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Do Popes Play Chess?
March 18, 2013
Thanks to the media, we know a lot about newly elected Pope Francis I. He is 76 years old, one of five children born in Argentina to parents originally from northern Italy. He is a Jesuit, committed to serving the poor. (Yes, of course, the Pope is Catholic.) He is a model of austerity, modesty, and humility. He has only one lung (resulting from removal of an infected lung during his childhood) and he loves the tango and futbol (soccer).
What we do not know is whether or not he plays chess. (What is becoming of journalism these days?) History tells us that seven of the previous 265 Popes played chess (according to chess.com and other sources). In chronological order, here are the Popes who played chess (and the years of their reigns): Pope Gregory VI (1045-1046); Pope Innocent III (1160-1216); Pope Leo X (1513-1521); Pope Paul III (1534-1549); Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903); Pope John Paul I (Aug-Sept 1978); and Pope John Paul II (1978-2005).
Specifically who played chess with the Popes is not known, but one book reports that an 11th century Pope played chess with Rabbi Rav Shimon, the chief rabbi of Mainz, Germany ("Can I Play Chess on Shabbas?" by Joe Bobker.)
Chess, of course, is not one of the requirements for the Papacy. In fact, religions have not been kind to chess over the centuries. Various religions have banned chess from time to time in several countries. In ancient days, religious groups regarded chess as idolatry due to the carved chess pieces, which resembled "graven images." The clergy considered chess a wasteful activity, which interfered with daily prayers. Also, about 1400 years ago, chess was played with dice and was considered gambling.
Chess became a problem in India in 900. Players wagered fingers in chess matches. The loser actually would have a finger cut off. During the Inquisition in Spain in 1495, live persons would represent chess pieces. As the pieces were captured, those representing the pieces would be put to death.
Chess was banned for a time in Egypt (1005), Russia (1093, 1551), Paris (1125, 1198, 1208), Worcester, England (1240), and Germany (1310). In some instances, the prohibitions were aimed solely at Catholic priests, as for example, in Rome (1215).
For fear that it would lead to gambling, Rabbi Maimonides included chess among the forbidden games for Jews around 1195. By 1500, however, chess became a Sabbath pastime for Jews, as long as it was not played for money or with a time clock.
More recently, in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini prohibited chess in 1981, presumably because it encouraged gambling. Recognizing the high educational and intellectual values of the game, the Ayatollah changed his mind and issued a religious decree (fatwa) in 1988, permitting chess play for Muslims as long as it is not played for the purpose of gambling and it does not delay the obligatory prayers or neglects other duties. Thereafter, Iran organized a chess federation promoting chess education and tournaments for young people.
The Leisure World Chess Club does not use dice in playing chess and members do not worship the pieces. In the case of some players, however, prayer is the only way they can win.
So, do not wait for official approval. Do not wait for prayers. Do not wait for a puff of white smoke from the Vatican. Play chess now!CHAPTER 2
Patriotism and Chess
June 18, 2013
As we observe Independence Day on July 4th, it is appropriate to examine the linkage between chess and patriotism. International chess tournaments are generally organized according to national teams. Oddly enough, there appears to be some controversy over this.
Many believe that players thrive on the excitement of belonging to a group and representing their country. A national team gives identity to a group of players and stimulates interest of observers and chess fans. Others believe that chess is a game of high intellectual quality which transcends nationalism and that nationalism denigrates the character of the game.
Over the years, numerous chess champs and other famous players have played for countries other than the country of their birth. Russians played for France (Alekhine, Tartakower, amd Bernstein), Poland (Winawer and Rubenstein), Germany (Bogolyubov), and Denmark (Nimzowitsch). Germans (Mieses) and Austro-Hungarians (Gunsberg) played for England. Czechoslovaks (Flohr) and Hungarians (Lilienthal) played for Russia. Obviously, there has been considerable migration of players from country to country.
There is no controversy about organization and patriotism at the Leisure World Chess Club. Players are not organized along national lines. In fact, there is no organization at all. Chess is played just for the fun of it--- and for the intellectual exercise as well.
