Speed Chess: A Fatwah on My Brain

Feb 1, 2011, 12:54 PM |

One of the best things about being a player of the Royal Game is the people I have been fortunate enough to meet these past four decades. In some respects it is like the gift that keeps on giving. I received a most interesting email from one of those chess playing friends today. I asked if I could post it on the BaconLOG and he responded: "Thank you Michael. You are free to reproduce my article."
Without further adieu, from the fertile mind of John V. Linton:

Speed Chess: A Fatwah on My Brain
John Linton

Tonight as I sit here at Highland Coffee and the music spirals outward in New Age wisps of touching incompetence, the attractive young lady now having left, my mind suddenly contracts upon the deleterious impact of speed chess.

It occurs to me that in speed chess we are seeing a sublimation of the chess impulse, a canalization of that greatest of all human appetites, into a caricature that simulates the real thing only insofar as pornography approximates that celestial intercourse between man and woman in most wedded bliss.

If in true chess the mind expands down endless digression trees like a London taxi driver searching for a lost love, in speed chess the mind constantly prunes fresh roses from the vine, practicing triage like a mother asked to choose between the lives of her children. So many good things are thrown away at one time for such small cause, it is as if an elephant had just been perforated to garnish ivory for a Steinway -- to stock a country music piano bar.

There is an assiduous haste, a creeping insurrection into the innermost vessels of the brain, a tendency towards wholesale amputation and mutilation of the game. The clock becomes the pivot of a black hole which sucks the soul of both men from each side of the board, into a maelstrom of blind fury and a pit of fire beyond the confines of Dante. And if no delay is endeavored, the foreshortening of time becomes so great that one knows the future before the past, and the present not at all.

Now granted, some of my best friends are speed chess devotees. And granted further, my results of late have been less than eschatological. (In fact, more scatological.) Hence a red herring must be deposed before it is nailed upon my door. My response: May not a man on death row present sound arguments against the death penalty, or a politician with a vested interest advance a worthy cause? Must all approaches to truth find only tribunes in bleached vessels of immaculate, sinless humanity?

I note within myself of late a tired and fetid Pavlovian response to the push of the pieces: a muddle of mind that most recalls being asked to do a crossword after having been subjected to the waterboard. Again I profess that I do verily love my chess brothers, and yet I find my mind unraveling as if forced to listen to Clementi sonatas played over and over on period instruments, with all the repeats thrown in for good measure. (Worse: played well.)

A mathematical question obtains: If bullet chess (that gravest of perversions of the game upon this earth) clocks in at an obscene one minute per side per game, with no attendant delay, then what is the precise wave function, or curve, or recursion tree, of the optimal chess match time?

I myself would not dare to adduce such an answer.

But let me be circumspect: I would gander that somewhere between two hours and twenty hours is most humane, most dignified, most respectful of the metaphysical grandeur of the game.

Certainly it might be remarked with a derisive smirk that, Mr. Linton, we shall all be dead one day, and many of us do not have the time to indulge in the onanistic vicissitudes of postal chess. To which it can only be replied, in a vein similar to that of St. Anselm, that either the entire universe consists of but a single magnitude, or else the entire universe admits quantum gradations that give rise to various energy and mass densities.

I think, my friends, that the answer must lie with the latter. In other words, our chess destiny lies in the stars, and not, not, not I fear, in the panic-stricken spastic ejaculatory moves of the speed chess player, who consults not even his own heart. Man is a mere machine in such a game, with a molten orb where once stood a soul, and a disposition so quick, so primed, so ever-alert, so hyper-vigilant -- that it cannot rise to the level of human consciousness. One thinks of the meth addicts of Eastern Kentucky. Shall we thusly whittle away our minds?

And let us finally not tonight forget the violence that has happened over the centuries that derived from over-hasty moves. There is now a strong case, if one consults the History Channel, that it was not the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand that precipitated the first world war, but rather a speed chess game gone awry.

But no doubt this is still an open question, subject to theological vagaries that have not troubled my mind tonight.

Oh, there's that woman...