Chess: It is how you play the game that matters

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The Independent Culture
EASTER 2034, and the holiday tournament was well under way at Olditz, the maximum-security home for bewildered chess players in the newly formed state of Amnesia. No grandmaster had ever escaped from Olditz, perhaps because there was no reason even to try.

Europe's most luxurious retirement home had a curious history. It all began in the early 21st century, when the economic problems of eastern Europe were solved by selling the old territory of Silesia to the royal family of Jordan. The King promptly moved his palace from Amman and named the new state Amman-in-Silesia, but everyone called it Amnesia for short, and the name soon became official.

'I came to Amnesia to forget,' said Bobby, the first of many to settle in the state as a means of avoiding the US Inland Revenue Service. He had previously been lying low in the Spanish state of Catatonia, and was happy to find somewhere safe to live at last.

Others followed, taking advantage of Amnesia's status as a tax haven. They were also eager to take up Bobby's challenge: 'I'll play anyone, any time, any place, for as much money as you've ever seen.' Only when they arrived did they notice the small print, which added: 'As long as I can pick my own opponent, choose the playing schedule, avoid any venue which has an extradition treaty with the United States, and play with my clock and by my rules, with someone else putting up the money.'

In his idle evenings at Olditz, Bobby had been perfecting the rules of chess again. Now 91, he had mellowed considerably from his earlier years; he rarely spat at any correspondence, and had become quite philosophical about how competition had been ruining the beauty of chess.

His new rules left no winners or losers in the conventional manner, but had both sides striving together to create artistic finishes. And that old rule about White and Black alternating had to go too. How can you expect to create a work of art when the other side keeps making moves to interfere? It was far better to let each side make a string of moves to accomplish an objective before the other replied.

The new laws were simple: you throw a pair of dice - he'd had trouble convincing the Jordanians about that as they had a curious aversion to games of chance - and whoever is to play then makes as many consecutive moves as indicated on the dice. If you give check at any move, your sequence terminates. And the primary object of the game is not to win, but to create elegant positions.

At the end of the game, two sets of marks are awarded for artistic merit and technical achievement, by a panel of judges selected according to the most rigorous conditions imaginable. Indeed, the only person qualified to act as a judge was Bobby himself. Yet, as he frequently pointed out, he was always scrupulously impartial.

Take the final game of the tournament, for example. Bobby was playing Black against Garry and they reached the position illustrated in the diagram. Bobby threw a 10. Easy, thought the spectators, with that many moves he'll promote his pawns and mate easily. But Bobby sank deeply into thought before producing a sensational sequence of 10 moves. Garry looked at the board in wonderment, and without even bothering to roll the dice, made just one White move.

'Mate,' he said. The judge was unanimous: Bobby scored 6.0 for artistic impression and the same for technical achievement, with Garry only marginally behind. Garry thought about retracting his final move, but he too had realised that winning was not the most important thing. 'Nice finish,' he said, shaking Bobby's bony fingers, and the two old men walked away together beaming with mutual satisfaction.

If you can't work out the 10 black moves, we'll tell you them tomorrow.

(Graphic omitted)

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