After four games, and four draws, in the 2012 Chess World Championship between champion Viswanathan Anand and challenger Boris Gelfand, the inevitable and predictable Internet complaining has already started. Have a look around the blogosphere and on chess message boards, and you’ll find lots of comments like, “Why are there sooooo many draws? Why aren’t there more decisive results? Maybe FIDE needs to raise the stakes.” Raise the stakes? These guys are playing for a pile of cash and the title of World Champion. What the heck do you want – human lives to be at stake? Saaaayyyyyyyy, wait a minute… Nope, never mind. It’s old hat. It’s been done before. The movie classic The Black Cat (made in 1934) features Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi playing chess for the lives of a young couple who are trapped with them inside a World War I fortress which Karloff has converted into a mansion. If Lugosi wins, the couple goes free. If Karloff wins, the girl will be the sacrifice in a gruesome Satanic ritual.
The Black Cat (1934)

Lugosi challenges Karloff to a life and death chess game in The Black Cat (1934)

For those who’ve not seen it, The Black Cat is a great little movie which contains a few really sick subtexts – it’s one of those movies which doesn’t really bother you until you stop and think about it… If playing chess with human lives at stake has been done before, how about playing a match for the fate of some superhumans? Nah — been there, done that, too, in the first issue of Justice League of America (Nov. 1960):
Justice League of America chess game

Despero vs. The Flash - Justice Leage of America #1, Nov. 1960 (and why is it so hard for some peope to remember which way to set the board?)

The alien villain Despero forces The Flash into a game of chess, with the ultimate fate of the other Justice League members hanging in the balance. The Flash loses (because Despero rigs the game – you’ll have to read the story to see how he does it), but the League turns the tables and comes out on top anyway. Of course, The Flash could have insisted that they play blitz chess, in which case Despero would have had no chance whatsoever – but that would have resulted in a very short comic book. Besides, I’ve seen Despero play – that trope’s been repeated a couple of times – and I’m 100% sure Houdini 2 Pro could take him. So since FIDE really can’t raise the stakes much higher for a world championship chess match, how about we all just sit back, take a deep breath, relax, and watch what happens? Two of the games were pretty exciting, despite the fact they were drawn. There are eight games to go, and I’m confident that Gelfand will at least try to crank the heat up a notch or two before the match is over. Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2012, Steven A. Lopez & Chess King. All rights reserved.