The workings of the chess player's brain

6/18/2005 – How does the mind of a chess player work? How do memory, experience, analysis and inspiration work together to produce chess moves? The question has defied science – so far. Now a very imaginative young researcher has worked it all out and provides us with a vivid explanation, presented in an unusual form: a one-act play by Alex Shternshain.

The Game

A play in one act © Alex Shternshain

CURTAIN RISES

We are on a set that looks, strangely, like the inside of a human brain. Sitting around an upright demonstration chessboard, are four people. Those are: MEMORY, EXPERIENCE, ANALYSIS and INSPIRATION.

MEMORY is dressed in a smart corporate three-piece suit. EXPERIENCE is clad in some very old tattered robes. ANALYSIS is wearing an accountant’s vest and glasses, and carries an abacus. INSPIRATION is dressed in a painter’s smock, covered in multicolored splatters of paint.

Behind them, there is a window shaped like a human eye – from the inside. MEMORY has just finished setting the pieces on the demo-board into an initial position.

INSPIRATION: All right Memory, what do we have today? I’m eager to start!

MEMORY: Some 1920-rated player. Our boss is black.

INSPIRATION: What’s his name?

MEMORY: Excuse me? Our boss’ name is Jeremy Whitman, and that’s the last time
I have to remind that to you.

ANALYSIS: I think he meant to ask what’s the 1920 guy’s name.

MEMORY: I don't remember.

ANALYSIS: You don’t remember? How can you not remember, you’re Memory, for crying out loud!

MEMORY: I didn’t get the chance! The Boss glanced over that part of the pairings’ sheet too quickly! I remember the rating, the table, our color, but he skimmed the name too fast, before I had a chance to connect to the Optic Nerve.

INSPIRATION: Some Memory you are...

EXPERIENCE: Okay, kids, let’s not fight. No need to upset Memory over this trivial detail, we're going to need his services ASAP. See, the game is already starting. Analysis, give us a reading.

ANALYSIS: Why me? Don’t tell me, I know, no Analysis in the opening. Fine, I’ll be your messenger boy for now. (Looks out the window). Ok, the pieces are set; the boss is adjusting the knights – facing forward, the way he likes it; the handshake; and, Pawn to King Four.

INSPIRATION: I hate it when you do descriptive notation.

ANALYSIS: As if someone asked you. Experience is the one calling the shots, right?

EXPERIENCE: At this stage of the game, I’ll let Memory into the driver’s seat.

MEMORY: Algebraic please.

ANALYSIS: Fine. 1.e4.

Note: From now and on, bold type indicates moves actually played in the game. One of the characters will always make the same move on the demonstration board as soon as it’s announced, so the board position always reflects the actual game position.

[Click here to replay the game in a separate window.]

MEMORY: Long Algebraic.

ANALYSIS: 1.e2-e4.

MEMORY: Thank you. (Whispers to Experience) I don’t really need the long notation, just wanted to piss him off. (Back to normal voice) Now, on e4, we have ...

INSPIRATION (Interrupts): Woo hoo! I love e4! We get to counterattack!

EXPERIENCE: Inspiration, please be quiet for a moment. You will have your time, but move 1 is certainly not it. Memory, what do we have on e4?

MEMORY: As I was starting to say before Mr. Scribble here interfered, we can either go e5, which is solid, or c5, which is more combative. Boss is okay with either.

INSPIRATION: I lean toward c5 myself.

MEMORY: I say e5, just to spite you.

EXPERIENCE: Hmm. I'll defer my judgment until I hear what Analysis has to say.

ANALYSIS: Let’s see, the other guy is 1920, right? And boss is 1997. Boss is black... (Fiddles with abacus) so this means that a draw, while costing us a couple of points, is still a reasonable result. No need to go all-out for a win. I vote e5.

INSPIRATION: Everyone’s a Grandmaster. Come on, people, have some guts!

EXPERIENCE: 1…e5 it is. Don’t worry, Inspiration, your time will come.

