Kim Jong Un vs. Trump 'End Game'

by Macauley Peterson
9/23/2017 – The September 23rd issue of New Scientist magazine has a striking cover illustration featuring President Trump squaring off against the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in what one presumes is a high stakes chess game with nuclear tipped missiles. While visually impressive, the position makes absolutely no sense. Why can't a major magazine using chess as a geopolitical metaphor make a tiny effort to have the game presented coherently? It was a missed opportunity, and I think ChessBase readers can do better. Here's your chance to propose an alternative. | Illustration: Robert Carter (

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Quick, hide the nukes rooks!

Before I learned any chess history from school or books, I was made aware of its migration out of India via Persia from the original 1984 concept album of the musical CHESS, which I listened to, as a child, countless times on double LP, lying on the floor of our ChessBase-red carpeted living room on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The "Story of Chess" is a high-speed tour through the history of our game which comes amid the musical's epic finale. (Incidentally, the prior track is how I learned the order of the classical World Champions, through Karpov.)

But for the present moment, the second song from the first act provides a more poignant sound track:

"The man is utterly mad! You're playing a lunatic."

"That's the problem. He's a brilliant lunatic — you can't tell which way he'll jump. Like his game, he's impossible to analyse. You can't disect him, predict him — which of course means...he's not a lunatic at all." -CHESS, the musical

One man's genius may be another's madman, and the cover of the current issue of New Scientist magazine features a pair who — depending on whom you ask — are considered both, with each also regarded as a maniacal, psychopathic, self-absorbed man-child, plagued by an inability to admit error.

"End Game" you say? Looks more like the very early days of a curious opening. Let's take a closer look:

detail of chessboard

Detail of 'End Game' by Robert Carter | Source: @Crackethat on Twitter

A few things jumped out at me right away:

  • At least they got the board turned the right way around (whew!)
  • Where the heck are the rooks?
  • What's up with the clocks?

It's difficult to make out the pieces considering they are all some version of the Little Boy bomb (appropriate considering the players), but just in varying sizes. But as far as I can tell it's something like this:

Or maybe the rooks are there after all — on g1 and g8 — and we have something more like this?


It sure looks to me like there's no piece on the b8 square, and don't ask me what sequence of moves it would take to reach these positions — if it can be done at all.

In any case it's a total crock!

The analogue clocks show about 1:12 for Kim and about 6:25 for Trump. Being charitable I speculated that perhaps it was a reference to the disparate times zones, but Pyongyang is 12½ hours away from Washington DC, so that's a no-go.

It's all such a waste of an opportunity. Here we have the game which has become synonymous with geopolitical intrigue almost to the point of cliché, and all they can think up is big bombs for pieces.

First of all, for a story entitled "End Game", how about showing one? Next, the relative power imbalance in the respective militaries of the USA and North Korea could also be easily represented; have Trump playing with most of his army, while Kim has but a few pieces remaining. Instead of all pieces being the same boring bombs, they could also signify something more complex, perhaps each side reflecting its cultural heritage in some way.

Or, if that's too involved, then just give Kim one bomb — as his nuclear deterrence — to Trump's massive arsenal, only the catch is he's one move away from stalemate — with Trump reaching to make precisely the wrong move that lets victory slip away.

The clocks should presumably have their flags either hanging by a thread, or in some other way indicating the pressure in the situation — that time is running out! Otherwise what are they there for? Window dressing?

Eh...who am I kidding?

Trump didn't even know America had any grandmasters, or rather "grand chess masters" — as he put it! He'd be liable to lose focus and move on to something else in about the time it takes to fire off this tweet:

Or, maybe he'd be 'clever' and hide his mobile phone under the table, alternating between tweeting, trying to kill Obamacare, and checking out the position on Komodo.

Top the image off with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping whispering moves into the players ears while simultaneously grinning at each other.

Speaking of which, have you noticed the Chinese President in Tbilisi accompanying Ding Liren!? Now that's some national support!

Xu Jun looking like Xi Jinping

Just's Ding's coach GM Xu Jun on the left, and Xi Jinping on the right

But let's get real here: Trump's not playing white? That would never fly! Are they trying to imply that Kim Jong Un is bound to make the first move? Clearly they need help.

And so, a challenge

Can you come up with a more appropriate position for the magazine?

Star studded Fritz

It could be a position from a suitable historical game, culled from MegaBase or the live database, or something of your own creation.

