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 :


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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.