Through the window, we see chess-piece-shaped shadows move.

ANALYSIS: 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 was played.

MEMORY: Ruy Lopez. Against the Ruy, we always play the good old C78.

EXPERIENCE: For the love of Lasker, can you speak normally? What on Earth is C78?

MEMORY: For the associatingly-oriented and the recollection-impaired, that would be the Archangelsk variation.

INSPIRATION: I love the Archangelsk! Chase away his Bishop, place our own on b7, the other Bishop on c5, what a powerful counterattack!

ANALYSIS: I am wary of this opening. He can pin the knight with Bg5, very unpleasant.

MEMORY: Respectfully, this is my turf yet. Besides, on Bg5 we can go h6 and then g5.

EXPERIENCE: A somewhat shaky kingside position, isn’t it?

MEMORY: It turned out okay for black in Dolmatov-Beliavsky, 1990.

EXPERIENCE: We’ll take your word for it. Walk us through.

MEMORY: 3...a6 now. He can retreat or exchange. Give me some readings.

ANALYSIS: He went 4.Ba4.

INSPIRATION: b7-b5 now!

MEMORY: No, 4...Nf6 now, b7-b5 next move, assuming he castles.

INSPIRATION: Why next move? Why not now?

MEMORY: Because this is what everyone plays.

INSPIRATION: Stop being such a copycat!

EXPERIENCE: Inspiration, I warn you...

ANALYSIS: White castled. 5.0-0

MEMORY: b5, then Bb7.

ANALYSIS: 5…b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 7.Re1 played.

MEMORY: I like Re1!

All three turn their bewildered faces toward him.

EXPERIENCE: Did you just say you like Re1? I thought you were incapable of emotion.

MEMORY: Live and learn, baby. After Re1, I have the lines memorized for at least 2-3 moves deeper than after any other white move. Woohoo, go me!

INSPIRATION: Darn. He’s got such a stranglehold over the game now. I wonder if I will ever get to play.

MEMORY: 7...Bc5 is the move.

ANALYSIS: I don’t like the fork trick 7...Bc5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.d4

MEMORY: This trick was never played in my database. Hence it doesn’t work.

EXPERIENCE: That’s a bit of a feeble explanation, isn't it?

MEMORY: 8.Nxe5 cannot possibly work. Had it worked, someone would have played it by now.

EXPERIENCE: I still say we let Analysis take a stab at it.

MEMORY: Fine. But I say it’s a waste of time.

ANALYSIS: Let’s see: 7...Bc5 8.Nxe5 ... I recapture... 9.d4 ... attacks two pieces, and now what do I have ... need some counterattack…

INSPIRATION: 9...Nfg4!

ANALYSIS: Way to go, man! And if he takes the bishop 10...Qh4 finishes him.

EXPERIENCE: I concur. The fork trick doesn’t work for white.

MEMORY: See? I was right all along. Let’s go, 7...Bc5.

Shadows of light and darkness move across the window. Memory walks over and takes a look.

MEMORY: 8.c3 d6 9.d4 Bb6 – so far so good.

EXPERIENCE: White is thinking hard. He’s out of book.

MEMORY: First round, victory to us! Sorry, did I say ‘us’, I meant ‘me’.

INSPIRATION: Show-off.

LIGHTS GO OUT for a few seconds to signify the passage of time. LIGHTS GO ON again.

INSPIRATION: He’s thinking for ten minutes already. What’s going on?

MEMORY: Someone forgot to study their C78.

EXPERIENCE: I think we need to get ready for possible responses. Analysis, what can white play?

MEMORY: Oh, please, I’m ready for anything. He can’t take me out of book with any half-decent move until at least five more moves.

INSPIRATION: 10.a4 played!

MEMORY: (recites) An innocuous variation, usually played with the intent to avoid the sharp struggle in the line 10.Bg5 h6 11.Bg3 g5.

EXPERIENCE: You’re not here for positional evaluations. Give me a move, if you can.

