Art (definition)

Certainly it is!

Regardless, if sculpture, cinema and theatre are arts, look at chess. The board itself is pleasing, and on it the stout king, imperious queen, sly bishop, that odd, squat knight, sturdy rook and awkward pawn, all doubled in glorious monochrome for your viewing pleasure, and on either side are the players modelling for Rodin, or early Sergio Leone, as the case may be, ready to embark on esoteric constructions and deconstructions of symmetry and asymmetry.

I thought it might be good to node here one of those famous games of chess which are curiously underrepresented on E2, as an example not merely of its aesthetics, but also (and primarily) its creativity.

This particular game is a miniature - a game between Grandmasters lasting 25 moves or less. If you learn how the pieces are allowed move in chess, you can play this game from memory after a few run-throughs. And if you become familiar with chess notation, you can easily play the game in your head having boarded the bus for the lone, long journey from Hamburg to Prague and realised you’ve left your book in the pub. Which is nice.

Most transcriptions would only have a few words of analysis at two or three important points in the game. I have seen fit to talk until my eyebrows fall off; being little better than a woodpusher, please take my commentary for the nonsense it is.

White: Paul Morphy Black: The Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, in consultation

Paris - 1858.
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6

3 d4 Bg4

A brave move. This reminds me of watching footage of Scotland scoring first against Brazil in the '94 World Cup. "Unfortunately," the presenter sadly reflected, "this served only to annoy the Brazilians."

(Behan recounts a story about the ambush of Michael Collins at Beal na mBlath, where Collins made a run for a position from which to fight his foe. "Well, he is a brave man anyway, whoever he is," said his assassin. And fired his rifle.)

4 dxe5 Bxf3

Why not, eh? An equal exchange is desirable when playing as Black, where a draw is a good result. If White retakes with the g pawn, he doubles pawns, and fucks up his defence for castling kingside. So his Queen must at this early stage venture out, where it can, in theory, (!) be easily attacked, and made retreat.

I think here (as I often do) of a line from Sam Beckett's novel, Murphy, whose eponymous 'hero' plays chess with an inmate of the local insane asylum. Murphy, with the white pieces, opens with e to e4. We may take it that Beckett, in his terrifyingly droll way, is not referring solely to chess when he deadpans, "This was Murphy's first mistake, and the primary cause of his subsequent downfall."

5 Qxf3 dxe5 6 Bc4

...threatening Qf7 mate.

6 ... Nf6 7 Qb3

Verrry nice. The queen sweeps across so that Bf7+ will cause Black all sorts of problems, and simultaneously threatens the pawn at e7! Morphy's dynamism sets me all a-quiver. Oooh.

7 ... Qe2 8 Nc3

Rather than take the pawn, White chooses development. I wouldn't have done this. You wouldn't have done this. Neither of us is a chess genius, ya see.

8 ... c6 9 Bg5

White's bishop pins the knight. The Duke and the Count should be crapping themselves. However, they can force White's other bishop to retreat, and so are not so worried:

9 ... b5 10 Nxb5!

White doesn't give a fuck!
Man, Black never should have crossed the 39th parallel on move 3. Had these aristocrats no manners? White's bishop move on move 6 was no stopgap or mere minor threat. We are about to see that it signalled white's strategy: relentless pressure, relentless attack!

10 ... cxb5 11 Bxb5+! Nbd7

12 0-0-0 Rd8 13 Rxd7!

There is no let-up. Boris Schipkov comments here: "Fireworks of blows!"

13 ... Rxd7 14 Rd1 Qe6

Black gets his queen the hell out of there, freeing his knight to defend the d7 square.

15 Bxd7+

"Defend all you like!" says Morphy. "Ha ha ha," he adds helpfully.

15 ... Nxd7 16 Qb8+!

Awesome! Everything is so clear, so simple, so beautiful.

16 ... Nxb8 17 Rd8 Checkmate.

Poor old Duke and Count. Against a vast array of enemy forces, White uses his two remaining pieces to checkmate with utmost elegance. This is the power and the beauty of positional chess.

Postscript: Please read about Paul Morphy, if you are at all interested. Though it may be fairly said that the Garry Kasparov of a few years ago may be the most complete chess player ever, Morphy’s genius, and that of the similarly enigmatic Bobby Fischer, have, I think, remained unsurpassed.