Friday, August 28, 2009

A Chess Lover's Dream

In today's Guardian you'll find an article entitled Why Chess is a Perfect Game for Fiction. I couldn't agree more. I am not a great chess player (or even a good one for that matter), but I do enjoy playing the game, watching those more accomplished play it, tackling mathematical chess puzzles, and reading about chess. As of late I've taken up the playing of Chinese chess, a passion I developed after watching it played on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai.

Since I'm thinking so much about chess these days, I thought I'd take you on a brief tour of some of my favorite quotes, links and books about a game that generally amazes and humbles me.
I play the game for the game's own sake.
Sherlock Holmes

Then she brought the chessboard and played with him; but Sharrkan, instead of looking at her moves, kept gazing at her fair mouth, and putting knight in place of elephant and elephant instead of knight. She laughed and said to him, “If thy play be after this fashion, thou knowest naught of the game.” “This is only our first,” replied he, “judge not by this bout.” When she beat him he replaced the pieces in position and played again with her; but she beat him a second time, a third, a fourth and a fifth.
The Book of The Thousand Nights and A Night
Richard F. Burton

To learn about the rules of chess, chess notation, tactics, and more, visit these sites.

And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot
One of the earliest mentions of Chess in puzzles was by the Arabic mathematician Ibn Kallikan who, in 1256, posed the problem of the grains of wheat, 1 on the first square of the chess board, 2 on the second, 4 on the third, 8 on the fourth etc. There are several children's books that examine this problem. They are:

One of the earliest problems involving chess pieces was posed by Guarini di Forli, who in 1512 asked how two white and two black knights could be interchanged if they were placed at the corners of a 3 x 3 board (using normal knight's moves).

Brook Taylor first posed the problem of the Knight's Tour, in which a knight passes through all the squares on the board in one tour, without entering any square more than once. A closed tour is one in which the knight begins and ends on the same square. You can test your skill at Enchanted Mind JAVA Puzzles - Knight's Tour.

Another famous chessboard problem is the Eight queens problem. This problem asks in how many ways 8 queens can be placed on a chessboard so that no two attack each other.

Paulo Boi and the Devil and The Problem Cake are both chess problems with stories with drawings by V. Barthe.

Raymond Smullyan composed chess problems of retrograde analysis, in which the object was to deduce the past history of a game. Take a look at these retrograde analysis problems.

You can learn the basics of retrograde analysis as Sherlock Holmes teaches Dr. Watson by reading Smullyan's wonderfully written book, Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes: Fifty Tantalizing Problems of Chess Detection.

Knight: You play chess, do you not?
How do you know that?

I have seen it in paintings.

Yes, I am quite a skillful player.

But no more so than I.

Why do you wish to play chess with me?

That's my concern.

You're quite right.

As long as I resist you, I live. If I win, you set me free.

Sjunde inseglet, Det (The Seventh Seal)

Ingmar Bergman

To read about Julia, a young Madrid art restorer who is drawn into the world of chess and murder when she discovers the inscription "Who killed the knight?" on a Flemish painting, read the book The Flander's Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte. This book is well-written and was a bestseller in Spain and France, as well as a Times notable selection.

If after reading The Flander's Panel you become interested in art with chess as the subject (as I have), you may wish to visit the Chess Painting Gallery.

One of my favorite movies tells a story based on fact, about a young boy named Josh Waitzkin who was born with a gift for chess. Click here to read a review of Searching for Bobby Fischer.

In Ingmar Bergman's Sjunde inseglet, Det (The Seventh Seal), a knight returning from the Crusades finds most of medieval Europe ravished by the Black Plague. When Death appears to the knight and tells him it is his time, the knight challenges Death to a chess game for his life. This 1957, black-and-white movie is in Swedish with English subtitles. Get a glimpse of this classic by watching a video clip. (You'll find a bit of homage to this scene in the movie (500) Days of Summer.)

To read about alchemy, chess, computers, puzzles, Fibonacci numbers, music, magic squares, and more, follow the link to one of my favorite books, The Eight.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story entitled All the King's Horses, in which a U.S. army colonel shot down behind enemy lines must play a game of chess using his family and other prisoners as the pieces. If he wins, the prisoners go free. However, during the match, any American piece captured will be executed immediately. You can find this story in the collection Welcome to the Monkey House.

As a stamp collector I have a special fondness for stamps with a chess theme. Listed below are some sites about chess on stamps.

Alice: It's a great huge game of chess that's being played -- all over the world --if this is the world at all, you know. Oh what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might join - though of course I should like to be Queen best.

Red Queen: That's easily managed. You can be the White Queen's Pawn if you like, as Lily's too young to play - and you're in the Second Square to begin with. When you get to the Eighth Square you'll be a Queen.
Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
Lewis Carroll

If you still haven't seen enough chess resources online, here are a few more that you may find of interest.

© Patricia Stohr-Hunt. All rights reserved.


  1. I've always wanted to learn the game, but there has never been sufficient time, and there seemed to be WAY too many pieces to keep track of -- and directions! I needed a notepad just to play a simple game (and lose). Perhaps someday I shall become brilliant and try again.

  2. Thanks for all the places to go and books to read! I am inspired to make more time to play...

  3. I love this post ... I am saving it for my 10 y/o son, who really "gets" chess.