MEMORY: We can just castle. Tell the boss to go ahead with 10…0-0

EXPERIENCE: Okay, let’s do it.

MEMORY: No, wait!

EXPERIENCE: Wait for what? The boss already picked up his king.

MEMORY: It’s 10...h6 11.h3 and only then castling. I mixed up the move order.

EXPERIENCE: The man is stuck there with the king in his hand, because you told him to castle! Do you have any idea how serious this is?

ANALYSIS: If he picked up the king already, he must castle. No better king move is available.

EXPERIENCE: All right, let’s do it. (To Memory) How could you! This is going in my report!

ANALYSIS: Fine mess we made, trusting this guy. Now white can pin the knight, and the maneuver with h6 and g5 doesn’t work, because white sac a knight on g5.

EXPERIENCE: Well, find something. Dig us out of this hole, Analysis!

MEMORY: Wait, I remember something.

EXPERIENCE: Shut up. You’re out.

MEMORY: Out?

EXPERIENCE: You heard me. I’m cutting you out of this game.

MEMORY: You can’t cut me out.

EXPERIENCE: Watch me. Analysis, what do we have?

ANALYSIS: Leaving the knight pinned looks bad. Unpinning with g5 is even worse – Nxg5 hxg5 Bxg5 followed by Qf3. Opening the center with exd4 doesn’t look too hot either.

MEMORY: No, it’s fine, I remember...

EXPERIENCE: Which part of “you’re out” did you not understand?

MEMORY: Fine. You deal with it yourselves.

Analysis walks around the table, mumbling various lines, from time to time conferring with Inspiration. The look on his face is an unhappy one. Finally he mournfully turns to Experience.

ANALYSIS: We can’t find anything good.

MEMORY: I can.

EXPERIENCE: (Deep sigh, gives up) Okay, Memory, what have you got?

MEMORY: (Triumphant) Van der Wiel – Tkachiev, 1999. 11.Bg5 h6 12.Bh4 exd4 13.exd4 g5 turned out okay for black – white didn’t sacrifice on g5.

INSPIRATION: Whoa, neat – a combination of two bad ideas – g5 and exd4 – actually produces something worthwhile.

ANALYSIS: Yeah, he can’t sac on g5 now, because after 14.Nxg5 hxg5 15.Bxg5 Nxd4 the queen cannot go to f3 and black wins.

EXPERIENCE: Nice teamwork, guys, but all for naught (points to window) 11.d5 was played.

MEMORY: Uhm, remember, guys, when I said he can't take me out of book with any half-decent move? This is barely a ten-percent-decent move. I’m done. You’re on your own.

EXPERIENCE: Don’t go; we may need you.

MEMORY: Need? Me? Did I misunderstand any part of “you’re out”?

EXPERIENCE: (Mellows down) We may need you for the endgame.

MEMORY: Hehe, you do, don’t you. Mr. Scribble and Mr. Pencilpusher here are both utterly useless for anything as simple as R+P vs. R, aren't they? Okay, I’ll stick around. Sound like fun. And if you can come up with a good enough response to d5, I may even add it to my database.

ANALYSIS: Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

EXPERIENCE: Let’s go to work, guys. The knight needs to retreat. Analysis, are you happier with Ne7 or Na5?

INSPIRATION: Can’t we consider other moves? Like 11…Na7

MEMORY: Knight on the rim, future is grim.

INSPIRATION: Or 11…Ng4, attacking f2.

ANALYSIS: Hmm, let’s see, 11…Ng4 12.dxc6 Nxf2 and then…

EXPERIENCE: Stop it. Even if you spend twenty minutes here and prove to me that the combination does work, White can still respond simply 12.Rf1 and defend everything. Let’s play simple moves while we can.

Analysis and Inspiration confer in the corner of the room again. Experience taps his fingers nervously on the table and checks his watch. Finally, he seems to have enough of it.

EXPERIENCE: 11…Ne7 is a go.

