Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Chess and War

Chess and War

The venerable Irving Yaffee relates a story about the origins of chess occurring when the king of India wanted to replace war with an activity that would distract and consume men's minds. One of his wise men invented this war game and legend states in payment he simply asked for some rice: beginning with one grain on the first day and then a daily doubling of grains for each of the 64 squares. The exponentially growing amount of grains grows to 1.84 to the power of 1019 grains of rice (18 million trillion grains). When the king had some of his other wisemen figure out the cost, he had the inventor of chess put to death. Creating the business rule: make sure you arrange your payment schedule in such a way you will have time to collect.

Then there is the story about the revolutionary war in Delaware (December 25, 1776) commanding British Hessian General Rahl in Trenton being so engrossed in a chess game that he stuffed unopened into his pocket the message warning that Washington and his men were approaching. Legend has it that after the battle they found the note on this general's body still unopened . It's nice to know that chess played an important part in our Revolutionary war.

Another favorite story of mine about chess and war; is about the WWII code breakers of Bletchley Park who developed the computers and system to intercept and break the German codes. C. H. O. D. Alexander, British Chess Champion, was one of a collection of polymaths whose brainpower was harnessed by the UK in its battle of Britain. Usually the military doesn't play to people's strengths, but in this case fortunately Britain had. I think in the current Era of the Geek there is an opportunity for a way cool WWII movie, something in the tone of The Dirty Dozen: The Nerdy Dozen (? perhaps).

So as you can see in both myth, math and reality chess has played an important role. Do you have any other stories either legendary or historical that show how chess and war sometimes interact?

Have you been so engrossed in a game that you over looked something you shouldn't have?

Please Comment. Mike Griffin 08/05/2008

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