Thursday, March 31, 2011


The still photo above is from the movie The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman. It is a lovely movie, and even though it wasn’t made in this century, I still highly recommend you watching it. The reason for this post (other than the topic that was posed to me as a challenge) is chess. It is a wonder game, that can be used as all sorts of analogies, and while very complex has rules that can be understood fairly quickly if you pay attention. Chess is a bit like life, the rules are fairly simple, but it is the interaction of difference pieces, within those rules that have a tendency to make things a bit complex. The use of chess in The Seventh Seal drives the plot, and without a little knowledge of the plot of the movie, the plot of this post is wasted. But, since the title of the blog is all about my wasted breath, I figure one more possibly wasted post wouldn’t hurt.

The fellow on the right is Antionus Block (played quite well by Max von Sydow), and he is about the engage the lovely gentleman on the left (i.e. Death) in a chess match for his life. Clearly, the result is already decided Block is just buying time to try to get home from his travels aboard (he had been on Crusade) to see his wife and child before the endgame. Throughout the film Death cheats, posing as a priest to take Block’s confession, during which Block confesses his chess strategy to beat Death. Death is a tricky bastard and only reveals his true self after Block has given away his strategy. Near the end Block intentionally knocks over the pieces hoping to put off his fate, and save a family of young friends from Death. Claiming he does not remember where the pieces where positioned, Block hopes to avoid being mated. Death replies that he remembers where the pieces were, and begins to reconstruct the game. However, and this is where there is some disagreement amongst film historians, there is a theory that Death cheats with his reconstruction. Either he cheats, or has a remarkable memory for a chess board, regardless of which, Block is mated on the next move, and is sent off to “Dance with Death.”

Clearly, this is what we are all doing everyday, playing chess with Death. Maybe not quite as obviously as our hero Block, but regardless the pieces have been chosen, and it is our move. The wisdom of that move requires a lot of thought, and people have been playing chess, and trying to cheat death for a LONG time. Ever heard of Paul Morphy, Jose Raul Capablanca, or Emanuel Lasker? They were all Grandmasters of chess, guys who are whizs at the massive number of combinations on a chess board, but each of them ended the same way, dead. Remember all the stories of people surviving crashes, etc that should have killed them? We say they “cheated death.” Well remember Death cheats back, so before you use the French-Indian defense or the English opening think very carefully, your next move might end in mate.

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