Monday, October 8, 2012

Textbook Excerpt

Over the years, I have used many chess books and workbooks for my high school chess club.  I have found them either too elementary or too intense for my players.  After developing an elective chess class for high schoolers called Integrating Chess and Critical Thinking, I decided to write a chess book that is interdisciplinary and satisfies the average, non-tournament playing chess student, with the goal of inspiring a lifetime of chess.  It emphasizes some mathematics, problem solving, history, literature, and the arts.  I am excited at my first few drafts which develop decent chess players and draws from the rich culture chess offers.

Here is the introduction to Chapter 4, Only a Pawn in their Game:

                                Chapter 4:           

Only A Pawn In Their Game


When do you move a pawn?

“But the enemy has the move, and he is about to open his full game.  And pawns are as likely to see as much of it as any.  Sharpen your blade!”                                                          – J.R.R. Tolkien

            One of my students once quipped, “When you don’t know what to do, push a pawn.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Pawns are critical in the game of chess and sometimes a simple pawn move can determine the entire outcome of a game.  Pawns are strategic pieces that guard critical squares in the opening, create tactical opportunities in the middle game, and race forward to promote in the endgame.  As you look at the chess board, imagine all of the pieces are removed and only the pawns remain. Which pawn will become a queen?  Visualizing the board in such a manner is very helpful in designing a winning strategy.  This chapter examines our attitudes toward pawns, introduces scientific thinking used in chess games, and enhances the understanding and importance of pawns.
             Pawns are mishandled by most people that are new to chess.  Pawns are easily treated as peons and cannon-fodder because they are plentiful and they are relatively weak pieces that plod along, one square at a time, directly into the enemies line of fire.  There is no retreat for a pawn.  They are easily snatched by distant pieces when they are not protected, and they can only attack two squares in defense.  They are like the soldiers during WWI in the trenches (Figure 1).  When the whistle blows, their job is to exit the safety of the trench and begin their attack through the open battlefield called “no man’s land.”  Bob Dylan said, “Even a pawn must hold a grudge” because pawns are typically not valued by leaders.   For example, during WWI, Sir Douglas Haig allowed his battles to continue long after they had any strategic or tactical purpose and was highly criticized for this.  Many thousands of soldiers died because of decisions such as these.  Pawns should not be easily thrown away!
Figure 1.  “The Pawns.” (source unknown)

  It is no wonder that metaphors and comparisons with pawns are used to describe weakness, manipulation, and expendability.  For example, Leo Buscaglia the love guru once said, “Most of us are pawns in a game of love we don’t understand,” or Napoleon Bonaparte indicated that “We are either the kings or pawns of men.”  Politicians frequently use chess references, though somewhat misguided in the actual significance of pawns.  “It is not in the interest of the German people or in the interest of world peace that Germany should become a pawn or a partner in a military struggle for power between the East and the West,” was said by James Byrnes in reference to the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States.  Other examples are plentiful. 
     Musicians and poets use artistic license to indicate the manipulated existence of pawns, as well.  Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan is a linguistic master that plays chess.  But he’s no chess master as Figure 2 shows!  Despite this, chess imagery permeates his music and this is best exemplified in Only A Pawn In Their Game.  In this song, civil rights activist in Mississippi, Medgar Evers, was shot dead in 1963 (Figure 3 and 4).  Who was the pawn?  Medgar Evers? The shooter? Or, the malevolent planners of the dirty deed?

Figure 2.  Bob Dylan engaging in coffee house chess in Paris (source unknown).
Figure 3. Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers (source unknown).
Figure 4. Gravesite in Arlington Cemetary (source:  Ron Williams).

Byron De La Beckwith Dies; Killer of Medgar Evers Was 80
New York Times  By DAVID STOUT
Published: January 23, 2001
Byron De La Beckwith, whose 1994 conviction in the murder of a civil rights leader three decades earlier symbolized a transformation in Mississippi, died on Sunday night in Jackson, Miss. He was 80.
Mr. Beckwith died at the University of Mississippi Medical Center shortly after he was moved there from a prison 13 miles away, said Ken Jones, a corrections agency spokesman. The cause of death was not immediately known, although Mr. Beckwith had heart disease, high blood pressure and other ailments.
Mr. Beckwith was serving a life term for the 1963 killing of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The shooting of Mr. Evers, who was 37, outside his Jackson home was one of the most notorious events in the violence that marked the civil rights era.
The victim's wife, Myrlie, and their three young children had been watching President John F. Kennedy give a televised address on civil rights on the night of June 12, 1963. Mr. Evers was at a meeting of civil rights workers at a nearby church.
               Moments after Mr. Evers stepped out of the car, a sniper hiding in a clump of honeysuckle vines shot him with a high-powered hunting rifle. Mrs. Evers found her mortally wounded husband at the steps by a door to their house, where he had managed to drag himself after the bullet struck him in the back and tore through his chest.
Mr. Beckwith (whose Ku Klux Klan friends called him DEE-lay) was quickly linked to the killing. The sniper's rifle was discovered near the scene and was soon traced to Mr. Beckwith. The rifle's telescopic sight bore Mr. Beckwith's fingerprints. Some witnesses reported seeing a man who looked like Mr. Beckwith in the vicinity. A car that looked like his distinctive white Plymouth Valiant was seen in the neighborhood.
Mr. Beckwith, at the time a fertilizer salesman who     lived in Greenwood, Miss., seemed to be a likely suspect. He was an ardent segregationist whose hatred for blacks, Jews and Roman Catholics was well known.
But he told investigators his rifle had been stolen. And two police officers said they had seen him in Greenwood, some 95 miles away, at the time of the killing.
A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them,
you been born with white skin,” they explain.

And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game
The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
’Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

From the poverty shacks, he looks from
the cracks to the tracks
And the hoofbeats pound in his brain
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ’neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from
               the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game

The chapter then continues with WWI trench warfare and metaphors as a theme that describes pawn structure, end game strategy for promotion, weak squares, and also fractions.  I hope you enjoy it!  

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