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Headscratchers / Chess

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The Game

  • The En Passant rule makes no sense.
    • The en passant rule was developed after someone came up with the "pawns can move two spaces on their first turn" one and was put in as a fix so that they couldn't get past attackers magically. It's difficult to explain without a board, but you get the idea.
    • Somehow, it's okay that other pieces can move past others magically, but how dare a pawn attempt advancing past another - we have to give the other pieces a special ability to capture it without even capturing it!
      • Please note that only pawns are able to capture en passant. Yes, it's a magical ability, but so is being able to move twice in one move.
      • The oppression of the pawns is one of the great social outrages of the western boardgame world.
      • Even Mafalda realized it.
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    • In the interest of being a spoilsport (and a giant geek), the "Pawn moves two spaces in their first move" was created for the sole reason to hasten the start of the game (since otherwice the game tended to be 1) e2-e3, e7-e6 2) e3-e4, e6-e5). It wasn't intended to give any strategical boost. It then took about five seconds for about five million chess players to figure out that the until-then strategy of putting a pawn at 4/5 file in order to stop the two pawns that could only move to the two squares that he was attacking from moving was side-stepped by them simply double-move to the side of the attacking piece. The En Passant rule was an Obvious Rule Patch to eliminate this. [Cue G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero music].
    • If we really care for realism, then chess is supposed to simulate a real battle, and everything takes place in real time. The alternating turns are just an abstraction, and one move (one for white, one for black) happens the same time. So, the pawn tries to move two spaces, and is captured before it can complete the move. This makes sense, as the en passant rule can only be used immediately after the double pawn move, if your next move is not an en passant, you will not be allowed to perform it later.
      • But why doesn't the above realism logic apply to other pieces?
      • pawns originally moved only one square. All other pieces that can move multiple squares can still do it. To speed up the game pawns were allowed to move two on their first move. This allowed for pawns to bypass being attacked, to correct it, en passant was created. If you don't understand en passant, use the rule that pawns can only move one square at all times. It will make sense why it exists. Specially if you need to use it to clear out pawns.
  • Prior to 1972, it was possible to Castle using a promoted Rook. Wikipedia notes how this would work using a Rook on the same file as the King, but how would it work if the Rook and the King were on different files?
    • It wouldn't. And remember, you couldn't Castle if any of the E-File's is under attack or occupied. One in a million chance indeed.
      • You're slightly mistaken, it doesn't matter whether the Castling rook is under attack or passing though any attacked squares.
  • Why is Castling considered a King move, but not a Rook move?
    • Because of touch-move.
      • That in no way explains why Castling isn't considered both a King move and a Rook move.
      • You could redraft the rules so that it's considered a "both a King move and a Rook move", but then you'd have to complicate the touch-move rule to specify that in castling you have to touch the king first to keep play working the same way. So why bother? (Ancestrally, castling comes from older forms of chess where the king was allowed to make various forms of leap as its first move, and the most common approach was moving the rook on one move and leaping the king on the next. Castling consolidated the two moves to speed up the game, and offset that with reduction in flexibility as to where you could move the king.)
      • Well, it is — I'm just saying that the only reason to consider it primarily a King move is because that's the piece you have to move first.
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    • Let me rephrase my question, why do the rules require you to move the King first when you're Castling?
      • Because your move is over after you make a legal move and release the piece you moved - and moving your rook next to your king is a legal move. When you move your king two squares, it's clear that your move is not yet over when you release the king.
      • Wait, that just makes it worse. Now casting is made of two illegal moves: moving the king two spaces, and moving the rook through an occupied space!
      • Well, the castling rule just works that way. And moving the rook first could be be seen like you're gauging your opponent's reaction without committing yourself, similar how you can't attach a raise after you've called in poker.
  • The rules for check and checkmate have always struck me as somewhat pointless. Instead of "you must deal with check because the rules say you have to", why not just leave it as "you really ought to deal with check because otherwise your opponent will take your king next turn"?
    • Technically, the rules do not require you to deal with check: you can resign instead. Since the only alternative to dealing with being in check is to lose, not dealing with being in check is effectively to resign. There are certain customs, however, about the proper way to resign.
      • The rule that it's illegal to ignore check (and thus move into check) makes the game a little deeper by making stalemate possible (when one side has no legal moves to make on their turn, it's a draw). A basic example is Queen and King vs King. With this rule in effect, a careless player can stalemate the enemy King by using the Queen to completely restrict but not check it. Whereas if the king was allowed to move into check, almost all stalemates would be impossible, and, in the example, the side with the Queen would still win by taking the enemy King once it was forced to move into check. Famous games have occurred where one side, completely lost, forcibly gives away all their material in a series of checks, and after the last piece is taken, saves the game through the stalemate that suddenly appears.
      • What is so great about a stalemate anyway? If the most frequent outcome of a game is that nobody wins, it sounds like a major design flaw.
      • It's not particularly frequent. The most frequent result in master level is resignation, at junior level it is checkmate (because juniors can't see six moves in advance). What makes the stalemate rule an improvement is that attrition isn't a sure path to victory the way it is in checkers. Attrition is useful but no matter how far ground down a player, the superior player still has to watch. It also makes for counterintuitive nuances. For instance, it is common to promote to rook rather then queen, simply to make sure the opponent's king will have more places to run to until you are finally ready. ("Common" at the social level, maybe. Any competitive player would promote to Queen except in the vanishingly rare case that (i) doing so would necessarily stalemate and (ii) not promoting at all would be worse.)
    • Another consideration is that, depending on the time and place, depicting the actual capture of the king was taboo. The check and checkmate rules ensure that the game ends before the king is captured.
  • It is the in-universe King of the real life World Champion the ruler of the [in-universe] world, or at least a very powerful overlord; because, you know, he just defeated some of the most powerful other lords out there.