ANALYSIS: Got to love those decisions on general principles.

EXPERIENCE: 12.Bc2 played. Doesn’t seem like white knows what he’s doing. Any plans?

INSPIRATION: 12…Qd7 connects the rooks, or 12…Ng6, improves the knight’s position. But the best of course is to attack with 12…Ng4!

EXPERIENCE: Analysis?

ANALYSIS: I’m looking into 12…c6 13.dxc6 Bxc6 – opens the center, many interesting ideas are possible. A real forest of variations!

EXPERIENCE: Tarrasch said attack the pawn chain from the base, not the head. So that means we need to get f5 in, not c6.

MEMORY: That was Nimzowitsch.

EXPERIENCE: Whatever. Analysis, give me a line with f7-f5.

ANALYSIS: 12…Ng4 13.Rf1 f5 14.Bg5 fxe4 15.Bxe4.

EXPERIENCE: Hmm, he has a nice outpost on e4. I don’t like it.

INSPIRATION: Maybe we can combine the ideas. You know, c6 and f5.

ANALYSIS: 12…c6 13.dxc6 Bxc6 and then threaten Ng4 and f5 – he doesn’t have the outpost on e4 anymore because our Bishop controls e4. Could work.

EXPERIENCE: He could do something in the meanwhile to stop the f5 idea.

INSPIRATION: Then we sac a pawn with 14…d5 and attack the kingside!

ANALYSIS: I don’t like.

INSPIRATION: Well, we’ll think of something. I like c7-c6, let’s go for it.

EXPERIENCE: I guess I’ll have to trust you on this one. 12…c6 is a go.

Memory looks through the window. Some moves are played quickly.

MEMORY: 13.dxc6 Bxc6 14.axb5 axb5 15.Rxa8 played.

EXPERIENCE: All forced. Now 15…Bxa8

INSPIRATION: No, wait; let’s look at 15…Qxa8.

ANALYSIS: He just takes on d6, duh.

INSPIRATION: Let him take. Then we go 16…Ng4, how’s that?

EXPERIENCE: Not too good. If nothing else, he has 17.Be3, stopping our attack cold and remaining a pawn up. A doubled pawn, admittedly, but still, White’s clearly better. Scratch that, we play 15…Bxa8.

A short pause. Analysis walks around and mumbles nervously.

EXPERIENCE: I really don’t like 16.h3 now. We have no tactics, and our pawn structure is miserable.

MEMORY: That’s what you get for listening to Inspiration.

INSPIRATION: Well, at least I don’t change my mind every five seconds – “oh no, it should have been h6 before castling, now we are so screwed, oh wait, we are not screwed, I found someone to copy from”.

MEMORY: You would have never come up with this move order by yourself. Not in a year.

FEAR: Look, they’re squabbling already!

SPOTLIGHT on left-stage, where three previously-unseen people have just entered. Those are FEAR, DOUBT and HINDSIGHT. FEAR is dressed like a classic Faustian devil, complete with pitchfork. He leads the trio. DOUBT wears a long flowing robe covered in question marks. He looks like a simpleton. HINDSIGHT looks self-confident and has a T-shirt emblazoned with a stylized “20/20” logo.

EXPERIENCE: Well, well, well, if it isn’t Mr. Scaredy-Cat and his sidekicks “I don’t know” and “I don’t care”. What are you doing here? The horror film festival is down at the subconscious.

FEAR: Your wit does not amuse me, ancient one. My friends’ names are Doubt and Hindsight. As for me, you may refer to me as Mr. Fear, although I prefer ‘Reasonable Caution’. And we came because we heard over the synapses that you might have something for us.

ANALYSIS: Go away. We don’t have anything for you. What could we possibly have that will be of any interest to you three?

FEAR: Oh, I don’t know. How about … this position! Doesn’t it lend itself quite nicely to the application of our skills? Won’t you say so, Doubt?

