokofiev’s music. Kasparov with his dynamic play brings to mind Shostakovich and his symphonies…” (

  6. dfan says:

    Interesting, thanks for the pointer. That sort of correlation has never occurred to me. I can see where Taimanov is coming from (he is of course a musician himself), but if I had been forced to make any correspondences, I would have come up with Fischer – Mozart (deceptive simplicity, clarity of thought) and Kasparov – Beethoven (chess/music as titanic dynamic struggle). His make sense too, though.

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