CIPC #207: Norwich union ad

Norwich! The great city of Norwich! Its cathedral, its mustard, its football team, its famous sons Lord Nelson and Alan Partridge,1 its union. Yes, its union. The Norwich Union, founded all the way back in the eighteenth century, was a very important player in the British insurance market with some international branches as well. It got involved in some scandal, as is normal for insurance companies, and changed its name in 2009. At some point before that, the following advertisement appeared somewhere

Where it appeared, when it appeared, or who put it online I don’t know. I pilfered the image from ebay; a quick image search will show you some variations on it.

At first glance it may look like just any old chess-themes ad, but let me assure you that it is not. It is the most misguided attempt at conveying a message in the rich and colourful history of chess-themed ads. The position, or at least that part that we see, is as follows:2

All the pieces play a symbolic role which is conveniently written on the socle. The labelling is as follows: Qh1=wife, h2=child, Ke2=death, Be1=accident, Bd5=old age/poverty, Rd6=fire,3 f5=burglary, h5=illness. You, dear reader, are the king on g2.

Your only safe move, Norwich Union assures you, is to go to h3, which is where they are. That’s true in the sense that after Kg1, the only legal alternative, an accident would fell you (Bf2#). The trick of the Norwich Union move is that if old age takes your wife (Bxh1), you would be safe4 because your child is blocking the only path old old age, accident, and burglary and illness have left for you.

But of course, if old age has a smattering of elemental strategy5 it will not take your wife. Instead, accident will step aside (Bd2) to let get the stalemate out of the position. Your wife will then have to desert you in order to prevent your immediate demise, but it is only postponing the inevitable: the preponderance of life’s calamities is so large that you will perish.

Harsh, but realistic. Most insurance companies try to sugarcoat this painful truth in euphemisms and weasel words, but not the Norwich Union. They show you your options unobstructed by rose coloured glasses: accept the briefness and pointlessness of your existence, or fall prey to despair and despondence.

Realism: 3/5 It’s kind of hard to make a very improbably position with so few pieces. But the placement of white’s queen is highly suspicious, for who would bury her majesty on the most passive square on the board? Another point against this position is the material balance itself, which is very rare.

Probable winner: Not you. The Norwich Union has a very clear message: life will get you down. Your only options are death or the Norwich Union — and death.

1. [And the greatest tat collector on Earth.]
2. [Your only safe move when making diagrams.]
3. [Whence the stylish flames surrounding it. I’m not sure why the other pieces don’t get such appropriate decorations.]
4. [Although unable to do anything for the rest of time.]
5. [You’ll say a better old age/poverty has never sat a gee!]