Playing With / Chess with Death

Basic Trope: A character is forced into a contest with a supernatural entity in return for a reward or deal.
  • Straight: A dying person challenges the Anthropomorphic Personification of Death to a game of Chess in exchange for a longer life if he wins, and his soul if he loses.
  • Exaggerated:
  • Downplayed:
    • The dying person challenges Death to a game of chess for just enough time to say goodbye.
    • Death allows the spirit of the unconscious and dying to play him continuously with every victory giving him fifteen extra seconds of life - the longer he lasts the better the chance he will get rescued before he dies.
  • Justified:
    • The dying man is a wizard who has cast a spell forcing Death to engage in this bargain where normally it wouldn't.
    • Alternatively, Death (for whatever reason) wants the dying man to live a longer life, so he allows it.
    • Alternatively, Death (via magic) cannot lose any game he is challenged to unless he chooses to, so he allows the souls the illusion of choice. Sometimes, he even lets them win.
    • It turns out Death just likes to play games.
    • Death isn't all that scary and knows letting people challenge him and win means they can tell others he's not so bad.
  • Inverted:
    • The dying man has accepted his end, but Death keeps forcing the dying man to play chess.
    • Death enthusiastically agrees, as he doesn't meet so many people interested in playing chess these days, and even agrees to defer the man's death for regular games.
    • The dying man has to win his death in order to see the afterlife, compared to the alternative of an eternity playing chess in limbo.
    • A Death Seeker challenges the personification of life to a chess match. If he wins, he will die, but if he loses, he will become immortal, which is the worse imaginable fate for him.
  • Subverted:
    • The dying man challenges Death to a game of chess. Death refuses, and takes the dying man anyway.
    • Death sadly replies that he would love to, but the Celestial Bureaucracy gets on his case when he makes deals like that.
    • Death asks if he would like to play chess, as it's been ages since anyone challenged him to a game, but is disappointed when the man is too distracted by his recent demise to listen.
  • Double Subverted:
    • The dying man challenges Death to a game of chess. Death refuses. The dying man plays on Death's pride, eventually getting Death to concede to a game.
    • The dying man challenges Death to a game of chess. Death refuses and suggests a different kind of game.
  • Parodied:
    • A dying man challenges Death to a game of chess. Turns out Death doesn't know the rules to chess, meaning the man must explain them as they play. A frustrating experience is had.
    • Death is not half as intellectual as people imagine, and prefers Snakes and Ladders or Snap!
    • Alternatively: Instead of chess, the game(s) being challenged is/are games usually considered more silly and trivial than chess, such as Twister, Battleship, Cluedo, Parcheesi, I-Spy, World of Warcraft, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Yu-Gi-Oh!...
    • Alternatively: The dying man chooses a game that doesn't have a time limit, or possibly even a win/loss condition, which makes Death grimace at having to be stuck there for a while. ("Oh, Jesus, he's getting out another rulebook.")
    • Death has played so many games he is a grandmaster on the side. He even held a job at a game manufacturer once.
    • Building off the "Exaggerated" entry above, the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse challenge the dying man to various other games (playing Stratego or Battleship against War, playing Risk against Conquest, playing Pandemic against Pestilence, and... Connect Four with Famine.)
    • A dying man challenges Death to a game of Tic Tac Toe. Both play perfectly. 42 draws later, they realize that it may not be the best idea.
    • Bob the naughty boy challenges Santa Claus to a game of Snakes and Ladders. If Bob wins, he gets undeserved presents. If Santa wins, Bob has to work in Santa's factory.
    • The dying man challenges Death to a game of Calvinball.
    • A caricature of Anish Girinote  ends up playing dozens of chess games against Death without ever getting a decisive result. Death gets fed up and lets him live.
    • The dying man is blatantly cheating by saying Look Behind You and swiping Death's pieces, as well as checking a chess computer in the bathroom every ten minutes. Death doesn't notice.
  • Zig Zagged:
    • The dying man loses the game, but manages to keep avoiding Death through various means. Then, when Death finally catches up with him, the man challenges another game...
    • Death rejects his offer, as the idea that he plays chess is a myth. However, he will agree to a game of Go...
  • Averted: There's no mention of a game. Death simply shepherds the soul to the afterlife.
  • Enforced: "Having the fate of the characters and the world in their battle come down to a game makes for a really tense scene!"
  • Lampshaded:
    • 'Is this the part where you challenge me to a game in exchange for your life?, Death asked...'
    • So, have you actually seen The Seventh Seal, then? "Um...no, I've just heard about the chess thing..." Oh. I rather enjoyed it.
  • Invoked:
    • Due to the popularity of this trope, Death is required to challenge any and all dying people with a game of chess before taking their soul.
    I suppose you'll want to play chess for your life, then?
  • Exploited: People seeking immortality learn to become chess masters. Death is interested enough in facing a good challenge that he allows this to be continued.
  • Defied: Death informs the recently deceased they cannot challenge him to a game, because too many Chessmasters attained immortality that way.
  • Discussed: "Seriously, playing chess with Death? You seriously think that's going to do you any good?"
  • Conversed: "If you could play against Death in exchange for your life, what would you play?"
  • Implied: Death makes mention to some other Anthropomorphic Personification that he doesn't get a lot of downtime, so he makes up for it by having fun where he can.
  • Deconstructed:
    • The dying man's challenge is futile and delusional; Death is a force of nature, inevitable and ruthless. The man loses, and his loss was an inevitable certainty. Death has been doing this for as eternity, and has played and won against much greater minds than this man's.
    • The dying man challenges Death to a game for his soul and Death agrees. They continue playing for all eternity with occasional wins and losses on both sides but no clear winner in either direction. It is implied that this is the mans afterlife.
  • Reconstructed:
    • The dying man's challenge is futile and delusional; Death is a force of nature, inevitable and ruthless. The man wins anyway, and Death is impressed enough to give him enough time to accomplish something great and/or meaningful.
    • The dying man isn't playing to win: he's playing to not lose. As long as he hasn't lost, he's not truly dead yet, and while this is going on, his "corpse" is being rushed to the hospital and eventually revitalized, taking him out of Death's domain entirely. Death congratulates him on a "game" well played, but warns him that It Only Works Once, and next time they meet, he'd be going straight to the afterlife.
  • Played For Laughs: A dying man plays chess against Death to avoid dying. He's out in two turns.
  • Played For Drama: A dying man plays chess against Death. If he wins, he can come back to life. If he loses... It doesn't help that Death is both The Chessmaster and doesn't play even remotely fair. It soon becomes apparent the dying man can't win, and can only delay the inevitable.
  • Played for Symbolism: The chess match with Death is purely allegorical, and the man's skill at chess is in no way an influence on whether he lives or not: the reality is, he's trying to operate on himself to keep from dying, and what he does must be done both quickly (represented by a chess clock ticking away at his every move) and skillfully, with the ability to adapt to potentially fatal complications (the actual chess match). Rather than show the bloody self-operation on-screen or describe it in detail, however, the writer(s) decide to do this to both fill up the time and heighten the tension.

Back to Chess with Death
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