This mate checks out
OK. Chess joke:
I was playing chess with my friend and he said, “Let’s make this interesting.”
So we stopped playing chess.
Would Magnus Carlsen laugh at that one? At 31, the five-time world champion from Norway has announced that he won’t take part in next year’s championship match, though it likely would bring him a record-tying sixth title.
Interesting. The guy has been the world’s top-ranked player for a decade. He widely is considered the best player in history, his sport’s Michael Jordan. Yet he was quoted as being “not motivated to play another match….I don’t particularly like it….I don’t have any inclination to play.”
For those of us in the dark when it comes to chess, non-participation might be understandable. Chess generally is portrayed as an activity requiring deep intelligence, patience, concentration, a keen memory and analytical skills, so we dimmer bulbs take a pass. Or stick to checkers.
Nevertheless, as a career sports journalist intrigued by games and competition, it caught my attention to read accounts of Carlsen’s suddenly suspended dominance. And left me rummaging around for insight into how chess works and why Carlsen has been so dominant for the past decade — while I was paying no mind.
Carlsen has been referred to as “The Mozart of Chess,” capable of executing “beautiful, stunning moves,” of “slipping from the opponent’s grasp repeatedly,” with a style that is “bold, brave and brilliant.” He was 13 years old when he knocked off a former world champ, Anatoly Karpov, and first earned the title of grand master.
He now is a multimillionaire, mostly through sponsorships and business deals apart from chess. An NBA fan, he has advised Golden State’s Klay Thompson, made a cameo with Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey, played chess against Bill Gates and been a guest on “The Colbert Report.” TIME magazine cited him among the 100 most influential people in 2013.
Anyway, I am the last person to analyze either Carlsen or the game he plays so well. First of all, I struggle with seeing the drama and strategic expertise while chess superstars such as Carlsen sit for hours, deathly still, bent over the playing surface, frowning slightly, a hand to the face, hair a bit unkempt, staring at little castles and horses and thimbles with crowns.
Maybe if there were BrainCams employed in televised chess coverage, affording a glimpse of the players’ cognitive wheels turning, lightbulbs suddenly flashing, adrenaline coursing — a look at the grey matter chaos along with the intelligent design being applied.
In the meantime, I have researched some rudimentary elements of chess, which leads to some allusions to more familiar sports. Take football, since chess has been described as representing the moves of military pieces, just as football loves to traffic in terms such as “bombs” and “blitzes” and “shotguns” and “winning in the trenches.”
Rooks line up on the edges, like cornerbacks. Bishops, like offensive guards, are inside the knights (tackles). Also, knights — which move in an L shape; two squares one direction, one square another direction — are aerial threats, able to jump over pieces. Kings aren’t much help offensively but can get in the other team’s way. Queens are the most powerful pieces on the board, able to move any number of squares, horizontally or diagonally.
It turns out — everybody knows this but me — that different pieces have different assignments, some able to move forward, some sideways, some diagonally, some one square at a time, some as many squares as desired.
Play-by-play? Be5 (bishop moves to the e5 position on the board). Nf3 (knight to f3). Have I got those right?
The action — if that’s the right word — is carefully considered and therefore strikes an outsider as plodding at best.
OK. Chess joke for those of us who wouldn’t know a pawn from the Nimzo Indian Defence:
I defeated a chess grand master in three moves.
I stood up, picked up a chair and hit him with it.