DOUBT: Well, I’m not sure…

FEAR: Shut up. Of course, you played yourself into a hole, and now are waiting to see if the guy finds h3 or not. Being at the mercy of your opponent, that’s just about the scariest thing I can think of … that doesn’t involve spiders.

HINDSIGHT: Oh boy, did you mess up. It was so much better to play 12…Ng4 followed by 13…f5 – a slight advantage for black at the very least.

ANALYSIS: Have you ever heard the phrase ‘at the right place in the wrong time’? That would be about you.

HINDSIGHT: I know. I get this all the time. Ain’t I something?

INSPIRATION: I insist the three of you leave at once. You’re cramping my style.

FEAR: You know what, I’ll be generous with you. I’ll let Doubt decide. What do you say, Doubt, should we leave?

DOUBT: Uhm, I dunno. I don’t think so.

FEAR: Case closed. We stay to watch you demolish this position even further!

A brief, highly tense, pause follows, as the three newcomers make themselves comfortable around the board. The four original partners do their best to ignore them.

ANALYSIS: White already spent fifteen minutes on this move. I don’t know what he’s thinking about. 16.h3 is a natural.

A shadow moves across the eye.

EXPERIENCE: 16.Na3 was played.

INSPIRATION: Hey, we’re back in the game!

DOUBT: Don’t be so sure. Every move has a purpose, remember.

INSPIRATION: Shut up.

EXPERIENCE: No, wait. Doubt actually has a point. We must examine our opponent’s goals. What does white want?

FEAR: To crush your ego into a pulp and to pry some precious rating points away from your cold dead fingers.

EXPERIENCE: Well, yes, but on a shorter term, he’s attacking b5.

FEAR: Oh, attacking a weak pawn. Scary.

DOUBT: I don’t like having weak pawns.

HINDSIGHT: It might have been wiser to exchange it earlier.

EXPERIENCE: Shut up, all of you. What were we talking about?

MEMORY: Inspiration said something about Ng4 and f5.

EXPERIENCE: Right. Analysis, give me a line.

ANALYSIS: 16…Ng4 17.Rf1 (or Re2) f5 – threatens to take twice on f2 and then win a piece with fxe4. Seems like white has no choice but to take: 18.exf5 Nxf5 – and then, I don’t know, it branches exponentially.

EXPERIENCE: I like this position. The b-pawn is still weak, but we have what, two knights, two bishops and a rook looking directly at his king. And the queen can join too. I say go for it.

DOUBT: Shouldn’t you check it one more time?

FEAR: Yeah, just think of all the rating points at stake!

Experience shakes his head. He has to make a decision, but seems to be unable to do so.

EXPERIENCE: Analysis, can you go over the lines again.

ANALYSIS: Whatever you say.

Again, he walks around mumbling, briefly conferring with Inspiration from time to time.

FEAR: And the time is ticking away.

ANALYSIS: I don’t see any problems with Ng4 and f5. I really don’t.

DOUBT: Maybe we should consider other alternatives. Like 16…Bc6 or 16…Qd7, protecting the pawn.

INSPIRATION: Those are passive moves. We must attack now!

MEMORY: The side that has the advantage not only may attack, but also must attack. Lasker. Or Steinitz, I forget.

DOUBT: Aha, but do we have the advantage?

FEAR: I say we don’t.

HINDSIGHT: We may have. I’ll tell you later.

EXPERIENCE: I’m not afraid of you. 16…Ng4 is a go.

MEMORY: (Looks out) White went 17.Rf1 very quickly.

FEAR: Obviously you have a very savvy opponent. Can’t pull the wool over his eyes.

INSPIRATION: Come on, f5!

EXPERIENCE: I tend to agree.

DOUBT: Aren’t we supposed to recheck everything?

EXPERIENCE: Oh well. Analyze everything again.

ANALYSIS: Everything? Oh, my head.

MEMORY: Kotov said check each branch of the variation tree only once. It’s in his book “Think like a Grandmaster”.

