In the beginning was the board...

by ChessBase
12/31/2005 – ...and the board was empty and monochromatic. Then God created the pieces – the pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, queens and kings. And He saw that the game was somewhat gross, but still it was good. And then He played a first game against the One Whose Name Should Not Be Uttered. Alex Shternshain has annotated it.

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The Beginning

By Alex Shternshain©

In the beginning, there was the board. And the board was empty and monochromatic. And God divided the board into black and white, and he called the white “light squares” and the black “dark squares” and he placed the light and dark squares in alternating order. And he ruled that the light square should always go to the right, even though people did not always heed this decree. And he saw that it was good.

But the board was empty, and no fish or game trotted its squares. And God created the pawns, and made them black and white. And he placed the white pawns and the black pawns in two rows, facing each other, but not too close, to keep the center clear for a future battle. And the pawns became the soul of the game, and he saw that it was good.

And to reinforce the corners of the board, God placed four mighty towers there, two black and two white, and each tower stood next to pawns of its own color. And the towers wanted to move close to each other and bash each other’s stonewalls with their long-range catapults, but God told them sternly, “Rooks behind the pawns.” and the Rooks waited. And he saw that it was good.

And next to each Rook, he placed a Knight in shining armor to guard the entrance of the tower. And the knights started hopping over the wall of pawns to and fro, but God would have none of that. “Move each peace once before you move any piece twice,” he told them.

And the Knights, ashamed, returned to their places behind the pawns and next to the Rooks, and he saw that it was good.

And, in his infinite wisdom, he created Bishops to stand next to the Knights and to pray to his name. And the Bishops were weak, as they could only move two squares at a time. But here, the Enemy, the Adversary, the One Whose Name Should Not Be Uttered, meddled with God’s design.

And the One Whose Name Should Not Be Uttered nudged God’s elbow slightly, and the Bishop was able to move any number of squares, as long as diagonally they lay. And such a balancing act as the One Whose Name Should Not Be Uttered performed, had never been seen in the entire history of creation, for the Bishop and the Knight, while completely different from each other, their power absolutely the same. Many an hours have scholars spent in arguments into the night as to which of the two light pieces was superior, yet no conclusion was forthcoming. And this was the beginning of Man’s corruption by Chess. And God saw the Bishops standing next to the Knights, praying to His name and singing His glory, and he saw that it was, while not entirely perfect, still quite acceptable.

And then God created the Queen. And the Queen, being a true lady, began her life with color coordinating. Even before God could open his divine mouth and tell the Queens where to take their positions, the White Queen walked over to a light square, and the Black Queen sauntered to the dark square. And they stood, solemn and proud, and at a maximal distance of each other, and only one thought went through their regal mind, “Oh no, this woman is wearing the same dress as me, I hope no one notices.” Yet, their royal beauty gave the pawns something to aspire to. And God saw that it was good.

And on the sixth day, God created the King. And the King was the largest of all the pieces, and took center stage, and the large cross on top of his crown was, literally, his cross to bear. For all pieces loved and protected their king, and would gladly give their life in his name, but the pieces of opposing color hated the king with passion, and would gladly sink their teeth into his flesh and tear him apart. Throat slitting and disembowelment were also not entirely out of the question. And God saw that it was somewhat gross, but still good.

And on the seventh day, God sat down to rest and enjoy the fruit of his creation. And as he was surveying the black-and-white board and pieces that he had so masterfully crafted, the One Whose Name Should Not Be Uttered approached in silent footsteps, sat across the board and, in a forked and treacherous tongue, hissed toward God, “A nice game of chess to pass the afternoon?”

“Uhm, I was actually saving this game to give as gift to man,” said God.

“Aww, come on,” said the OWNSNBU, “Just a quick blitz game, what harm could it do?”

“What’s blitz?” God asked, scratching his divine head.

“It’s a quick game, played with the use of a chess clock,” the OWNSNBU explained.

“I do not recall creating a chess clock.” God said.

“I took the liberty to make one,” the OWNSNBU said, “There you go.”

And the One Whose Name Should Not Be Uttered placed the chess clock next to the board, wound it, set both clocks to five minutes, and gave white’s clock a good healthy smack to start it. And God noticed his time ticking away, and almost panicked, but not for long. Eager to bypass the barren wasteland that is the Queen’s Pawn Opening, he played 1.e4 and started the Devil’s clock.

