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From the Files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

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The Dark Side of Chess

Teaching my 9-year-old nephew, Tyler, the rudiments of the game of Chess is kind of fun. He’s about as good as I was at that age and he seems to enjoy it, which is always the best and most crucial part. He’s yet to learn of the arcane rituals of castling or of combinations and I rue the day when he comes into contact with the “dark side” of chess and some men’s obsession with it.

The recent death of former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer - who looked like an even scruffier version of Howard Hughes when he died, and who avoided human contact and would finally only play with computers, and who became convinced the world was being run by a vast conspiracy of chess-playing Zionist - reminded me of the first-ever world champion from the U.S., Paul Morphy of New Orleans during the Civil War.

Morphy, like Fischer, was a prodigy, playing the best strategists of his day by the time he was 12, often playing blindfolded and giving his opponents odds of pawn and move. Some of the most beautiful, elegant games we have on record are those of Paul Morphy. Like Fischer, Morphy ended up avoiding human contact; he apparently went slowly mad and towards the end he’d only play against “God,” usually giving God odds of knight and move. (God seldom won, according to Morphy).

Tyler will soon enough learn more of the dark side of chess and of man’s obsession with it throughout history. The oldest written references we have to the game date from 600 A.D. in Persia; likewise too the oldest chess pieces (Persia, 790 A.D.). The oldest pieces from Europe date to 900 A.D. and the oldest complete chess set comes, surprisingly, from England, dated 1120 A.D. (There are recent, unsubstantiated reports of chess pieces found at an Icelandic archeological dig dated to the time of Christ.)

The Sandpoint library has a well-stocked section on chess and there are a number of chess clubs in the area that hold matches throughout the year. The novel “The Eight,” by Katherine Neville, (referring to the eight squares bordering the chessboard) is by far the best book on chess I’ve come across: a young computer expert is hired to track down the pieces of a chess set once owned by the Emperor Charlemagne, and finds in her journey chess is intertwined with alchemy and the search for the philosopher’s stone in a series of Indiana Jones-style adventures.

Another classic chess mystery is “The Flanders Panel” by Arturo Perez-Reverte in which an art historian discovers a hidden message “Quis necavit eqiutem” (lat., “who killed the knight?”) in the 15th century painting of a chess game, which leads to her attempts at trying to solve a 500-year-old murder.

Chess abounds with bizarre oddities and eccentric characters but I’ll leave you with just this final one. A recent chess match in Moscow ended when one player’s head literally exploded during the game, showering the spectators with blood and gore. Doctor’s say Nikolai Titov’s head blew suddenly apart due to a rare condition called Hyper-Cerebral Electrosis, or HCE. “He was in deep concentration with his eyes focused on the board,” said his opponent afterwards. “Suddenly, his hands flew to his temples and he screamed in pain, then his head popped open like a firecracker.” Five people are known to have died in the last 25 years of HCE, the most recent in 1991 when European psychic Barbara Nicole’s skull burst open during a séance.

Finally, remember; we of the Surrealist movement have nothing to do with literature, with music, or with art, but we are quite capable, if the need arises, of making use of it like anybody else. All attempts at Communication with the Dead will continue, subject only to the Directives of Manifestos 1 and 2!

‘til next time, Yours For a Strong America!

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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