Chess

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The Independent Culture
MURDERING one's opponent is not covered by the laws of chess, unless the clause about 'disturbing and distracting by any means whatsoever' includes it. However, the 'Chess Player Shot Rival' story reported in Wednesday's papers should remind us that the game has a long history of violence.

The London Eyre Roll of 1276 cites two cases of chess disputes leading to murder, though the custom was already well established in literature. Martellus, a 12th-century monk, tells of a game at the court of Pepin the Short (752-768 AD), where the defeated king's son picked a quarrel and 'taking aim with a Rook, he dealt him a mortal wound'. However, since chess did not reach Europe until around AD1000, this evidence might not stand up in court.

The future Henry I of England fought a French prince, as reported by Samuel Daniel in 1612: 'Upon an after dinner, Prince Henry wan so much as chesse of Louis, as hee, growing into choller, called him the sonne of a bastard, and threw the Chesse in his face. Henry takes up the Chess-board and strake Louis with that force as drew bloud, and had killed him, had not his brother Robert come in the meane time and interposed himself; whereupon they suddenly took horse, and gat away.'

King Canute was another bad loser. According to Olaf Saga, by Snorri Sturluson, he had Earl Ulf killed in 1027 because the earl had stoutly refused to let him take back a bad move at chess.

There were, however, two important differences between most historical precedents and this week's attempted murder. First, tradition demands that the loser kill the winner; here it was the loser's tantrums that drove the other man to violence. Secondly, a shotgun is not really the appropriate weapon. As all medieval players knew, hitting your opponent with the board is the best move.

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