[Click to replay the game in a separate window]

And the Devil smiled as he made a move of his own. Because, you see, there are many openings out there, and each, in a way, was touched by the hand of God, each has its own place in the design of the divine. Save for one. And the Devil bared his teeth in a grin as he pushed his c-pawn one square, for the Caro-Kann comes from the deepest pits of Hell, and so 1...c6 was played.

But the Almighty One was not easily daunted, for even a disease as virile as the Caro-Kann has a cure. After the moves 2.d4 d5 were quickly played, God extended his hand, not to develop a piece, but to snap the black central pawn, 3.exd5, for the Panov-Botvinnik attack is the broadsword that will cut this knot of despair, and the Classical and Advance variations shall lie in ruins at its feet.

The Devil snorted at the prospect of having his pet lines bypassed. “I will get you for this!” he growled, shaking his pitchfork menacingly, as smoke came out of his nostrils.

“Your turn.” God responded calmly, “By the way, smoking is not allowed in the playing hall.”

And the Devil recaptured, 3...cxd5, and God’s angels sang the glory of Panov and Botvinnik after 4.c4, and so it was written in Ideas Behind Chess Openings: “A dangerous line that nearly took the Caro-Kann out of business.”

And on his fourth move, the Devil was the first to develop a piece by 4...Nf6. Not to be outdone, the Divine One hopped forward with his own equine, 5.Nc3, and then quickly followed 5...e6, and God smiled. Although thoroughly booked, he was not all that eager to enter the heavily theorized lines with a black bishop on g4, and was glad to see his adversary close the bishop’s diagonal. He played 6.Nf3, expecting an opening advantage after the upcoming c4-c5, but the One Whose Name Should Not Be Uttered had a surprise in stock for him. And the Devil, in a truly diabolic fashion, lunged forward with his Bishop, 6...Bb4, and God’s heart sank when he realized he was tricked into transposing into the same Queen’s Pawn Opening he tried to avoid with his very first move. And time ticked off God’s clock as he tried to remember how the book lines go, without much success since the book was not written yet, and the best he could come up with was standard and uninspiring development, 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qc2 Nc6 9.Bd3.

And the Devil smiled again. Well, noted God, he sure does smile a lot, this adversary. But this smile had particular vehemence and viciousness about it. For the Devil transgressed into God’s territory and struck the Almighty One with a bolt from the blue, or in this case, from the black: 9...Nxd4, and the God reeled back in his chair, for he had not even remotely considered this move in advance. Yet, here it was, on the board in front of him, and it was up to the Almighty One to make the best out of a bad situation. And, after spending some precious seconds off his clock to recover from the surprise, he took the knight, as nothing better was available, and the next few forced moves were played rapidly, 10.Nxd4 Nxc3 11.bxc3 Qxd4. A pawn was lost for good, yes, but on the seventh day God created the Compensation. After 12.Bb5+ Ke7 his adversary’s King was devoid of castling rights and stuck in the center.

And then God turned to his adversary and said, “Your King is devoid of castling rights and stuck in the center.”

And the Devil replied smugly, “I have a pawn to the good, and a centralized King is a great asset in the endgame.”

To which God replied, “I think there is something missing between the opening and the endgame. What could that be? Oh yes, I think I shall place a middlegame there.”

And God castled, 13.0-0, and the Devil bared his teeth, for he realized that his material advantage was about to be doubled, and he was going to exchange queens to boot. And the Devil took the pawn, 13...Qxc3, and eyed the queen and the a1-rook expectantly. Alas, it was God’s turn now to surprise his opponent. Not batting an eyelid, he seemed to care not for the safety of the rook and played 14.Qa4, and the Devil realized the rook was immune, and should he be as foolish as to take it, his Bishop will fall with check, and then white’s own Bishop will go to b2, and then it’ll be lights out for the Dark Side. Still, two pawns up must account for something, he thought and tried to consolidate with 14...Bd6, and God offered an exchange of clergy by 15.Bf4. And both Bishops disappeared from the board, locked in a deadly embrace after 15...Bxf4 16.Qxf4.

