The Creative Act of Chess

Sep 3, 2009, 7:13 PM |
The act of playing chess is an act of creative cooperation. Even though you're trying to defeat your opponent, you're still creating something in partnership with him, a brand new game. Whether that creation is ultimately beautiful or ugly makes no difference, the aesthetics don't matter - you're still teaming up to make a game that's never been played before. – David Bronstein

One of the reasons why I so love Chess is because it is more than a mere game. In fact, it has been likened to many, many things, including science, abstract combat, mental Darwinism…even a metaphor for life itself. Perhaps that is why so many artists have also been drawn to the Royal Game; there is a well-spring of material lurking just below the surface.

I recently came across an interesting article about the literary world’s fascination with chess, entitled ‘Why chess is a perfect game for fiction’. In it, the essayist writes the following:

“Even without the backdrop of political schisms and the spectre of mutually assured destruction, chess is a transfixing game in its own right – especially for writers. It has been the inspiration for countless novels, plays and pieces of short fiction, many of which are collected in a wonderful anthology called The 64-Square Looking Glass. What is it that makes chess such a consistently fascinating subject?

Chess, by its very nature, is a battle between two different thought processes; it gives the novelist the opportunity to go into the players' minds, while retaining an element of plot at the same time.... More abstractly, chess is attractive to writers as it mirrors the very act of writing itself. Planning ahead, tactics, manipulation are both part of fiction's palate as well as chess's [sic].”

A quick check of Amazon yields more than few contemporary chess novels, including two well-received recent titles, The Queen’s Gambit and The Luneberg Variation.

But the art of Chess is not just found in literature, it is also found on the canvas or the photographic plate. From Alfonso X El Sabio’s thirteenth century painting:

“A Christian and a Muslim Play Chess under a Tent”

…to this amusing piece of pop art from a New Zealand ad agency (DDB):

Somehow I doubt a Predator would be drinking cognac…but I believe an Alien would win with Black

Of course, Chess art doesn’t have to be so formal, it can be more homespun as with this custom chess set build by woodworker William Harmsen:


You can get the plans here.

Then again, why not make the earth your canvas for your next Chess masterpiece?

There’s no hiding your shame if you lose on this board!

Supposedly, this is a picture of the largest chess set ever made. It is located in Germany, and measures 1,200 by 1,200 feet, with 30 to 60 foot tall - albeit horizontal - chess pieces. It is currently being used by German IM Elisabeth Pähtz in a match against the world, which you can follow here.

Chess art even extends to the musical realm, with the classic One Night in Bangkok, by Murray Head:

Then there is the thoroughly modern:

Hmm…this vid is more interesting than the Avatar trailer

Of course, sometimes the best Chess art is expressed without sentences or sound:
[Site "London"]
[Date "1851"]
[White "Anderssen, A."]
[Black "Kieseritsky"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1 b5 5.Bxb5 Nf6 6.Nf3 Qh6 7.d3 Nh5 8.Nh4 Qg5 9.Nf5 c6 10.Rg1 cxb5 11.g4 Nf6 12.h4 Qg6 13.h5 Qg5 14.Qf3 Ng8 15.Bxf4 Qf6 16.Nc3 Bc5 17.Nd5 Qxb2 18.Bd6 Qxa1+ 19.Ke2 Bxg1 20.e5 Na6 21.Nxg7+ Kd8 22.Qf6+ Nxf6 23.Be7# 1-0
That was the Immortal Game, perhaps one of the most famous games of Chess ever played. It is so famous, it even managed a starring role in Blade Runner! Laughing

[You can see it replayed here...CGI art, this time.]

Will the artistic community ever tire of Chess?

I seriously doubt it.  More power to 'em! Cool