01Over The Board20101213

Dr Irving Finkel, Assistant Curator in the Middle Eastern Dept of the British Museum, is an expert on board games from the very earliest games of chance played in caves using knuckle bones of animals for dice to the development of chess.

He is most famous for discovering the lost rules to The Royal Game of Ur which he found on a forgotten cuneiform tablet at the British Museum.

He has studied how games evolve over time and are carried around the globe by religious mendicants, mercenaries and the like.

Dr Irving Finkel of the British Museum on why chess is the ultimate game.

02Fool's Mate - Bringing Chess Back Home To India20101214

A photograph of two men playing chess in a flood by Raghubir Singh is the starting point of Anuradha Roy's essay on how Indians have escaped reality into chess.

She writes

"Banaras, 1967.

Two men in shorts and singlets are sitting on what looks like a raft.

One man's toes are dipping into the water that is all around them.

He appears unaware of this.

The city seems empty but for these two people.

Their raft could be a doorstep, or maybe a tabletop.

The water lapping at its edges is floodwater.

The rest of the city has probably taken shelter in higher, drier places.

But these two men are oblivious to flood and exodus alike.

They are absorbed in a chess game that is halfway through, on a chess board almost floating on their half-drowned step.

This photograph by Raghubir Singh captures many things, but mainly the addictiveness of chess and the difficulty of finding a quiet place for a game in a country as crowded as India.

If you set up a board for two to play, there will soon be another ten commenting, interrupting, animated."

Indian author Anuradha Roy has written An Atlas of Impossible Longing.

Author Anuradha Roy on the power and poignancy of chess as a metaphor in Indian culture.

03Simultaneous Display - Chess On The Air20101215

David Hendy writes:

Is chess the perfect game for radio? An abstract past-time for a medium that's blind? Forget for a moment the aesthetic appeal of those beautifully-carved pieces, or the patterns they make on the board.

That's superficial stuff.

Below the surface, it's all deep, pure thought.

Which is why, back in the eighteenth century, the French teenage-chess-sensation Philidor covered his eyes with a scarf before playing.

In blindfolding himself, he was, I think, making it easier to win, not harder.

Talk of code, and radio and chess embrace each other more tightly still.

The strange language of the chess manoeuvre is wonderfully efficient.

"Bishop to c5", "K4 to Q7".

Like the ones-and-zeros of the digital signal, these are messages that can't be degraded by interference.

Their meaning survives long-distance.

Dr David Hendy of The University of Westminster is one of our foremost historians of radio and winner of the History Today-Longmans Book of the Year Award in 2008 for his book on Radio 4 "A Life on Air".

The Guardian's Online arts editor, Andy Dickson, described David Hendy's Essay series 'Rewiring the Mind' as "super-thoughtful - best 15 mins of radio for ages".

David Hendy discusses how chess was played and lost on the Third Programme.

04Queening - Mad Queen's Chess20101216


Marilyn Yalom of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University has written several books on women including a 'History of the Wife', a 'History of the Breast' and the 'Birth of the Chess Queen'.

She writes: It always surprises people to discover that chess was played for 500 years without a queen.

What's more, when the queen did appear on the board, she was the weakest piece, and not the powerhouse she is today.

I stumbled on these two facts when I was researching my book, A History of the Breast, and a museum curator showed me a small 14th century ivory figure of a Madonna and child, which he referred to as a chess queen.

How, I asked, could a nursing Madonna be a chess queen? That question led me to many others concerning queenship, religion, courtly love, and the long history of chess itself.

Marilyn Yalom on the rise to power of the chess queen which was once as feeble as a pawn.

05 LASTThe Sacrifice - How To Lose Against A Tsar20101217

As a boy Ukrainian thriller writer Andrey Kurkov reflects on how Russian chess players before and after the Revolution lived and died at their boards.

From the Tsar to the Black Sea sanatoriums to the players of Abhasia.

He writes:

"I was born as the era of Soviet Chess was drawing to a close.

In our family album there are photos of me at five years old playing chess with my father and my Mother's brother, uncle Boris, who was a police detective.

For most citizens the Soviet Union was not a great nuclear power, but a great chess nation, where the names of the Soviet chess masters were uttered in the same tone of awe and respect as that of Yuri Gagarin.

Of course the "deviant" champions, the ones who fled to the west, were erased from the encyclopedias and press reports.

I did not know those names, but for some reason I was convinced that chess was to be played before bed, and changing into your pyjamas was an essential part of the preparations.

My pyjamas were stripy, like prison clothes, but I only realized that years later, when going through the family albums."

Andrey Kurkov is the author of Death and the Penguin and more recently The Good Angel of Death.

He has a surreal, slightly morbid sense of humour that is reflected in his novels and this short essay on Chess in Russia.

Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov explores the murderous history of chess in Russia.