I’m sure that many of you will agree that the most eloquent expression of this exquisite pursuit is a finely played game between two renowned masters. So, can mere words ever capture the full majesty and drama of chess?
Tread warily amid the noise and haste …
… as two implacable adversaries of equal measure face each other across a field of combat beyond the shadowy confines of which both will simply cease to be. Everything is NOW, all existence defined within a single plane. There is no cruel fate here, no blind chance, and there are no random acts of arbitrary injustice or unfathomable favouritism from a far-distant deity.
One army is arrayed in glorious white; the other, bedecked in baleful black. Two irreconcilablefoes about to be locked in a battle to the end, both irretrievably bound to protect the liberty of a king upon whose well-being their own survival ultimately depends. There is no moral exactitude in this strange land - no fine distinctions between right and wrong - but there are rules, and these rules are as binding as any of the known laws of physics which govern our universe.
With a theatrical flourish, the white force abruptly makes the first move. It is the beginning of a carefully premeditated assault intended to inflict maximum injury upon the opposing side. There is a sudden unnerving neighing of terrified horses and a thunderous pounding of hoofs as frightened war-bred steeds leap into action over their own forward ranks.
Amidst this dreadful cacophony can barely be heard the steady march of those who are no more than mere pawns in a much larger contest, a contest which will always reside well beyond the limited comprehension of these hapless foot soldiers who are doomed never to return from whence they came.
It is not long before the cold, clinical precision of warrior bishops begins to cut diagonal swathes through enemy lines. There is all to play for, and everything to lose. Within scant seconds, the parameters have expanded so dramatically that the clash seems to spiral into a realm of its own.
Waiting patiently in the wings, just beyond the increasingly ferocious field of conflict, are the battering-ram rooks, the juggernauts of this primordial struggle. Their devastating incursions will soon resurrect haunting visions of the innumerable sieges which have laid waste to so many great civilizations whose ruined remains have long since been submerged beneath the shifting sands of time.
Even more heart-stopping is the statuesque queen: aloof, elemental and utterly inhumane. Indifferent to such trivialities as pity or remorse, she surveys the scene before her with a dispassionate eye, her magnificent power about to be unleashed on every inch of ground.
However, the most astounding thing about this elegant microcosm of the human condition is that it is not being conducted on a muddy tract in some far-flung corner of our world, but in a perfectly sanitary, mathematically precise, abstract dimension which consists of just sixty-four squares, and yet which is imbued with such infinite complexity that no matter how many aeons may pass, no two such encounters need ever be the same.
This is life; this is death.
This is chess.
It’s not just a game!