The Course of Reason

A Thinly Veiled Metaphor

December 4, 2012

Like many campuses in the U.S., the University of Missouri has its share of chess crazies, who like to stand on common causeways between classes, shouting challenges at passing students. Their goal, of course, is to gather a loud crowd and play matches simultaneously against the crowd-members. To win is to display the correctness of their chess theory and gain converts away from the poisonous schools of chess thought taught in what passes for today's higher education.

As an intrigued undergraduate, I would stop and observe the games every once in a while. Every once in a great while, I would accept the challenge and engage one in intellectual combat. I don't do this anymore. After several fruitless attempts, I discovered that they simply weren't playing the same game that I was.

It wasn't that I found their opening theory so profound and unacceptable, or that they made brilliant sacrifices that I couldn't understand. Quite the opposite, in fact. For instance, a particularly belligerent man, call him "Jed," audaciously sacrificed his light-squared Bishop early in the game. He gained neither space, tempo, materiel, nor any other strategic advantage for the sacrifice, so I accepted and play continued. Several moves later, up cropped his light-squared Bishop again, along the H-file, checking my king. He hadn't promoted any pawn, so I asked him where the light-squared Bishop came from. He responded, "My King of Kings, by the Grace of God, has resurrected him."

Brother Jed
Jed, moving imaginary pieces on an imaginary chess board, "checkmating" some heathen.

I pointed out that no rules of chess allowed such a move, that it was illegal. He claimed that his chess moves were governed by the laws of God, not the laws of men, and that among Gods, Bishops can be resurrected. I figured since this was a "street game," so to speak, that I would let it slide, and carry on with my strategy, which was not crucially effected by the Bishop's return.

I put his King in check with my Rook.

He ignored it, and moved his g pawn wildly along a diagonal to the back rank, leaping one of my Knights in the process, declaring its promotion to a Queen.

I calmly pointed out that pawns can't do that, and even if they could, it would still be an illegal move, because his King was in check.

"That, is not my King," he said smugly. "You killed my King two moves ago... for my King was but a pawn."

So then, I asked if he was resigning.

"Of course not," he said, "my King will be resurrected after your next move. He'll then be able to resurrect all my pieces, and turn them into Bishops." Then he took my Queen off the board with his hand, referring to her as a 'harlot'.

As frustrated as I was, I took his Pseudo-King with my Rook, and waited for the return of his Pawn-King to the board. He made no move. I asked where the Pawn-King was.

Smiling, he replied, "Oh, he's there. Can't you see him?" I could not.

"Yes, I suppose you wouldn't. He is no longer confined to his mortal body. He has just put you in check, though..."

I asked where he was, so that I could move out of check.

"... He is everywhere. He is all around you. He is all around your King. Checkmate."

chess with chuck norris

At this point I walked away. I decided it was a waste of time to play against these people, because they don't follow the rules, they make stuff up as they go along, and they refuse to accept defeat even if it is according to their own definitions.

Some chess enthusiasts that I know think it is still worthwhile to play against these people. They know that the chess crazies themselves will never be convinced that they are wrong, but they point out that it is good for chess in general to show the audience that the chess crazies are vacuous pretenders.

But this isn't what happens. You cannot beat the chess crazies in chess, demonstrating to the audience the superiority of your position and strategy, because you are not playing the crazies in chess. You are playing a game of their own creation. You cannot win this game. You can only make a mockery of the true game of chess, a circus attraction designed by the crazies to exploit the public's interest in the game. I no longer play against these people because I respect the game too much. I no longer play against these people because it only allows them to count more "chess wins" for themselves. I no longer play against these people because it misrepresents to the public what chess actually consists in.


About the Author: Seth Kurtenbach

Seth Kurtenbach's photo
Seth Kurtenbach is pursuing his PhD in computer science at the University of Missouri. His current research focuses on the application of formal logic to questions about knowledge and rationality. He has his Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Missouri, and is growing an epic beard in order to maintain his philosophical powers. You can email Seth at or follow him on Twitter: @SJKur.


#1 jemankowski on Tuesday December 04, 2012 at 7:55pm

This is an awesome article. Best line "I decided it was a waste of time to play against these people, because they don’t follow the rules, they make stuff up as they go along, and they refuse to accept defeat even if it is according to their own definitions."

#2 Casper (Guest) on Sunday December 09, 2012 at 4:53am

""I decided it was a waste of time to play against these people..."

I guess you should be expecting a punch in the face from JT Eberhard then. LOL

#3 Scott Forschler (Guest) on Thursday December 27, 2012 at 4:07pm

Love it!




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