Games: Chess

We mentioned yesterday the extraordinary coincidence that the European Junior Championship has just been won by a young Israeli, Dmitri Tyomkin, with the same name as the man who wrote the theme music for the TV series Rawhide. We have now received a letter from Prof Athelstan Fowlbit, holder of the Ikea Chair in Semiotic Diversity at the University of the North-East Atlantic (formerly Rockall Polytechnic), saying that it is not a coincidence at all. Prof Fowlbit has been working on a paper entitled "Rawhide and Chess: the Tyomkin connection" which deconstructs the Rawhide theme to reveal a hitherto unsuspected link between Ned Washington's lyrics and the game of chess.

A strong hint is provided in the opening words: Moving, moving, moving, which Prof Fowlbit says is a clear indication of the chess moves to which the rest of the lyrics refer. They continue: though they're disapproving, using the legal or scientific sense of the verb to prove, meaning to test the validity of something. What is the chess board, after all, if not a proving ground for the players' ideas?

Keep those doggies moving, Rawhide: the "doggies" in question are the pawns, particularly passed pawns, making the whole command no more than a demotic version of Nimzowitch's dictum: "Passed pawns must be pushed". The name "Rawhide" itself was a derogatory term applied to chess players in the Sixties, particularly in California, where they were seen as deviants in a generally sun-worshipping culture, hiding themselves indoors while others lazed on the beach. Like Rawhide, they emerged untanned.

Don't try to understand 'em - for chess is beyond our understanding; just rope 'em, throw 'em, brand 'em - secure your pawns and push them fast; "brand" is used in the sense of a piece of burning wood; soon we'll be living high and wide - a reference to the vast expanse of the chessboard. Rawhide's calculating - the untanned player deep in thought again - my true love will be waiting, be waiting at the end of my ride - the pawn turns into a queen at the end of its journey.

The refrain, consisting of a number of repetitions of the phrases Move 'em on and hit 'em up, is a graphic evocation of high-speed moving and clock-hitting during time-pressure, though the later Cut 'em out, ride 'em in and let 'em out may signify little more than the mental confusion that may lead to blunders, and the desire to cut them out entirely.

The second verse begins Rolling, rolling, rolling, suggestive of a connected formation of pawns rolling forward in attack, though the phrase though the streams are swollen seems inappropriate unless one sees this as an allusion to the river in the middle of the board in Chinese chess.

Through rain and wind and weather - again a reference to their habit of staying indoors in all seasons; hell-bent for leather - an allusion to the leather chair that Bobby Fischer insisted on for his world title match; wishing my girl was by my side - "my girl", of course, is the chess queen.

The song ends with a plea for better conditions in tournaments: All the things I'm missing: good victuals, love and kissing, and how the dedicated player must give up such essentials until he returns home at the end of the event: are waiting at the end of my ride.

The real clincher, however, is the obvious reference to man who won the British Champion six times between 1913 and 1931, Mr Frederic Dewhurst "Rowdy" Yates.

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