Paste your position as a FEN string in the comments, where it will expand into a chess diagram automagically.

Next Friday we'll pick our favourite submission, with the winner receiving a DVD of Fritz 11 autographed by Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Anatoly Karpov and Judit Polgar!

The runner-up will receive three free months of our ChessBase Premium account.

Anyone can register a free account in order to comment, and a free trial upgrade to a Starter account is also available to all.

Good luck!

Here's the original image sans overlayed magazine print :



Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors

macauley macauley 9/28/2017 03:54
Some great submissions here! Here's the pos of Sture Olsson 9/24/2017 10:04
TobiD TobiD 9/26/2017 07:15
My first idea would be to set up a position that shows the huge difference of resources in the arsenal of weapons between the two countries. So Black with Mr. Trump would have all pieces, whereas his opponent only one.

A position which fits this difference in material is from the interesting study of the hungarian chess composer Ottó Bláthy (

Here black despite his material advantage is immobile to move (please note that the black pawns move downwards and most of them are one step away from promotion!).

White wins after 1. Qa5+ Kb1 2. Qxd8 Ka2 3. Qa5 + Kb1 4. Qd5 Ka2 5. Qa8 Kb1 6. Ka7! Ka2 7. Kb6+ Kb1 8. Ka5! Ka2 9. Kb4+ Kb1 10. Ka3! Ka1 11. Kxb3+ Kb1 12. Qa2 # mate

Final position:

But of course we would not like that Mr. Kim Jong Un wins. So next idea would be to take an attractive position which would popularize chess in general.

First to my mind comes the 16th game of the world championship match in Moscow 1985 between Karpov and Kasparov:

One of the most beautiful games in history, with the final tactics Rc1!!:

But then black wins!

So maybe we should take a position that corresponds to the title "endgame", and leads to a stalemate. The topic of stalemate had been covered here in a recent article by Johannes Fischer (

One option would be the following position of the game James Adams Congdon vs Eugene Delmar 5th American Chess Congress (1880), Manhattan, New York USA:

White achieves a draw with 1. Qg8+! which leads to stalemate after 1.-Kxg8.
BKnight2003 BKnight2003 9/25/2017 09:39
Don't be intimidated by the criticism, Macauley, this is an excellent article! You've got great great ideas for improvement of the cover.
adbennet adbennet 9/25/2017 05:32
The clocks should have been started with 5 minutes for white and 3 minutes for black.
alvishope alvishope 9/25/2017 05:01
How about Trump playing the Elephant Gambit with black?
pompeaux pompeaux 9/24/2017 12:54
Trump is Black with rook odds (missing Rh8) - Then it should be Légal's mate, which was originally played with rook odds.

As the attacker, Kim is making all the empty threats, but the powerful USA isn't bluffing. The game would be recorded as: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nc6 4. Nxc6 dxc6 5. d3 Bc5 and we have our position right after Kim executes the Dotard Attack with 6. Bg5, and Trump ponders, finally taking on ...Nxe4. Kim may celebrate briefly by detonating a hydrogen bomb in the Ocean, and taking the queen with 7. BxQ, but the prize will mean nothing as Trump will totally destroy North Korea when that happens ...Bxf2+ 8. Ke2 9. Bg4# 0-1.

That's when Kim will look at China and say, "I thought you were going to help me." China looking down will reply, "Bu xie. I'm just the Arbiter!" And the Russian commentators though criticizing some of the earlier strategic choices, will be fully supportive of the end result, as it will validate the Russian Defense, nevertheless.

Mark S Mark S 9/24/2017 10:54
That is a good one Sture Olsson. My below position is also Mate in 1, but it is white to move.

