CIPC #194: NHL commercial

The truth is harsh, but it’s the truth nonetheless: chess isn’t very popular. If we take Belgium as an admittedly particularly bad example, we find less than four thousand members of the national chess federation. Given a population of about eleven million, this corresponds to less than half per mille. In contrast, the USA hockey website gives some six hundred fifteen thousand players, coaches, and officials.1 For a population of some three hundred million, this give about one and a half per mille. And you have to keep in mind that hockey is much more age-bound than chess is. Yet what do the hockeyers do to draw in more people? They compare their game to chess!

If random YouTube videos are to be trusted, this commercial was aired in 1996. It features Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier who, from what I gather, are rather famous among hockeyers. Probably for not being able to set up a chessboard correctly, because h1 is black.

Perhaps to hide this severe failing in some of their heroes, the commercial’s director only gives some very, very brief overhead shots which, as this is a mid-nineties tv commercial, are in potato quality. It is quite east to make our where the pieces are, but it is very hard to identify pieces. I think the position might be not entirely unlike this one:2

My main doubts are concerning the white pieces on the queen’s side on the hand and the narration on the other hand:

Gretzky: Bishop to king’s knight four. He’ll have to sacrifice his queen.

Meanwhile, he’s moving his f8 bishop to c5. Clearly, there is no reason why white should sacrifice his queen. Now that might be due to a bad reconstruction. Maybe that pawn on f4 is really a knight, the pawn on h2 doesn’t exist, and the rook on f1 is glued down there and cannot intercept.

But there is no way that c5 could be described as king’s knight four. It is queen’s bishop four, if you really want to use the out-dated English descriptive notation.3 If you are really, really forgiving you might suggest that maybe they mirrored the set-up and have thereby flipped the king’s side and queen’s side, but that still wouldn’t explain the ‘knight’ instead of ‘bishop’.

Realism: 2/5 This commercial seems to suggest that hockey is more like what people in the States apparently call professional wrestling: a completely implausibly choreographed mess.

Probable winner: Basketball.

1. [I’m assuming here that both sources are accurate. I don’t know how reasonable that assumption is.]
2. [If someone actually has to actually sacrifice a queen, you can capture the moment with this chess camera.]
3. [Or queen’s bishop four from white’s perspective.]