FEAR: Kotov is dead (brief pause, adds ominously) I am afraid.

INSPIRATION: I can’t believe I am saying this, but we must continue with the plan. f7-f5 is the only move that makes sense.

EXPERIENCE: Okay, proceed with 17…f5. Oh, look, he took already. 18.exf5, and now we play 18…Nxf5.

HINDSIGHT: Doesn’t look too hot, this entire plan with f5. You have a lot of weaknesses. He can exchange on f5 and then capture b5. A check on b3 could be a pain.

EXPERIENCE: Why didn’t you say something before? Sorry, don’t answer that, I forgot whom am I speaking to.

INSPIRATION: b5 is weak, but so is f2.

ANALYSIS: Right on, my man. If 19.Bxf5 Rxf5 20.Nxb5, we can take twice on f2, and then win the pinned knight with e5-e4.

DOUBT: Assuming, of course, white doesn’t have a zwischenzug. Although I don’t know, why should he have one?

EXPERIENCE: You really are a big help.

MEMORY: (Looks out) 19.Bb3+ was played.

FEAR: Oh, a check, what shall we do.

EXPERIENCE: Just tuck the king into the corner. No problem. 19…Kh8.

HINDSIGHT: Did you already make this move?

EXPERIENCE: Yes. Why do you ask?

HINDSIGHT: Just wanted to point out that 19…d5 might have been better.

DOUBT: I don’t know. I don’t like those voluntary pins. Maybe Kh8 was right. Even though, I must say, moving before consulting Analysis was somewhat dumb.

EXPERIENCE: (Laughs nervously) Yes, it was, wasn’t it? On my honor, I swear to never do it again.

MEMORY: White went 20.Ng5.

FEAR: Look, he’s attacking. A multitude of threats all around.

ANALYSIS: Nf7+, Ne6, Qxg4, to name just the most serious ones.

INSPIRATION: This attack cannot work. Black is better, and we can find a line to prove it.

ANALYSIS: Well, I’m looking at stuff here… Would appreciate some pointers.

MEMORY: I recall Inspiration raving about the weakness of f2. Just a thought.

ANALYSIS: Well, 20…Nxf2 21.Rxf2 Bxf2+ 22.Kxf2 and we have several discovered checks, but I don’t see one that is obviously good.

EXPERIENCE: Come on, his king is exposed; we must have something.

INSPIRATION: e3!

EXPERIENCE: What are you talking about, Inspiration?

INSPIRATION: 22…Ne3+ is the discovery we need.

DOUBT: That’s dumb. He just takes.

ANALYSIS: No, wait, I see it. With the king on e3, the Ng5 is undefended. 23.Kxe3 Qxg5+ and now his king’s really in trouble. Maybe I can calculate a forced mate here, if you give me enough time.

EXPERIENCE: We have twenty minutes to make time control on move 30. You have five minutes on this move.

DOUBT: I don’t know, five minutes sounds awful little for such a critical decision.

EXPERIENCE: Fine, make it seven, but that’s the most I’ll give you.

A tense pause is broken by Fear.

FEAR: Remind me again, how many rating points do we drop in case of a loss?

ANALYSIS: Eighteen. Damn you, Fear, you got me calculating the wrong thing. Now, let’s see, where was I…

Fear chuckles slightly, and some more time passes.

EXPERIENCE: Time’s up.

ANALYSIS: I don’t see any forced mate, but his king is driven to the center of the board, attacked by three pieces, and we’re even not down on material.

DOUBT: Probably a computer could find a forced mate here. If there is one, that is.

ANALYSIS: Well pardon me for being a carbon-based life form. Also, he can decline the sac, of course, but then he’s just down on material.

EXPERIENCE: That’s good enough for me. Let’s do it. 20…Nxf2. Hmm, our opponent is in somewhat of a time-trouble as well. That’s nice. Okay, he made the only move, 21.Rxf2, and we go 21…Bxf2+. He’s thinking again.

