It doesn’t happen very often that a long-running television show dedicates an entire episode to chess, but when it happens – oh boy! Episode 5 of season 15 of British detective series Midsomer murders is just such an episode. It is called the Sicilian defence and is about a murderer killing members of the local chess club after the daughter of one of them has woken up from a coma. It is an hour and a half long and in this time it provides enough material to keep this blog going for a whole year, so I’m not going to expound every error and every unlikely position. Let’s just focus on one short scene of the camera panning over a series of chess boards in a supposedly important tournament. This is the first board we see:
Whubwuh? was more or less my first reaction to this shot. White seems to have misplaced his bishops somewhere, presumably sacrificing them for black’s f- and b-pawn respectively, but it’s okay: black just gave his queen for no particularly good reason. Why didn’t he bring his e4 bishop in safety?
Also, what kind of opening did they play? Black’s pawn structure seems to come form the Swiss cheese variation.1 White’s pawn structure, on the other hand, seems to come from nowhere at all. Besides, – but wait there is the following board coming into shot now!
After the previous position, this one is a breath of fresh air. True, black should have resigned ages ago, but I can see this position occur in practice – especially between inexperienced players. The strangest thing is probably the huge discrepancy in how many moves have been played in this game and the previous one: the last position was one from the early middlegame, but this one is from an endgame which is well under way. Still, this isn’t too bad – but wait, the next board is coming up already!
Well, drat. I think I’ve run out of ways to express my befuddlement. I have seen unlikely positions, I have seen ambiguously impossible positions, I have seen downright illegal positions, but I’ve never before seen anything this ridiculous. Oh position, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:
- To get his kingside’s pawns in this position, white must have captured two pieces, but black has only lost one so far.
- The black pawn on h6 could never have made its way there by any legal means.
- Black’s bishop could never have gotten on g8 without the aid of a priesthole, which is not allowed during a game of chess.2
- Come to think of it, the one piece black is missing, the f8 bishop, must have been captured on its home square, making the white kingside pawn position doubly impossible.
I think that’s enough. This is really like something from another universe, where chess is played ba purple striped bananas in the light of the moons of Zorg.
Realism: 1/5 Sucks, 4/5 Okay, -1/5 Blubberdysweep
Probable winner: White, White, Blubberdyswoop
1. [Which is an actual, honest-to-God variation of the Sicilian.]↩
2. [This must be a promoted piece by the way. For a moment I thought this, too, was impossible, but then I realised the piece on e7 was the black queen. Then I was surprised at seeing the black queen next to the board, as if it had been taken – but nowadays it is not uncommon that the organisers provide spare queens for when someone promotes a pawn.]↩