No question of patriotism arose in the LW game pictured on this page. White is threatened by Black's Queen and Bishop along the a1h8 diagonal. What is White's best move?
So do not wait for a speech by the four-star General. Do not wait for a flag pin to place in your lapel. Do not wait for the band to play the national anthem or Stars and Stripes Forever. Play chess now!CHAPTER 3
Wrestling: Yes, Chess: No
October 1, 2013
Wrestling is back--- but then again, it never really left. Seven months after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) removed wrestling from the list of core sports for the 2020 Olympics, the ancient sport was reinstated in the 2020 games, after beating out baseball, squash and a long list of others. Wrestling also beat out karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu (martial arts).
To regain Olympic status, FILA (the governing body for international wrestling) and its new Serbian President promised to speed up the matches, change the scoring, add more women's weight groups, and make other crowd-pleasing adjustments to the rules, such as changing the color of the mats, redesigning the uniforms, and wrestling shirtless. (Note that Olympians originally wrestled in the nude.)
This is naked commercialization. In the future, can we expect to see mud wrestling and wrestlers sporting "Hulk-Hogan-style moustaches"? Will we see more body slams, biting, choke holds, and other dirty tactics? We may have to wait until 2020 to find out.
Meanwhile, chess remains outside the Olympics because the IOC does not recognize it as a sport--- despite the efforts of the International Chess Federation in the 1920s. The IOC regards chess as a game, not as a sport. Shucks!
But chess can still be played in ordinary, comfortable, casual clothes as in Leisure World's clubhouse.
So do not wait for the 2020 Olympics! Do not wait for international recognition! Play chess now!CHAPTER 4
Christopher Columbus Discovers Chess
October 15, 2013
Columbus Day is not celebrated in Italy. It is celebrated, however, in New York, Baltimore, and other cities in the United States with large Italian populations. Columbus was born in Genoa before Italy became a nationstate. He believed that one could reach India by sailing to the west of Europe. Many people at the time thought Columbus was crazy because it was common knowledge at the time that the world was flat and that westbound ships would fall off the edge before they could reach India. The world was not yet ready for global positioning (GPS).
Columbus was financed by Queen Isabella and sailed under the Spanish flag. This explains why Columbus Day is celebrated in Spain, and not Italy, but it does not explain why it is celebrated by Italian-Americans in the United States.
Columbus was about 41 years old when his ships arrived in Hispaniola--what is now known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti (although Columbus believed he was in Asia). He never really landed on the U.S. mainland, which is probably why he lost the naming rights to Amerigo Vespucci.
In the United States, Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1937. Originally, it was celebrated on October 12, not because it was Columbus' birthday (which is October 31), but because that was the day he landed in the Americas. Beginning in1971, as a result of Congressional action, Columbus Day has been moved to the second Monday of October, regardless of whatever day of the week Columbus actually landed.
Reportedly, Columbus and his crew brought chess, checkers and other games to the New World. To this day, many people play chess every day in many places, including Leisure World.
So, do not wait for Columbus to discover Leisure World. Do not wait for an Act of Congress. Do not wait for a new Vespucci Day holiday. Play chess now!
[Note: On October 12, 2004, Italy began celebrating Columbus Day as a national holiday.]CHAPTER 5
Modernizing Chess for Television
November 19, 2013
Chess is an old game. It was invented before television. Some say there is a need to modernize the game to make it more entertaining as a spectator sport in the 21st century. Here are some ideas.
Start by modernizing the chessmen and chess women. Kings and queens are old-fashioned. Monarchies are no longer in vogue. They are important only in a historical or cultural sense. So the chess pieces themselves need to be redesigned.
Instead of representing warring parties of different kingdoms, for example, the chess pieces could be designed to represent competition between rival multinational corporations. Instead of kings, queens, knights and castles (rooks), the game could feature key corporate executives--- CEOs, COOs, CFOs, Board and Committee Chairpersons, lawyers, accountants, engineers, security guards, computer specialists, and human resource managers. Similar to checkmating the King, the object of the game would be to put the rival corporation out of business.
