Jungle chess

by admin on July 13, 2008

If you haven’t seen it, you should check out this article at ChessBase.com about the hostages who were rescued from the Colombian jungle two weeks ago. The article is based on a CNN video report, which you can watch if you prefer. The video shows two of the American hostages with a chess set that one of them carved, using a broken machete. Apparently the guards allowed him to carve the set, out of curiosity to see whether he would finish it. It took him three months. After that, the hostages played chess for “hundreds of hours,” which enabled them to escape mentally from their captivity.

The pieces are beautiful! I would have expected a chess set that was carved in the jungle, with a machete, by someone who is chained up to a bunch of other hostages, and who has to work from his mental image of a chess set, to be a whole lot cruder. Look at how round the heads of the pawns are. Look at how well matched the heights of the pieces are. Heck, I would buy this set.

Also, did you notice that the pieces are set up wrong? You’d think that, after making the chess set with such exquisite attention to detail, they would at least put the kings and queens on the right squares! Actually, looking at the video, I think that it might be Marc’s fellow hostage, Keith, who starts setting them up wrong, but still …

Coincidentally, just yesterday I saw on Tim Krabbé’s website an amusing article that shows some pictures of chessboards set up the wrong way. (Scroll down to item 259: “The king on the wrong square mafia.”) One is from a poster of a world championship match!

Aside from this amusing glitch, though, the report is really moving. It just makes me think that all of us who seek chess perfection have got it all wrong. The most meaningful game of chess isn’t played in some air-conditioned hotel by a grandmaster who wins with a theoretical novelty on move 39. It’s played by a captive somewhere in a steamy jungle who is using the game to keep his sanity.

Even with the king on the wrong square …

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