Chess: An offensive board game?

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The Independent Culture
THE PERSECUTION of chess- players has a long history with the most impeccable credentials. Chess was banned under Islam in the Middle Ages, mainly owing to a misconception that it was a gambling game played with dice.

Various sections of the Christian church, from time to time, imposed a ban on chess-playing by their bishops, saying it was a distraction and a waste of time. But never, until last year, had a man been sent to jail for playing chess in a library.

On 8 September 1992, Louis Taylor, who was described as an unemployed graphic artist, was reading a book on chess in the New Rochelle Public Library, New York, playing through the moves on his pocket set.

The librarian drew his attention to a 'No Board Games' sign and asked him to put the set away. He refused. A security guard was summoned to repeat the request, which he again ignored. So they called the police. 'You guys can carry me out or put on the cuffs', said Taylor. They did both.

When the case came to court, various expert witnesses were called, including the Assistant Director of the US Chess Federation, who testified that 'an individual reading a chess book needs a chess board by his side'.

Taylor's own reasoning was simpler. When they said 'No Board Games', he could not believe they meant to include chess. It was the Dungeons and Dragons addicts they were after.

The result, after a case lasting eight hours, was a conviction for misdemeanour. 'His actions had nothing to do with chess and everything to do with breaking the law', said the judge.

So the underlying questions remain unanswered: Is one man alone at a chess board playing a game? And what about people who read chess columns in libraries, playing through the moves in their heads? Is chess still a board game if you dispense with the board?

Tomorrow's chess column will again include some moves. If you read it in a library, particularly in New Rochelle, it might be wise to ascertain their policy beforehand.

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