Under another approach, taking a cue from present-day computer games, chess could be represented as a battle between extraterrestrials and earthlings. Imagine all the different kinds of creatures that could appear on the chessboard. The outcome of the game would determine whether or not control of the planet will go to the invaders from outer space.
In addition, the chess pieces need not be simply black and white, they can be multi-colored, like flags. The players themselves could wear uniforms to symbolize their affiliations, their nations, or their neighborhoods. In fact, the individual players could be formed into teams. Each move would be preceded by a huddle. Bring on the cheerleaders.
To inject more action into the game, chess needs more bodily contact and more penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. How to accomplish this in a tasteful way befitting this great game will take exceptional skill and creative thought.
Meanwhile, chess games at Leisure World continue in the old-fashioned way, as illustrated by the diagram on this page. In this game White can check Black's king by moving the Rook to c1. However, it is Black's turn to move. What is Black's best move?
So, do not wait for chess to be modernized. Do not wait for a new cast of characters. Do not wait for chess to become a crowd-pleaser on high definition TV. Play chess now!CHAPTER 6
How Chess Can Save the Postal Service
January 21, 2014
It is January now and U.S. postal rates are going up again. It is becoming an annual ritual. Later this month, the price of a first-class letter will increase by 3 cents to 49 cents; the price of a once-famous penny-postcard will increase by one cent to 34 cents. The object is to generate $2 billion for the postal service, which lost $15.9 billion last fiscal year.
Except for birthday cards and wedding invitations, people just do not want to write messages with pen and paper, and address envelopes by hand, and buy stamps to pay for delivery. They are too busy keeping up with their cell phones, e-mails and other high tech products. Meanwhile, the postal service is obliged to deliver mail to 152 million residences from businesses and charities that want your money and are willing to pay for delivery (but not enough).
Postal authorities are overlooking a good, potential source of revenue: chess game correspondence. At one time (when postcards cost a penny), lots of people played chess by mail. The government needs to find a way to revive chess correspondence. This could generate billions of dollars in revenue. Consider that 35 million people play chess in the United States and that an average game consists of about 40 moves per person or 80 moves per game. A single game would generate $27.20 in postage at 34 cents per card. Multiply this by 35 million. This would produce $952 million. So, chess correspondence alone could raise about $2 billion, if the government could motivate all chess players to play two games per year by mail.
To provide an incentive for correspondence chess, the government could establish a million-dollar competition. The players who won the most games or sent the most postcards would be awarded a million-dollar prize. The media probably would provide lots of free publicity, as they do for lottery jackpot winnings. Otherwise, the government could use the "health care" approach by requiring all chess players to register and to play two games per year by mail or pay a hefty fine.
At Leisure World, you will not find Chess Club members writing each other postcards. They play chess in "real time."
So, do not wait for the next postcard. Do not wait to hit the jackpot. Do not wait for postal revenues to balance costs. Play chess in "real time" now!CHAPTER 7
Why Chess Is Not in the Winter Olympics
January 29, 2014
Chess is not a winter sport. It is difficult to play chess while sledding, skating or skiing, but that is not why chess is excluded from the Olympics. Chess is not recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because it is considered a game, not a sport. The IOC maintains that there is not enough physical activity for chess to qualify as a sport.
The IOC and the TV broadcasters may be missing out on a unique opportunity. With a little ingenuity, chess can be adapted to winter sports and can add new interest to the Olympics.
Picture this. The scene is an ice skating arena filled with spectators. Two skaters enter the rink. One is dressed entirely in white; the other completely in black. They skate to the center of the rink. A referee, wearing black pants and a white-and-black striped shirt, joins them. They bow. The crowd greets them with applause. The white-clad and black-clad players skate to opposite ends of the arena.
The referee carries a chess board with pieces all set for a game. The music starts. (It is Johann Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz.) The referee skates toward the white player, holding the chess board and pieces on a tray in one hand over his head like a restaurant waiter. His skating is so smooth that it does not upset one chess piece on the board. He sets the board on a tall table before the white skater.