DOUBT: Are you sure the whole Ne3 idea works? Maybe check on b6 instead?

ANALYSIS: He retreats to e2, and still threatens Nf7+ and Qh5. I don’t like.

EXPERIENCE: We have a move. We have a move, gentlemen, and it’s 22.Kh1.

FEAR: He retreats? What the heck?

ANALYSIS: Apparently I am not the only one thinking that 22.Kxf2 Ne3+ is lost for white. Now we’re simply up an exchange and a pawn.

FEAR: This game is no longer of any interest for me. I’m out of here.

Doing his best to hide his utter disappointment, he starts walking to the stage exit … and stops after a few steps. He turns to his cohorts.

FEAR: Aren’t you coming?

HINDSIGHT: I want to see how this turns out.

DOUBT: I don’t know. I don’t think so.

FEAR: Fine. Have it your way.

Fuming with anger, he leaves. The rest, more enthusiastic then ever, huddle around the chessboard.

DOUBT: We still seem to be in some peril. That knight of his on g5 is still threatening stuff.

ANALYSIS: Nf7+, Ne6, Qh5, and a minor threat Nxb5.

EXPERIENCE: Ten more minutes to make move 30. Inspiration, give me something.

INSPIRATION: 22…Be3!

ANALYSIS: Wow, way cool. Black wins in all lines. 23.Nf7+ Rxf7 24.Bxf7 Qg5, double attack on g2 and c1 wins a piece. 23.Ne6 Qh4 threatens Ng3#. 23.Qh5 Qxg5 exchanges into an easily won endgame. And finally, there is 23.Bxe3 Nxe3.

INSPIRATION: Better yet, 23.Bxe3 Bxg2+ 24.Kxg2 Nxe3+

Analysis and Inspiration exchange high-fives. Even battle-weary Experience allows himself a smile.

INDULGENCE: Doing well, I see?

SPOTLIGHT on left-stage, where INDULGENCE has just entered. He looks like a fat slob, dressed in once beautiful, now greasy, silk robes. He’s eating a chicken leg. Ignoring the disdained looks, he approaches the table and takes a look at the board.

INDULGENCE: Not just doing well, I see – you’re winning. Very well. Drinks are on me.

INSPIRATION: Wow, thanks, man.

EXPERIENCE: Wait! Stop this madness; we haven’t won this game yet.

INDULGENCE: Judging by the position on the board, you have.

ANALYSIS: Indulgence has a point. This is easily won.

Analysis and Inspiration ignore Experience’s protests and walk with Indulgence stage-right, where he produces a large jug of ale from his robe and proceeds to treat them to it. The three of them sit in a circle and take turns sipping from the jug. Experience, Memory, Doubt and Hindsight are left at the board by themselves.

HINDSIGHT: Maybe we should have locked the door as soon as Fear left.

EXPERIENCE: I don’t need those guys. I can do it myself. Okay, I play 22...Be3. I can do it myself. Yeah. I still have … six minutes for the last eight moves. Plenty of time. Plenty of time.

DOUBT: I think White went 23.Nf3.

INDULGENCE: Ha! This is akin to a resignation. Care for another round of ale?

INSPIRATION: Don’t mind if I do.

EXPERIENCE: Okay, what do we say? When ahead of material …

MEMORY: Exchange pieces, not pawns.

EXPERIENCE: Fine. I play 23…Bxc1 – to which White obviously replies 24.Qxc1 – and now I don’t know what to do. Oh boy, I need those two guys here.

MEMORY: Exchange more pieces with Bxf3.

EXPERIENCE: I’m reluctant to give up such a strong Bishop. Oh god, I really don’t know what to do. I need those two clowns.

DOUBT: I can get them for you.

EXPERIENCE: Can you?

DOUBT: Maybe I can. No guarantees.

Doubt walks over to Indulgence and his drinking buddies.

DOUBT: Can I have a taste of that?

Indulgence passes him the jug, and Doubt drops it on the floor – evidently, on purpose.

