Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Immortal Game of Chess


The Brooklyn Eagle was in the early to mid-nineteen hundreds the newspaper that reported on the Brooklyn Dodgers and baseball, and was the paper that famously said “The game of ball is glorious.” Well, if the game of ball is glorious, then the game of chess is well-nigh divine.
It is a game that was not the invention of any one man or group of men, but evolved slowly, across the centuries, in many places, at many times. Believed by some to have originated in India, it was long the games of kings and lords, in fact legend has it that knights had to know how to play chess, due to its strategic nature.
Much has changed about chess across the years, from the colors of the pieces to what they were called, from chariot to knight to elephant, depending on where and when you lived, to the difference in where those pieces were placed. Originally the pieces we now call the knight and bishop were reversed, and for a long time the queen did not exist at all; or else had different movements.
Besides from the board itself, the way the game has been viewed has also changed dramatically. At one point, in ancient times, according to handbooks written for their good conduct at the time, monks were not to waste time in the frivolous game of chess, because people constantly bet on it. At other times it was the game only of the rich, such as in England for a while, when a single piece could take two or four men to lift. At times, such as when Edgar Allen Poe wrote his books about France, it was considered a stupid man’s game, and not being for serious thinkers. Today it is looked on as the ultimate strategy game, no chance, just brains.
Prepared for Battle
The legends and mythical stories that surround chess are so multiplied and many that it is now impossible to tell the truth from the fiction. (It is not true that Sherlock Holmes ever played a game with Moriarty.) My personal favorite is the story of the old man who sat by the wayside with a chess board, when the merchant came by he asked “old man, who are you playing?”
“Allah” the old man said. The merchant asked “Who is winning?” the old man replied that Allah had just won, and because of this, he had to pay Allah money. The merchant asked how he would do this, and the old man said Allah would send some good man, in fact, he just had! And the old man gave the merchant the small sum he had bet on the game with “Allah.” But when the merchant came back that way, the chess board sat there and the side without a player was checkmated. The old man said Allah had lost this day, but the wager had been much, much higher. However, Allah would pay his bet through some good man he would send by. He looked at the rich merchant and said that it must be...why, it must be the merchant who was to pay him!
There are the stories of the universality of chess, such as the Russian Peasant in World War II, who was playing the German at chess, when the Russian army attacked. The German ran out and fought, and the Russians took the town. The story goes a Russian soldier then came, saw the game, and finished it.
The game is the ultimate thinking game, as one of the men who was involved in the Deep Blue v. Kasparov Scandal said, the number of atoms in the universe is a small number compared to the possibilities of a game that can be played on a chess board. It is truly a game which will take a mind and expand it to the limits of possibility, yet while keeping it within the range of 32 pieces, and 64 squares.
The strategy is pretty simple. Protect your king, don't lose too many pieces, take his king. But yet the ways you do that, the ways your opponent can stop you from doing that, are so many, so complex, so complicated, that you can fast have a headache.

It is hard to say why the game of chess has remained immortal. Many other games of the same sort were played in the early days when it was invented, strategy games, war games. Perhaps it is because of the tactics involved, which it has been said can carry over from everything from war to politics. Perhaps it is because the game itself is deeply enjoyable, and it is because it allows humans to do what they constantly are trying to do, always improve, because the fact is that the greatest player can always become a better player. And they always are, as evidenced by the fact that the two greatest players in the history of the world are living right now.
And possibly chess is well loved because of its leveling qualities. The king can play the peasant, as in King Arthur, or the sailor can defeat the captain, as in Sails. The most ordinary person from the worst circumstances can rise to heights yet unknown. And yet defeat at the board has brought about near insanity, especially with brilliant players. As when Kasparov lost to the computer Deep Blue, it was said to have “broken him.” Video of the incident shows him looking distraught, perturbed, and confused. More than one chess player has committed suicide when they were struggling.
Perhaps it is true that “the most terrifying phrase in any game is that of ‘checkmate.’”

Andrew C. Abbott #thelovestate

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