The Play

  • Why does it not occur to Anatoly to win until Talking Chess?
    • Obviously, you've never met Korchnoi.
    • I think it does, but with all the stuff going on around him, Vigaand is just better than him. Until Anatoly calms down and focuses on actually playing the game, he's just not capable of winning

  • In the Concept Album, what's the "news" that Freddie has for Florence at the end? It wasn't very clear.
    • The news is about her father, but it's left to the audience to decide if he's dead or alive.

  • Why would Freddie be so complicit in being used by Walter and Molokov? He didn't take orders from Florence when she asked him to make nice with the press.
    • Probably a lot of it is his own basic arrogance. He's so sure he's in control of the game that he can't imagine himself as anybody else's pawn. (And he's also got a lot of built-up contempt and resentment against women in general, which would more than likely make him distrust Florence's advice on principle.)
    • Could he ever have a functioning relationship with her if he somehow managed to resolve his parental issues?
    • Depending on the version, this could show how much Freddie wants Florence back; he's even willing to let them drag him around for a shot at her. Besides, he switches camps later when he helps Anatoly to beat Vigand.

  • Why did Richard Nelson turn Florence into such a wallflower?
    • Surely a savvy, worldly character is more compelling than a thinly veiled Damsel in Distress? Was he assuming Viewers Are Morons because "an (outwardly) self-confident woman like her wouldn't stand for that kind of crap"?
      • While this This Troper is on the subject, is Freddie meant to be a self-centred Jerkass or is he just downright emotionally abusive?
      • The Kennedy Center Production gives Freddy an Ambiguous Disorder that is meant to explain his self centeredness and paranoia. We see him taking medication to help him with this, and we hear his internal monologue where he berates his hot temper.
    • This Troper thinks that depends on whether you want the show to be a mass of morally grey Jerkasses or black-and-white. Anatoly isn't exactly free of Jerkass traits either.

  • What do the Embassy underlings mean when they tell Anatoly "Don't forget the guys who cut your keys."?
    • "Cut your keys", as in "made your keys", as in let you into the country. They're the ones who do all the paperwork necessary for Anatoly defecting, and don't want this to go amiss.

  • In The Deal (No Deal), Anatoly makes it perfectly clear that he isn't willing to intentionally lose the World Championship. So why, in Talking Chess, is Freddie trying to convince him to win?
    • There's two different ways I've heard that scene interpreted:
      • That Freddie is switching tactics and trying a new way to get Florence back. He's realized that Florence will never forgive Anatoly for choosing chess over her, and Freddie wants to facilitate that break-up (this also depends on how Florence is played when Walter tells her about her father; I've seen performances where she refuses to go along with him, and ones where she sinks, to the floor, beaten).
      • Or that Freddie is seriously sick of all the political machinations and drama surrounding the game. In act one, his posturing caused him to lose the match and lose Florence, and it rendered him little better than a puppet in act two. Freddie just wants to see the guy that beat him finally play some freaking chess.
    • And in case the question was as to why Anatoly is losing when he so adamant about not throwing the match, the implication is that all the political stuff as well as the business of his marriage is doing its job and getting to him. After all, it's not until he makes up his mind to put everything else to one side (in spectacular fashion) and just focus on chess that the tide turns.

  • Why is Freddie so offended by the reporters' implication that Florence is only his second because she's sleeping with him ("how come your second's a girl, lover boy?")? It seems like that would affect her reputation rather than his (Double Standards being what they are), and he hardly seems empathetic enough to care about that. Yet he has a more severe reaction to that than to any of the other unkind (if fully deserved) things the reporters say to/about him.
    • Maybe it's an implication that he's gay? Clearly he has issues about that topic from "Pity the Child".
    • Anatoly suggests this to Florence in the Concept Album during Quartet and she reacts defensively. Also, in the documentary that was made about the album while it was being recorded in Stockholm, Tim Rice seems to suggest that the relationship between Florence and Freddie was much more business-like than the form it's taken on in the various stage adaptations, so it doesn't seem too far-fetched to suggest that the initial plan was for Florence to be Freddie's beard. If you take the view that his actions in the show are the result of Internalised Homophobia, it could be a nod to Bobby Fischer's notorious reputation for anti-Semitism despite his own Jewish background.

  • A question out of curiosity: Regarding the Color-Coded for Your Convenience entry, what color did the Arbiter wear?
    • In the Color-Coded for Your Convenience Royal Albert Hall concert, he wore a dark blue suit with a dark purple shirt and white gloves (so basically making him not really affiliated with either side). Most productions this troper has seen which uses colour-coding had him dressed in blue (again, to mark him as separate from everyone else).


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