Blindfold chess poetry

by Macauley Peterson
9/29/2017 – Yes, it's a real thing! Yesterday was National Poetry Day, an annual celebration of poetry in the United Kingdom, and it reminded us of a unusual chess connection involving Jennifer Shahade playing blindfold while a computer "ChessBard" generated live poetry based on the moves played. Shahade has pioneered events combining chess and art, and annotated games for the book Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess. A new book on Duchamp, coming out next week, is a collection of his games as reimagined by the "ChessBard". You can compose your own works of art on | Photo: Tony Yueh

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The ChessBard

"Chess Poetry" is a concept and web site by Aaron Tucker and Jody Miller which allows players to input chess games and have those games translated into poetry. "The Translator" allows you to "poetify" any game and save the resulting works of art. 

To illustrate the invention, in September 2015, Tucker staged a game against a blindfolded Jennifer Shahade at Ryerson Unversity in Toronto, where he is a lecturer in the English department. Shahade, the editor of US Chess News (formerly Chess Life Online), had previously undertaken public chess exhibitions such as her "Naked Chess" project, a modern riff on the famous 1963 photo of Marcel Duchamp playing a nude model. But this was the first time she had played a public blindfold game.

A short video on the event courtesy "The Ryersonian" on YouTube

Games can be played live — as was done here — or one can upload any game in PGN format. The resulting poems are based on a collection of a dozen source poems written by Tucker — six each for white and black. There is a 64 word poem for each sides' pieces such that when a piece lands on a square it triggers a word from the source poems which is then compiled by the translator to output a unique poem.

Program diagram

(Click or tap to enlarge)

The pair reprised the event a year later as part of PHILALALIA at the Tyler Contemporary Gallery at Temple University, where they played in front of a large and enthusiastic audience. Here is the game from that exhibition, and the resulting poem.

White (Shahade) Black (Tucker)

blurred finger, added machine immensely
mechanizes and bases flavour and
instant, sketch exotically uses knight

lock likes interest or curve
or tonight interrupts seashell and

Which memorized wink cored bound negative?
unfiltered database or hunched thought

Where is each elderly boundary
What is the suspended storm?

Shoreline makes or tides
or begins or riddles and

Philadelphia Lit Festival

Shahade and Tucker playing in September 2016 | Photo: Daniel Meirom

Irresponsible Mediums

Book cover Irresponsible MediumsMarcel Duchamp was a key influence behind the development of the ChessBard. Duchamp, a master-level player, used the game to provide structure to several of his artistic works, such as Chess Game (1910), The Chess Players (1911) and Portrait of Chess Players (1911).

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of his 1968 project "Reunion" which comprised an exhibition in which Duchamp played chess against composer John Cage, also at Ryerson University.

Tucker translated Duchamp's games into poetry and published a complete collection in his book Irresponsible Mediums: The Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp, which includes an introduction by Shahade, and will be released on October 5th. It promises to recreate "Duchamp’s joyous approach to making art, while also generating startling computer-made poems that blend the analog and digital in strange and surprising combinations".

Play the ChessBard

You can play your own game against the computer at one of three difficulty levels and watch as your game is translated to poetry live, or if that's too much of a distraction, wait until the game is finished and then "poetify" it! You can then print, download or email the game and poem to yourself.

It's worth noting that because of the way the program is designed, each poem is unique, even if you were to play, or upload, the same game twice.

Play button

The playable version of the ChessBard grafts the translator to an open source chess playing algorithm so that a player can write poetry in collaboration/competition with the ChessBard

Have a game of yours that seemed like poetry? Try the ChessBard translator and see what you get? If you like, submit your game / poem in the comments!


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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BKnight2003 BKnight2003 10/3/2017 09:05
The "poetry" seems to be composed by Dr. Iqbal...
benedictralph benedictralph 9/30/2017 02:15
The "poetry" generated is absolutely horrible. It doesn't deserve that label.
pompeaux pompeaux 9/30/2017 02:01
I'm not sure that I agree with 17...Rxe1 after 16...Re5 was played.
macauley macauley 9/30/2017 12:12
That was actually a human Aaron Tucker playing the black side. Perhaps a bit confusing since it says "ChessBard" which I also refer to as the computer. But to be clear, in the Toronto and Philadelphia shows he was playing and "ChessBard" was just composing the poetry.
genem genem 9/30/2017 12:08
11.. qe7<d8??
Better is 11.. BxP.

A simple blunder by a chess engine, in 2017.
Okay, this engine has a different goal.
Steven E DuCharm Steven E DuCharm 9/29/2017 10:53
Will (s)he play b4? Qouth the Raven "Nevermore!"