Grim Chess

Grim Chess

Jul 26, 2009, 12:32 PM |

Hi there. i spent last night watching a semi-crappy film called the 7th seal. the director is some scandinavian recluse and has been the subject of many books and articles on the history of cinema, so i was all expectation. for nothing. the film, to borrow a phrase from bowie's 'is there life on mars?', is a saddening bore and i was certainly not hooked to the tv screen. the plot involves a knight called blok who bumps into the grim reaper during a plague outbreak in the middle ages. he ought to die but he begs mr death for a game of chess - and mr death, you know, is a consummate chess pundit. so, anyway, the game is extended and in the meantime, the knight travels with his unlikely travelling buddy, watching him do his rounds of calls. the film, as i said, was a bore, so my brain started wandering off the screen to contemplate a question which i think is of some interest to chess players in general:

What opening strategies is mr Death likely to adopt?

not being particularly inclined to believe in the originality of thought, i assumed others had already pondered the question so i ran a search on google to find any relevant literature. since i couldnt find anything specific, i decided to look up ancient and medieval pictures of Death the chess player and try to figure out the position, assuming the artist actually took the trouble to depict a real chess situation on  the board. unluckily there was only one painting i could find, which seems to have been the one to inspire the director of the 7th seal - it's in taby church in stockholm and i have used it as an image for the blog. the position depicted is not very useful.

so i have to go all the way alone. ok. i have limited myself to imagine what Death would play as Black, not White, and in particular against 1.e4 and 1.d4. In the future, maybe, i'll have the time to draw up a complete opening repertoire for Death. until then, if i live that long, this is the best i could come up with


1. with the black pieces:

a) against 1.e4, he would probably go for the Scandinavian Defense, then if White allows, he'd play the Icelandic Gambit:








b. against 1.d4 he would go for the redoutable semi-slav defense








i reached these conclusions using aesthetical rather than logical reasons. i just find the icelandic gambit and the semi-slav to be more in character with the figure of death - they suit him fine, just like his robe and his scythe.