While the white skater is considering his first move, the black skater begins a skating routine. (The music is Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite.) He executes a perfect Lutz jump and a spin and returns to his end of the rink.
White completes his first move. It is posted on the video scoreboard. The crowd is hushed. The referee then skates to the other end of the rink with the chess board and Black considers his response while White skates to center ice and performs a routine to the tune of Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture. He finishes with a spectacular triple axel jump. The crowd cheers.
The process continues as each player alternates skating and chess and the referee transports the board between them. The crowd cheers each performance and each move. The winner of the chess match gets interviewed by Bob Costas. ("How pleasing was this victory for you?" "What thoughts went through your mind after your opponent's twentieth move?") If the game ends in a draw, Bob Costas interviews the referee.
Meanwhile, half a world away from the Sochi Olympics, chess continues at Leisure World. Here chess is played year-round without fanfare, without special costumes and music, but with friendly competition.
So, do not wait for snow. Do not wait for the next Winter Olympics. Do not wait for chess to be recognized as an Olympic sport. Play chess now!CHAPTER 8
Iran, Sanctions, and Chess
February 4, 2014
Iran is a four-letter word, meaning "Land of the Aryans." Every crossword puzzle fan knows that. Iran has a long history in chess. Some say the game may have been invented there. In fact, the English term "checkmate" (the final move of the game) is based on the words "shah mat" in Farsi, "death of the King."
Iran has been subject to economic sanctions by the United States for more than three decades--- since Iran's revolution in 1979, when the Shah was overthrown and hostages were taken at the U.S. embassy in Teheran. These sanctions have been tightened progressively in recent years as a means of limiting Iran's capability of developing a nuclear weapon. The sanctions consist of freezing Iran's assets in the United States and other restrictions on finance, investment, and trade with Iran. Last year, the sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table to discuss the peaceful use of nuclear power with the United States and other member countries of the United Nations. (It is unclear why Iran, a country with vast reserves of oil, needs nuclear energy anyway.)(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Everything Is Chess"
Copyright © 2018 Bernard "Bernie" Ascher.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Do Popes Play Chess?, 1,
Patriotism and Chess [Puzzle #1], 3,
Wrestling: Yes, Chess: No, 5,
Christopher Columbus Discovers Chess, 6,
Modernizing Chess for Television [Puzzle #2], 8,
How Chess Can Save the Postal Service, 10,
Why Chess Is Not in the Winter Olympics, 12,
Iran, Sanctions, and Chess [Puzzle #3], 14,
Does Chess Cause Wars? [Puzzle #4], 16,
Baseball, Australia and Chess [Puzzle #5], 18,
World Population and Chess [Puzzle #6], 20,
Telephone Solicitations and Chess [Puzzle #7], 22,
Columbus, Ferdinand, Isabella, and Chess [Puzzle #8], 25,
Oil Prices, Wonderland, and Chess [Puzzle #9], 28,
Is Chess Kosher? [Puzzle #10], 31,
Election Day Results and Chess [Puzzle #11], 34,
Groundhog Day and Chess [Puzzle #12], 37,
Will UNESCO Protect Chess? [Puzzle #13], 39,
Elephant Obesity and Chess [Puzzle #14], 42,
