What is the last place where you would expect an impossible position to appear on the chessboard? I don’t know precisely what my own answer to this question would be, but I think I would consider “in a promotional spot for a chess federation” a pretty good answer. First of all, you wouldn’t even expect such a promotional spot to exist. Secondly, you would expect a chess federation to take a more or less reasonable position for such a spot, even if it’s just out of habit. Not so, apparently. I was looking around on the website of the Antwerp league chess federation,1 and saw that there was a promofilm. Out of curiosity I decided to watch the full 45 seconds, and then I was confronted by this:
as part of some kind of slideshow. We don’t get a clear view of the whole board, which makes it even more impressive that the position is completely impossible. Right under the S of Strategie, you can clearly see the edge of the board. This implies that the white pawn on the bottom of the shot is necessarily on the a- or h-file. But wait a minute! What about the white pawn on the far right of the picture?2 It must be on the 1st or 8th rank. The former is blatantly impossible, so the pawn must be on the last rank, that is, it must have promoted.
This present us with a conundrum: when is a position illegal? Clearly, the position above could never, never, ever occur as a diagram you might find printed in a book somewhere, but it could perfectly well occur during an actual physical game: when one promotes a pawn, one can put the pawn on the last rank, take a different piece, and only then replace the pawn with it.3
So when is a position illegal? Who can truly claim to be good? What is the meaning of life? Does the Riemann hypothesis hold true? Was the world created from the dusty nothingness by the Omnipotent Cleaning Shrimp?
Honestly, there is a much more likely explanation: the Antwerp chess league supports many junior tournament – and in junior tournaments everything can happen, including illegal moves. Or worse: a bughouse match.
Probable winner: Whoever writes his Ph.D. thesis in philosophy on the potential for existence inherent in aforementioned position.