Material advantage is huge but it is turn to move of the weaker side. Only pawn push is the legal move, and it delivers checkmate.
Sture Olsson Sture Olsson 9/24/2017 10:05
Head-line: "Mate in one - but who is to move?"
Sture Olsson Sture Olsson 9/24/2017 10:04
What about this position for a "Nuclear Game" between Kim and Trump:
White: Kh5, Qa1
Black: Ke7, Qd8, Ra8, Rh8, Bb7, Bf8, Nb8, Ng8, pawns a7, b6, c7, d7, f7, g5 and h6
illustrating not only the diffenence in physical strength, but also reminding us a bit of the seriousness of the situation.
Head-line? What about "Mate in one - but he is to move?"
Sture Olsson, Uppsala, Sweden
Dime1 Dime1 9/23/2017 10:48
In this position,both kings have 2 queens in their disposal each and some lightweight pieces, which in case Trump and Kim could be South Korea and Japan in US camp versus China and Russia in North Korea camp,also the game was played 2 years before Caribbean crisis when the tensions between USSR and America in cold war where high, two different characters played one versus another,Fischer the notorious attacker vs Petrosian the best known defender,both kings are exposed and vulnerable and with four queens it brings to complicated and unpredictable endgame!
Dime1 Dime1 9/23/2017 10:29
Fischer -Petrosian Candidates 1959
basler88 basler88 9/23/2017 09:11
Trump this stupid guy doesn't even know how a chess board looks like. Why are these guys anyway on any published papers. I wouldn't even want Trump's picture on my toilet paper and of course the other crazy guy either. Please avoid to have any articles in ChessBase where this to dictators are mention, they can play there game in hell.
koko48 koko48 9/23/2017 08:37
All their moves are illegal!
wolferov wolferov 9/23/2017 11:49
DarkOne42 DarkOne42 9/23/2017 10:59
You do know the chess pieces are all bombs, right?
gm_hmg gm_hmg 9/23/2017 10:02
Really a waste of space...!
Does the author have nothing else worthwhile to do than writing articles on anything that just remotely mentions anything about chess..!?? 9/23/2017 09:42
I don't have a position. But here's the review I posted of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess Openings" back in April...
polecat2 polecat2 9/23/2017 09:37
They have both moved the h pawn!?
Cajunmaster Cajunmaster 9/23/2017 09:14
Picturing the time currently displayed on the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (2'30" to midnight) might have been an idea, illustrating that these two madmen are playing a "bullet" game...
DDaniel82 DDaniel82 9/23/2017 08:19
How can you put these guys on the chess board? They are crazy!
KOTLD KOTLD 9/23/2017 07:13
i'm contemplating which hairstyle is better in that painting...
Tumbledownwind Tumbledownwind 9/23/2017 06:26
The position can be achieved in just 17 moves.
Un vs Trump could go something like this: 1 e4 d5, 2 ed e6, 3 de Be6, 4 d4 Nf6, 5 Nf3 Bb4+, 6 c3 Bc3+, 7 Bd2, Bb4, 8 Nc3 Ke7, 9 Bd3 Re8, 10 Ke2 Kf8, 11 Re1 Bc8+ 12 Kf1 Re1+ 13 Ke1 Ke8, 14 Be3 Bf8, 15 Ng1 Ng8, 16 Nb1 Nd7, 17 Bf4 Ndf6. Interesting in that the final retreating moves could be a sign that peace negotiations will prevail.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 9/23/2017 06:20
Firstly the image is too grainy to try to figure out the position. Secondly, you don't know what the times for each player is. It is possible to play games of more than 1 hour with an analog clock - before digital clocks that was how it was done... Thirdly, why should the pieces represent the US and North Korea military capabilities? There is clearly a mind game going on between Trump and Kim Jong Un. A lot of reading into nothing...

@susiep, why do you think Trump is his idol? He criticized a lot of Trump positions.
susiep susiep 9/23/2017 06:05
Better hope Rex doesn't catch you dissing his idol, or Chessbase will be persona non grata at the next Sinquefield Cup.
melante melante 9/23/2017 03:24
Good article. And the cover reminds of a similar drawing published during the Cuban missile crises with Kennedy and Khrushchev from the cold war in the early 1960s.
Now like then, the players are caught in a "chicken dilemma", as defined by game theory, which should end in a "draw" when both parties manage to find a way to take a step back from their aggressive rhetoric without losing face.

The resulting chess position should then be a draw by stalemate and, talking about nukes, an ending with "heavy" pieces seems logical. I would like to propose the historical Bernstein-Smyslov 1946 game which is actually quite actual as the same theme just appeared in the world cup between Erdos and Amin:

TMMM TMMM 9/23/2017 02:56
A nonsensical position is actually quite in line with the intelligence of the players at the board. Did you expect Trump and Kim to play grandmasterly moves? In that sense it is even surprising the board is set up correctly, as I doubt either of these gentlemen would know when it's correct and incorrect.
turok turok 9/23/2017 02:28
waste of space for this article