Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chess in Art Postscript: A Game At Chesse - Fourthe and Finale Parte

The first three parts of this post (here, here, and here) explored the chessic aspects of Women Beware Women, Thomas Middleton's Jacobean "tragedy", revived recently at the National Theatre, and well-known now for its chess scene. In these posts we found ourselves unexpectedly sucked into some head-spinning semantics concerning a piece of C17th chess board slang. The arcane "Blinde-mate" was the case in point. But you can skip most of it. To cut a long story short, the term remains in use today only to round off such occasional felicitations as "You must be......." when you fork some patzer's Queen. Just remember, next time, to give a nod to Middleton.

The NT show was of special interest because chessers from S&BCC and GLCC had helped the production team with moves for their on-stage chess game. Rather than our unorthodox Reversed French, the NT went with the slash and burn Bishop's Opening suggested by Nigel Blades at GLCC. Maybe they liked the clerical reference, because a major protagonist in the WBW intrigue was The Lord Cardinal. He was responsible, as a consequence of his professed piety, for much of the bloodshed that disposed of most of the cast, but yet was granted the honour of delivering the play's final (self-serving, and somewhat hypocritical) closing homily: "So where lust reigns, that prince cannot reign long". Unless, my dear Cardy, it suits your unholy purposes to have that prince reign, and reigneth everyday.

To be fair, nota bene that some Cardinals can play with a straight bat, and even know their way round a chess board: look again at the post that kicked all this off two years ago; ejh's very first Chess in Art pic.

La partida de ajedrez. José Gallegos y Arnosa. Early C20th. Private collection.

At least it keeps them out of mischief, or worse. And that's definitely a reason not to hate chess. Certain commentators with an interest in these things (and you know who you are) will spot that they wear really cool hats (they are called zucchetti - award yourself bonus points for that).

Back at WBW, our particular interest is in made-up games. Which is what prompted, unlikely though it might seem, Streatham and Brixton's celebrated hacker-in-chief and tactical wizard, Robin Haldane, to tell all concerning an experience of his some years back.

Working in the London Borough of Wandsworth's Finance Department at the time, he regularly helped run a we-take-on-all-comers chess simul. at the annual Wandsworth Weekend festival. One year the enterprising Parks Department also wished to display their skills, horticultural, using a chess theme: a floral board, with flowery pieces; and could he compose a chess problem for them, please; oh, and by the way, the management have cut back (typical Wandsworth) on plants, so we've only got WK, Q, N and 2Ps v BK, Q, R and 2Ps. "No worries" one can almost hear Robin reply, "being down on material never bothered me before", and composed away.

On the day, our man, not blessed with green fingers and psyched-up to field questions on knight manoeuvres, queen sacrifices and the like, found himself ambushed by queries on deadheading and the finer points of companion planting. As ever, Robin had a resourceful riposte, even if sometimes a little unsound on closer analysis.

At packing-up time he unwisely took his eye off the board, returning to find that the good citizens of the Borough had stripped the underplanting from files a to h and run off with the pieces, grabbing the chance to pretty-up their gardens, even with fading blooms, and get some payback for their Council Tax. Robin, from the Finance Department remember, and now exercised by the impending audit of the Council assets entrusted to him, 'fessed up. "They robbed me blind, mate". At least, I think that's what he said. And Thomas Middleton nodded back.

Happily, there was also a happy ending for Robin: he was mightily relieved when Parks said he'd done them a favour. No, they were not going to put that half-dead stuff back on Municipal display. No, not even in Wandsworth.

The problem follows, with White to play and win. Can you do as well as the Borough's six successful solvers? But before you begin: you are an advanced chesser, so we ought to try and level the playing field. Give yourself a handicap and imagine the diagram below decked-out with festive bunting....

....sorry, festive bunting ....

....and camouflaged with municipal bedding.

So, now that you can't see the wood for the trees, solve away (and, mind, no computers).

And if it's too much for you, do some pruning.

Beware the hubris of "take-on-all-comers". I did one or two of those Wandsworth simuls., along with other S&BCC guys, before our beloved Council cancelled these celebrations of local community pride alleging that they cost too much. Once, after disposing hordes of schoolkids who relied on 1.h4 and 2.Rh3, some geezer sits down, plays 1.e4 and a classic Lopez, and procedes to duff me up. Afterwards he confessed to being a "snake in the grass" and a member of the Hong Kong International Correspondence Chess Team. Robin would surely have nipped him in the bud.

With special thanks to Robin Haldane for the story.

The municipal bedding photo is by Phil Clements. The others are from Wikipedia.
Chess in Art Index


Tom Chivers said...

Think I can solve that one!

Martin S. said...

1. Ne5+ might trap the unwary solver. So the key move interfering, with two black defences, is rather pretty. Especially if the knight is an alyssum.