DOUBT: Oh my, look, I’m so clumsy. Oh well, I guess that means no more free drinks. Mind if I ask you to do some work, Inspiration and Analysis? We sort of, well, don’t really know what to do. For me, of course, that would be a natural state, but my friend Experience here is somewhat baffled by the incident.

Inspiration and Analysis stagger to their feet, somewhat drunk. Doubt slowly nudges them back toward the board.

INDULGENCE: Oh well, my work here is done.

He exits.

EXPERIENCE: Analysis, do you see any problems with 24…Bxf3?

ANALYSIS: Not really. Leaves black in a clearly won position.

INSPIRATION: We can start a mating attack with Nh4! Let’s do it!

DOUBT: I don’t know; should we trust a drunk Inspiration?

ANALYSIS: Don’t trust him, trust me! I’m (hic) not drunk at all!

EXPERIENCE: Well, we need to decide between Nh4 and Bxf3.

ANALYSIS: Both seem perfectly fine. Can’t complain about either. (Passes out)

EXPERIENCE: Four minutes to move 30. Okay, I call 24…Nh4. White captured the knight – that was fast, he’s almost out of time too – so we recapture. 25.Nxh4 Qxh4. Now he’s thinking again.

INSPIRATION: I like this position. We’re (hic) winning. (Passes out)

DOUBT: Are we?

EXPERIENCE: Pretty sure we are. We’re up by exchange and pawn.

MEMORY: Which is almost the equivalent of being up by a piece.

DOUBT: Exchange, yes, but I wouldn’t be so incisive on the pawn. He can just grab b5 if he’s so inclined, can’t he?

EXPERIENCE: Guess so. White’s down to his last minute. Oh, look, he did grab the pawn – 26.Nxb5. Great, now we’re only an exchange up. Anyone has any proactive ideas?

DOUBT: Don’t look at me; I’m not even sure I know what ‘proactive’ means.

MEMORY: I don’t recall anything of use.

HINDSIGHT: I think we were better off playing Bxf3 on move 24.

EXPERIENCE: Oh my god, I’m not going to drop this game now! (Screams) Somebody, help!

Hearing this cry, Analysis raises his head and takes a brief look at the position.

ANALYSIS: Bishop takes pawn mates in three. You’re welcome. (Passes out again)

EXPERIENCE: Bless his heart, he always falls back on descriptive notation when he’s excited. Okay, so we play 26…Bxg2+.

DOUBT: I think I see the mate.

HINDSIGHT: I’m sure I’ll see it soon.

EXPERIENCE: One thing is certain; our opponent can see the mate.

MEMORY: How can you tell?

EXPERIENCE: Because he just resigned! (Sings to the tune of ‘Here we go’) He resigned, he resigned, he resigned! He resigned, he resigned, he resigned! He resigned, he resigned, he resigned! He resigned, he resigned!

DOUBT: Did he really resign?

EXPERIENCE: Yes!

He goes around the stage, dancing and smooching everyone on the forehead. Analysis and Inspiration wake up.

INSPIRATION: What happened?

ANALYSIS: Did we miss anything?

EXPERIENCE: You missed nothing, my dear friends. Well played.

Indulgence enters, carrying a new jug of ale, followed by an unusually subdued-looking Fear.

INDULGENCE: Ale for everyone!

DOUBT: Should I have some? Yes. I definitely should have some ale.

FEAR: So you won. Big deal. You’ll probably get a higher-rated opponent next round … oh, what the heck, let me have a gulp of that too.

Everybody have a drink, except for Memory, who is scratching the back of his head, and seems to be troubled by something. Finally, he recalls…

MEMORY: Boss promised his wife to get home early, so let’s try to wrap the post-mortem quickly.

His work done, he can now afford a drink from the jug too.

HINDSIGHT: (Addresses audience) All in all, I think it turned out to be a pretty good game, don’t you think so?

THE END

Stories by Alex Shternshain


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