232: Chess Enlightenment

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Chess Enlightenment
You know that 'sweep the pieces off the board and see it in your mind' thing? Doesn't work.
Title text: You know that 'sweep the pieces off the board and see it in your mind' thing? Doesn't work.


In this comic, Cueball finds his game of chess against Megan to be too difficult, and he attempts to tap his subconscious to find his next move. This is a common technique used in more physical competitions like baseball or golf, where overthinking can interfere with one's motion and thus "clearing one's mind" and relying on the subconscious is useful to overcome such mental barriers. However, chess is more a game of planning and strategy than natural movement, and the rules of chess are not ingrained into Cueball's subconscious, and so his subconscious ends up feeding him invalid moves and beginner questions concerning movement rules.

Chess is a board game in which two players take turns to move a variety of different pieces representing units on a battlefield to try to checkmate the other player's king. Chess has a lively tournament scene, and it takes much practice to attain a competent level of skill in the game. Different pieces can move and capture in different ways; pawns can only move forward by one square unless it's their first move, in which case they can move up two squares. They can only capture by moving diagonally, including when capturing en passant, in which case they move behind an opposing pawn that had moved forward two squares on the previous turn. Other pieces have different rules.

Cueballs subconscious instructs him to play the move "Knight to G-4". Chess uses a coordinate system to mark specific squares. The letters A through H represent the X line, and the numbers one through eight are the Y line. There are three reasons a Knight to G-4 could be an illegal move. The first being that the Knight couldn't travel to the space (as Knights movement is limited to a select few squares on any given turn). The second reason being that it could bring his King into Check. If the Knight is blocking (or pinned by) something like a Rook from attacking the King, then moving the Knight and allowing the King to be attacked is illegal. The third reason would be that another piece of the same color is already in that square, which doesnt allow the Knight to move there.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a character from the movie series Star Wars who played the mentor figure to the protagonist, Luke Skywalker. One of his pieces of advice to his mentee was to relax and listen to his subconscious in strenuous times. However, Obi-Wan gave this advice because Luke was connected to The Force, a mystical energy in the Star Wars universe that connects to the entire universe; not being a part of the Star Wars universe, Cueball is unable to tap into it. The Force does have similarities to real-life concepts used in various Eastern philosophies, but they are not typically used to play chess, for the same reasons given above.

The title text refers to a scene in the chess movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, in which Sir Ben Kingsley's character dramatically sweeps the pieces off the board and instructs his student to see the pieces in his mind, which the child proceeds to do. Randall considers this impractical, presumably for similar reasons as the Obi-Wan example.


[Cueball and Megan are playing chess; Cueball is leaning forward over the chessboard.]
Cueball (thinking): Why is chess so hard? Maybe the answers lie within me. Maybe I just need to let go, relax, and let my instincts and subconscious speak.
[Cueball leans back and places his hands to his head.]
Cueball's subconscious: Knight to G-4
[Beat panel.]
Cueball: That's not even a legal move.
Cueball's subconscious: Okay, hold on. How do the pawns capture, again?
Cueball: Man, Obi-Wan was full of crap.

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I actually think that the title-text is a reference to the movie "Searching for Bobby Ficher, where Ficher's coach teaches him to play chess by sweeping all the pieces onto the floor. 20:43, 21 August 2013 (UTC)PassiveDemoralizer

Why does the explanation even have a portion of a summary of the rules of chess? It's not really important to the understanding of the comic, and I don't see any other reason for its inclusion. ISaveXKCDpapers (talk) 23:03, 22 February 2021 (UTC)

Because the voice in Cueball's head specifically asks how the Pawns move. Argis13 (talk) 14:25, 11 April 2021 (UTC)

The reason why you can't have "chess enlightenment" is that chess is a non- insight problem in the first place. Granted, a seasoned player will have insights, but even so, you must always check your ideas with a lot of hard calculation. That being said, almost all masters are good at calculating fairly long sequences in their head (although they don't really sweep the pieces off the board - dramatic as it is, it would be illegal). Many find it even easier this way, because in the long run it is inconvenient to keep your eyes rolling over the board.