Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Democratic Chess

I'm all for spreading democracy and all that, but sometimes a good old monarchy is the way to go. Recently I saw a post about a new type of chess set that will use computerized pieces fitted with tiny cameras and tiny chess brains that will allow them to communicate with each other, and their human players. The idea is that this collaborative effort will be able to determine the "best" move. It's called "democratic chess" and although it's still in the drawing board (so to speak) phase, I can't help but wonder why we feel the need to have our chess pieces talk back to us?

On one level, it's kind of interesting to think of how the different pieces have different personalities and perspectives. The preservation of their king and capturing of the oppossing king would ideally be foremost in the average piece's minds, but that's probably not true. Something about soliciting "advice" from the pieces doesn't seem wise.

Take the knight for instance. You got to think that with all of it's crazy L-shaped moves across the board, all it wants to do is jump and jump and jump, with no regard to strategy or common sense.
El Kabong
The French composer and chess player, François-André Danican Philidor, once said that the pawn was the "soul of chess." That's all nice and good, but pawns are pawns. They rarely get the opportunity to checkmate the opposing king (the goal of the game) and their short lives are spent obsessing over the possibility they might one day be promoted to a queen if they reach the other side of the board. Can you say Cinderella complex?

Bishops are the older siblings to pawns and thus have little respect for their value. They act cool, but secretly harbor an inferiority complex about standing next to the queen. Any advice you get from them would probably involve mass pawn and queen sacrifices.
This is someone's father

Rooks, with all due respect, are too dumb to be listened to. My uncle has a saying: If your only tool is a hammer, than every problem will look like a nail. Rooks are on some "Hulk smash!" type-stuff all day, every day. They are also no big fan of pawns because they're too dumb to go around the little guys.
Who you calling castle?

The Queen is bloodthirsty. In chess' original inception 1,500 years ago, there was no queen. The thought of a feminine piece wouldn't have been taken seriously, particularly the idea of the piece being the most powerful. Even though she's long established her dominance, the Queen still has something to prove. She's also not a fan of those distrustful pawns who are always scheming to replace her. "Off with their heads!" she says.
Check yourself.

The King has the most sage advice because he can see the whole board. He knows the value of his subjects, but knows that in the end they must be sacrificed. It's heavy stuff, so in his quieter moments, the the King entertains himself with the thought that he could potentially live on a board with nine queens. Even though he can barely walk, it's good to be King.

One of the reasons chess has endured all these centuries is because it's all about brutal hierarchies and not democracy. It teaches lessons that have long served those who have, or aspire to, power: on the board everyone has a place; every piece has a prescribed set of moves; the lowest of the low have the possibility of transformation if they remain loyal, forward-moving soldiers; and, most importantly, the death of the King is the death of the game. Long live the king.


Marcus Wicker said...

I was listening to pandora today and two out of the three Pete Rock tracks we rocked to came on. Yeah, I spit my rhymes and everyone else's, too. I love you, sir. Even if you are awful Furious via voicemail. Funk Attack 4 Life.

Abdel Shakur said...

I love you back, homie. My bad on the voice mail. Furious just really needs to process his disappointment better. We had our time to shine, and shine again we shall.