Ptarmigan

a grouse with completely feathered feet

3/04/2004

Much good material on the early history of chess. This article on Chessbase provides a good starting point. As its genesis was likely conceived in an area where our current administration has carried out no small amount of oil-piqued adventurism, understanding the earliest war games might give some insight into our current geopolitical concerns (as the latter has always informed the former as well).

Of particular interest is this paper by Gerhard Josten: "Chess--a living fossil". The chess game never existed in an early pure form, but was rather a hybrid of several different gameplay techniques (and, actually, the rules we know today weren't really hammered down until the 19th century; castling in particular had some regional idiosyncracies that hung around for awhile).

The game has always become more technologically "advanced"--particularly with Western European rule changes to make the game "faster". With the advent of fast computers not only dictating the speed and power of the game, but also the lines of thought, we can see the game's character and timelessness also change.

No matter how intricately tied chess is to war--in a way, it is a virtual weapons system--and has been buffeted by various agencies in terms of ideology, chess still can be, in the right hands, a form of poetry. That's the paradox--chess is fundamentally political but at the same time, specific politics slides off it within the games itself. Perhaps straddling the fence between pure mathematics and poetics. (Hm, maybe needs a little salt.)

One can be faced with the creepily whimsical chess imagery in this 1999 Taliban stamp...(you'd hardly, in sending a correspondence game, consider the affixer to be privy to the blowing up of Buddhas, but then again it's just a stamp)..


Or this recently forged chess set depicting GWB and Blair as King and Queen of White, and Osama as the black king...(Similar sets forged by the Soviets, Revolutionary War-era Americans, whomever needed to put the world in black and white terms)

And yet none of this posturing prevents the mind dreaming at the board...You can still use pebbles to represent the pieces...

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