CIPC #36: New Scientist No.3144

In der Beschränkung zeigt sich der Meister. In our days of niche studies and absurdly specific website, Goethe’s quote is more poignant than ever. Still, when I started a blog discussing unlikely depictions of chess in popular culture, I thought I had a market cornered. I thought I had a pretty safe monopoly, not because of the superior quality of my product, but simply because nobody else wants in on it. Yet here we are, less than a year later, and people are already treading on my turf.1 You see, New Scientist has dedicated its cover to a cartoon depicting Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un playing a game of chess, and Macauley Peterson has published an article about this on ChessBase. Am I still relevant? Should I surrender my position? Should I close my blog? Let’s investigate!

Okay, the first obvious thing is that this is not and endgame. Of course, the author of the ChessBase piece has also noticed this. The second obvious thing is that all pieces are shaped like stereotypical bombs.2 This, too, has been noticed before. It makes identifying the exact position a lot harder, of course. Let’s first see what my ChessBase colleague makes of it. He gives the following two possible interpretations of the position:

and points out that they are both ridiculous. He is right. I’m not convinced, however, that either interpretation is correct.  I think there are far fewer pieces on the board. When one sees the board from the side, it’s often quite hard to see what squares are occupied, but there’s a knack to it: one should look at the bases of the pieces. Not only is the base of a piece closer to the square it occupies, but the base is also pretty universally the same: a simple round socle.3 Using this technique, I would wager that not only b8 but also f8, f1, d1, and c1 are empty.

As I said before, it’s hard to identify the different pieces with certainty, but, being a bit charitable in our interpretation, we can say that the following position is at least a plausible candidate:4

which is, in all honesty, a perfectly normal position. I’m not completely happy with this rendition: the queen on d3, for example, would be considerably more plump than she is usually depicted. Possibly, the piece on e1 is white’s queen and the one on d3 his rook; admittedly, the position would then not be nearly as natural.

So what’s the conclusion? Am I useless? Is my rule of chess in popular culture over? Should I stop? Maybe that would be for the best, yes. Will I? Hell no!

Realism: 2-5/5 This depends on which position you believe in.

Probable winner: Trump or nobody, depending once more on which position you believe in. And, no, Trump or nobody is not a political statement in any way, it just means that a draw is likely.

1. [And surely no two people can do similar things on the internet! That’s preposterous!]
2. [Symbolism!]
3. [A word which my spellchecker keeps underlining. What’s up with that? A socle is a very well-known concept, is it not?]
4. [All diagrams are the result of successful diplomatic efforts with this site.]