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[Tidbits] Check Mate


Look carefully. I’ve got 2 Pawns. I’ve got the King and the Queen.
I’ve got the Knight. And I’ve got the Bishop. But there are another 2
guys there. On the right and on the left. On the right. one with a
shield between the Knight and the Pawn. And on the left. a bit
hunched over and also between the Knight and the Pawn. is the other
guy. They are the Warders. later to be known as Rooks as the game

All the above aside. these pieces are eloquently carved elements of
walrus ivory and whale’s teeth. They were found near Uig on the
Hebridean island of Lewis and are referred to as The Lewis Chessmen.
They are Nordic in origin. and they look it.

And then came 1972… and in Iceland the world became ensconced in
one of the great battles of the Cold War. Anybody remember a Russian
named Spassky. or an American named Bobby Fischer? Chess is war on a
board, said Fischer. And I do believe that of the game people still
play. that philosophy is still held to be true world-wide. Victory.
if memory serves… . went to the American recognized as the foremost
chess genius on the planet.

The armies face each other across a checkered field. The soldiers
glare with grim determination. The front line foot soldiers are
tentatively sent forth to test the enemy’s might. They have their
restrictions. In those days honor ranked first above all things.
There were rules to be followed. En passant was penalized by
forfeiture. this for those that have a smattering of chess knowledge
nestled in their souls.

There were. I believe. seventy-eight pieces discovered. Sixty-seven
of those pieces now rest on display at the British Museum. The other
eleven reside in the National Museum of Scotland.

Of the board games people have been playing for over 5000 years.
chess is a relative newcomer. presumed to have been invented in India
at some point after the year 500. And the game spread. through the
Middle East and then into Christian Europe. And as the game spread.
so did the pieces change in shape and form to reflect the society in
which it was played. In India there were the War Elephants. in other
parts of the world there were Bishops and Castles. Unfortunately…
sad as this may seem. I do not recall seeing an army of Rabbis on the
back row. Is there such a thing–I wonder–as a row of eight
Boychickles on the front row defending the Temple in Jerusalem? How
can there not be? And where are the Maccabees when you need them? How
about having them on the front line? Onward in our exploration for
answers my feisty fellows. Onward in our explorations of discovery
over the 64 checkered tiles of the fields of war. I await an answer
from our troops. Make haste. before tomorrow is gone forever.

The history behind this chess set is fascinating but constitutes more
than my brief Tidbits allows. Still. I give you a flavor with this
query. Since it’s made of carved walrus ivory and whale’s teeth.
clearly formed by a talented sculptor of precious materials. is it
jewelry. or is it not? I await your responses. As to the jeweler’s
name. I do believe it could have been Benjy-the-Red. a Viking warrior
of the first order when he wasn’t hunched over his bench.

In the meantime. you know the rest. The visit to the image… . also
known as the viewing experience. You know where. Home page. Scroll down. Left side. Tidbits. Click.
And there for your sensory optic pleasure you will see an image of a
Nordic chess set carved by that talented guy. you all now know his

And there ya have it. That’s it for this week folks. Catch you all
next week. Benjamin Mark


Love the chess set. I was especially taken by the queen’s posture.
Really thought out and original, not just a standard pose.

Regarding the various countries’ versions, some years ago I saw a
Yiddish version which was wonderful. It was on display at Corning
glassworks in New York State. I wish I knew who made it. It consisted
of fairly large images of a Jewish version of the different pieces.
All in glass, very animated and fun. I hope they still have it, and
that it is on display or at least have an image of it.


After sending the first response, I went on line to Corning’s glass
museum and found out that the chess set is made up of opposing Jewish
and Roman Catholic pieces. The maker was Gianni Toso around 1981.

I wish I could have figured out how to enlarge the pictures. They
are wonderful, humorous and done with flair. Perhaps you can find a
better picture.