64 squares, rice and chess May 08 2018, 0 Comments


The game of chess is mystical.  Enchanting.  Strategic. 

A board game of two opposing forces made up of characters such as Knights, Bishops and Pawns.  Then, there is the King and Queen, with the King appearing quite frail and unable to defend himself.  He relies on every other piece on the board to do that.  Including the two Castles (or Rooks as they are sometimes known)

The board is made up of 64 squares in two contrasting colours, which form the matrix on which the battle of chess unfolds. 

Each player controls 16 pieces.   One piece at a time is played alternately from each side, in a strategy to either attack or defend in ultimate pursuit to capture the opposing King; when the winner can shout ‘Checkmate!’

It is rare for a game to end in a draw.  Usually, there is an outright win.  A fight to the death - no compromise. 

How was chess invented?

The story is told about an Indian king who commissioned a mathematician to come up with a new game.   Something challenging that would not bore the king.

The mathematician struggled for months to find something that would satisfy the king.  His final proposal was a game called Chaturanga, now known as chess.  The King loved this game and in response, offered to give the mathematician anything he wished for.  The mathematician, who was desperately poor, asked the king for something simple.  Something of low value.  The mathematician asked for rice.

The king was perplexed.  Rice was a common resource.  Nothing like silver or gold.  The king questioned the mathematician as to whether he would like to reconsider.  All he said was "I would like one grain of rice for the first square of the board, two grains for the second, four grains for the third and so on, doubled for each of the 64 squares of the game board"

"Is that all?  Why don't you ask for gold or silver coins instead of grains of rice?" inquired the king, somewhat perplexed.

"The rice should be sufficient for me," he replied, observing all protocol.

What was the mathematician asking for?

Rice was a staple food.  And it is said that the one who holds the food, holds the gold.  But rice was cheap and plentiful.

The king ordered that the rice to be delivered but by the time he had calculated what it was that the mathematician was asking for, he realized that he would soon run out.  Only halfway across the board, eight billion grains of rice were due to the mathematician.  Who would count it?  Who could carry it?  Was there enough?

“You are indeed a genius," said the King and offered to make the mathematician his most senior advisor as a reward for his ingenuity instead.

In some ways, this sums up the game of chess:  deceptively complex.

It is estimated that there are about ten and 120 naughts (10120) different moves through all the possible games of chess that can be played.  And this is part of the genius of chess.  One can say safely that every single game you play will be different.

Chess is a game that attracts people of all ages and walks of life.

Sparsh Bisht from Gurgaon, India, learned to play chess and participated in a national-level tournament, where he took seventh place in the under sevens category.  He had just turned four.  Remarkable!  On the other end of the scale, the Russian-born Yuri Lvovich Averbakh was the oldest chess grandmaster at 95 (Nov 2017).   His love of chess may just have been what was needed to keep him 'sharp' for so long.

A flair for chess, like mathematics and other core skills, is usually identifiable early on in life.  Before primary school in many cases.  This means that it is one of those activities that can give one a lifetime of pleasure and may never be completely mastered. 

Chess is played recreationally and competitively.  But whatever the format, in the end, it is about who wins and who does not; who gets the trophy, the medal or the certificate and who gets the ‘Better luck next time’.

On a worldwide scale, the unofficial World Chess Championships have claimed this honour since the fifteenth century.  However, the father of the modern World Championships is recognized as Wilhelm Steintz, who was not only a winner but a contributor to the development of chess strategy.  In 1866, he wrested the championship from German Adolf Anderssen, which he defended until 1879 when he lost to Johannes Zukertort of Poland.   The World Championships continue to this day.

Chess may not be the best cardiovascular exercise but it will test your concentration, strategic skills, patience, planning and logic.   One thing is for sure when you have had a stimulating game of chess, win or lose, you will have had a cerebral workout and things won’t be quite the same again.

The coveted trophies, the medals and the symbols of achievement go a long way to encouraging people to play the magnificent game of chess.