City of Thieves

Chess Symbol Icon

As a child Lev was a brilliant chess player, but wasn't able to reach the "higher plane" that would've allowed him to continue to be brilliant as an adult. Since chess is a strategy game, it works throughout City of Thieves as a metaphor, as Lev and Kolya discuss their plans and strategies for staying alive as well as finding eggs. It also serves to differentiate between Lev, who is described as being small and weak, and other more conventionally masculine and strong characters like Kolya, the giant, or Abendroth. While Lev is certainly at a disadvantage for most of the novel because of his fear and slight build, it's his knowledge of chess that allows him to strategically position himself, Kolya, and Vika in a place to both beat Abendroth at chess and kill him.

Chess Quotes in City of Thieves

The City of Thieves quotes below all refer to the symbol of Chess. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Growing Up Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of City of Thieves published in 2009.
Chapter 22 Quotes

"We're pawns and he's a rook, that's what you're saying."
"We're less than pawns. Pawns have value."
"If we can take a rook, we have value, too."

Related Characters: Kolya Vlasov (speaker), Vika (speaker), Lev Beniov, Abendroth
Related Symbols: Chess
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chess Symbol Timeline in City of Thieves

The timeline below shows where the symbol Chess appears in City of Thieves. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Growing Up Theme Icon
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
...they eventually agreed. David's grandparents moved to Florida, where his grandfather spends his time playing chess on the computer and his grandmother teaches Russian Literature at the local community college. They're... (full context)
Chapter 4
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
...replies that if they were friends, he could teach Lev things about girls, literature, and chess. They discuss betting on a game of chess, and Kolya suggests a bet of Lev's... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
...knife to Kolya because he already knew everyone in Piter who could beat him at chess. Lev was a young chess talent, but discovered as a teenager that he would never... (full context)
Chapter 10
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
...and full. While Sonya and Kolya are occupied in the bedroom, Lev and Timofei play chess. It's obvious that Lev is very good, but when he remarks that he used to... (full context)
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
...hands him a cup of tea. Timofei is still out cold, snoring. Kolya studies the chessboard and frowns, remarking that Lev is very good. Lev asks if he still wants to... (full context)
Chapter 14
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
...got Zoya first when he came, and then would drink plum schnapps and sometimes plays chess with Lara. Nina says that Abendroth is the worst of them. (full context)
Chapter 15
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
...deck of sexy French women Kolya had offered to play for in a game of chess. Kolya says that after tonight he and Lev are going to be heroes for the... (full context)
Chapter 19
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
...him, but Vika declares that he doesn't matter. Kolya affectionately says that Lev plays great chess, and the three argue about their relative importance to each other. Kolya ends by declaring... (full context)
Chapter 21
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Lev tries to distract himself from his hunger and thinks about chess and then Vika, who smells like a wet dog. Lev thinks that his mother never... (full context)
Chapter 22
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
...are worth sacrificing to take down Abendroth. Kolya confirms that she's suggesting that they are chess pawns and Abendroth is a rook. Kolya suddenly smiles, and tells Vika and Lev to... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
...the soldiers he had a wager for Abendroth that 15-year-old Lev could beat Abendroth at chess without a queen. When Lev protests that he's 17, Kolya declares that 15 is more... (full context)
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Kolya explains that if Lev loses the chess game, Abendroth can shoot them all, and if Lev wins, Abendroth sets them free. When... (full context)
Chapter 23
Growing Up Theme Icon
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
...Abendroth sits at an end of a long table, drinking clear alcohol, with a traveling chessboard already arranged. He's not the professorial type that Lev expected. Rather, he's a very large... (full context)
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
...offering that his grandmother was from Vienna. Abendroth asks how Kolya learned that he plays chess, and Kolya mentions the soldier he spoke to earlier in the day, saying he was... (full context)
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
...he can speak German but not read, and then asks Lev how he can play chess but also be illiterate. He doesn't give Lev or Kolya time to answer before declaring... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
...agrees that Abendroth can do all these things, but insists that Lev will play terrible chess if Kolya's dead, and asks for eggs one more time. Abendroth mutters a command to... (full context)
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Abendroth pulls out a coin to toss and begin the chess game with Lev, telling him he can keep his queen. The opening moves are classic... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
...and Abendroth and Lev begin exchanging pieces. Abendroth remarks that Jews make great violinists and chess players. Lev ignores him and keeps playing, but soon realizes that his plan with Kolya... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
...up and tackle the soldiers. Lev pretends to scratch his calf as Abendroth studies the chessboard, finally realizing his defeat. Abendroth smiles and declares it beautiful. (full context)
Chapter 25
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sexuality, Masculinity, and Power Theme Icon
...is gone. Kolya insists that Lev will stay with Sonya. Their conversation meanders from the chess match to the four girls in the farmhouse, and finally as they reach Piter's defenses,... (full context)