“Some wood was put back into the box, do you have enough left to start a fire?” the Devil wryly inquired, as he moved his Queen to attack white’s last remaining Bishop, 16...Qc5. And God made a mental note to self, to create plastic pieces and to finally put an end to the oft-misapplied wood metaphor. Not wanting to lose his loyal servant, even though the latter was no longer singing the glory of Panov and, uhm, the other guy, God moved a pawn forward, 17.a4, but the Devil was obstinate. He wanted this Bishop out of his face, and would stop at nothing, even if it meant summoning a thunderstorm, leveling a city, or, in this case, moving a pawn forward slightly, 17...a6. And although God knew he would have to move that Bishop sooner or later, lest it become lost, he took a few precious seconds of his time to create the Tempo, which he promptly used to great effect with 18.Rac1, and the black Queen ran away awkwardly, 18...Qf5, and she stood next to her white counterpart.

The Queens exchange icy, yet courteous, nods as their owners contemplated the trade. The One Whose Name Should Not Be Uttered was keeping his fingers crossed (all twelve of them) for the trade, while God figured the best way to avoid it. Checks on h4 and b4 danced before his eyes, and finally settled into their places in the Divine Plan. First to the right, then to the left, the Queen went, like a well-oiled pendulum, 19.Qh4+ g5 20.Qb4+ Kf6.

The Dark One’s King, although tired of running, was about to take refuge on g7, and the Dark One himself savored the two-pawn advantage, when a blow of truly divine proportions was launched, 21.f4. The Devil reeled backwards as he realized that his own pawn on g5 would be his downfall, allowing the decisive opening of lines toward his King. But first things first - the threat of Qd4+ needed to be dealt with, and the king retreated, 21...Kg7.

“You know,” God smiled, “I think I like this Tempo thing.” And keeping his Bishop under attack yet, he played 22.Rc5. The Devil growled and bid his Queen one last goodbye, for else white’s attack after Rxg5+ was to be devastating. The wayward Bishop was finally captured, but at a dear cost, 22...axb5 23.Rxf5 exf5.

With no competition to cramp her style, the White Queen could now set aside all negative thoughts about her attire and hop around the board freely. Which of course she did not do, because, women, you know how they are ... they always find a reason to worry. If it’s not “Do I look fat in this dress?” then it’s “Did I leave the gas on?” or “Am I about to be sacrificed?” or something else. But I digress.

To the center she went, and God’s smile lit up the entire table as he played 24.Qd4+ and said, “And now, I believe I have the material advantage and the compensation.”

The Devil knew the battle over the board was lost, but he still kept resisting, because what kind of a Devil would just give up without a fight? With no great interest or cunning plan behind them, the moves 24...f6 25.fxg5 Rf8 26.axb5 Kg6 were played, and black’s position sank into utter hopelessness.

“No matter,” said the Devil. I can still out-blitz you and win on time. “You, God, are too soft. See, we both have less than a minute left. You don’t have what it takes to win.”

“But,” God passed his hand through his beard, as he played 27.Qd6, “You seem to have forgotten one thing.”

“And what is it?” the Devil asked defiantly.

“The chess clock may be your contribution to the world of chess, but the increment is mine.”

And the Devil let out a scream that shook the whole world down to its foundation, for he realized that he’s been had. Playing with an increment, no matter how small, did not allow him for any chance to flag his opponent into oblivion, and the material deficit became decisive again. With a swift motion of his hand, he swept the pieces off the board, and disappeared in a puff of smoke. And God had interpreted this, somewhat loosely perhaps, as a resignation. [Click to replay the game]

And the God was very tired now, having expended all his energy in this celestial battle. And he called for the Archangel Gabriel to his side, and the Archangel brought him an energy drink, the kind that will, many years later, have the words “tested positive” associated with it. And God drank some, and he was fine.

And he said to Gabriel, “Well, that went alright. But, I think I should create something less exhausting next time.”

“Excellent idea, your almightiness,” Gabriel replied. “May I suggest Mah-Jongg?”


The author Alex Shternshain

I was born in Ukraine, spent most of my life in Israel, and now reside in the Ottawa suburbs with my beautiful wife and two lovely children. A designer of electronic circuits by day, I transform into a typing fiend by night, producing scores of stories and screenplays. As any self-respecting amature writer, I have approximately half-dozen novels in progress. Ah, but does he also have time to play chess, you may wonder... Well, let's just say that during my army service, I was court-martialed for playing chess on duty, and leave it at that.

I would like you to share your reactions and thoughts on the story with me by emailing shternshain at mail15 dot com.

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