Love of Country and Chess [Puzzle #15], 45,
Daylight Saving, March Madness, Taxes, and Chess [Puzzle #16], 48,
Beards, Taxes and Chess [Puzzle #17], 51,
Chess, the Empire State Building and Beyond [Puzzle #18], 54,
The Congress of Vienna and Chess [Puzzle #19], 57,
Chess and the Glut of Nations [Puzzle #20], 60,
Fourth of July and Chess [Puzzle #21], 63,
Why Chess Is Better than Baseball [Puzzle #22], 65,
August: No Holiday for Chess [Puzzle #23], 68,
Cuba Plays Chess [Puzzle #24], 71,
Is Chess 'Good as Gold'? [Puzzle #25], 74,
Rhino Day and Chess [Puzzle #26], 77,
Emissions, Statistics and Chess [Puzzle #27], 80,
Chess on Mars [Puzzle #28], 83,
Chess and Daylight Saving Time (DST) [Puzzle #29], 85,
Time Does Not Wait for Chess [Puzzle #30], 88,
Climate Change and Chess [Puzzle #31], 91,
Napoleon Plays Chess [Puzzle #32], 94,
Chess and February Holidays [Puzzle #33], 97,
Presidents Need Time for Chess [Puzzle #34], 100,
Advertising Chess on Television [Puzzle #35], 103,
Are Knights and Pawns Among Sunken Treasures? [Puzzle #36], 106,
Chess and the Media [Puzzle #37], 109,
Feeling Lucky? Chess by the Numbers [Puzzle #38], 112,
Phobias and Chess [Puzzle #39], 115,
What's In a Name? Redskins? [Puzzle #40], 118,
24-Year-Old Champ Humbles LW Chess Club, 121,
Chess Gets a Colonoscopy [Puzzle #41], 122,
National Mammal Played Part in American Heritage [Puzzle #42], 125,
Life Changes, But Chess Remains Unaffected [Puzzle #43], 128,
A Good Year for Elephants--- and Chess [Puzzle #44], 131,
Chess Is an International Language [Puzzle #45], 134,
Workers Break for National Holiday, But Chess Never Stops [Puzzle #46], 137,
Do Not Wait, 140,
Chess and the English Language [Puzzle #47], 142,
Inching Toward the Metric System [Puzzle #48], 145,
Crossing Wires, Oceans and Chess Boards [Puzzle #49], 148,
Horning in on Chess [Puzzle #50]Y, 151,
Talking Turkey About the World Food Supply [Puzzle #51], 154,
Viva Chess! [Puzzle #52], 157,
Playing Chess for Auld Lang Syne [Puzzle #53], 160,
Robotic Chess [Puzzle #54], 163,
Abuzz About Chess [Puzzle #55], 166,
President Trump Plays Chess? [Puzzle #56], 169,
Postal Chess [Puzzle #57], 172,
Italy, Fast Food, and Slow Chess [Puzzle #58], 174,
Chess: Less 'Taxing' Than Doing Your Taxes [Puzzle #59], 177,
A Game By Any Other Name [Puzzle #60], 180,
Chess Toadies Leap Into the Game [Puzzle #61], 183,
Exercising for Chess [Puzzle #62], 186,
Chess: a Socially Sanctioned Love Affair [Puzzle #63], 189,
No Bad Names for Chess [Puzzle #64], 192,
Going Bananas Over Chess [Puzzle #65], 195,
Kangaroos Hop to Chess [Puzzle #66], 198,
No Vacation From Chess [Puzzle #67], 201,
Surveying Land and the Chess Board [Puzzle #68], 204,
Jobs for Labor Day [Puzzle #69], 207,
Chess: Less Taxing than Tax Code [Puzzle #70], 210,
Border Disputes [Puzzle #71], 213,
When a Girl Marries [Puzzle #72], 216,
Chess Devotion Is More Than Skin-Deep [Puzzle #73], 219,
Giving Thanks for Chess, 222,
Communicating in the Language of Chess [Puzzle #74], 225,
Forget the Sleigh; Make It a Drone Puzzle #75], [228,
For Whom the Ball Drops [Puzzle #76], 231,
Chess Play 'Unfeathered' by Birds [Puzzle #77], 234,
The War of 1812 [Puzzle #78], 237,
Avoiding the Sting of Defeat [Puzzle #79], 240,
Intangible Culture, Intangible Chess, 243,
How to Dress for Chess, 245,
Solutions to Puzzles, 247,
Puzzles #1-11, 247 - 248,
Puzzles #12-20, 248 - 249,
Puzzles #21-30, 249 - 251,
Puzzles #31-40, 251 - 252,
Puzzles #41-48, 252 - 253,
Puzzles #49-57, 254 - 255,
Puzzles #58-68, 255 - 256,
Puzzles #69-79, 256 - 257,
About the Author, 259,