One more move

Until this week I had never heard of  Friedrich  Moritz August Retzsch, nor of his paintings. Since then, I have found numerous versions of the story surrounding his painting Die Shachspieler ( the chess players). What is clear is that:

  • He painted it in 1831
  • It was sold by Christies in the late 1990s

The story runs something as follows. Two men went to visit  the painting when it hung in an art gallery. One of the two was so absorbed by it that he stayed looking at the painting whilst his friend visited all the rest of the paintings on display. When his friend returned, the man who had stayed before the Retzsch painting pronounced himself troubled. As a chess Grand Master, he felt that the painting’s title had been wrongly translated as ‘checkmate’. ‘After all’, he declared ‘the King has one more move’. Chess enthusiasts have gone on to prove the latter in some depth).

Of course such a story, with its punchline ‘the King has one more move’ is a gift upon which many preachers great and small have seized. I can certainly see the appeal. However, there are some troubling elements to it. Where was it hanging at the time? Who was the Grand Master? Since the artist himself only called it ‘the chess players’, surely the point is lost if there is no suggestion of check mate? I am somewhat reminded of a phrase in one of my favourite little books Murphy Goes to Church: ‘ when a preacher says the story is told; it usually isn’t’.

Would such niggles prevent you using the story, or not?


One thought on “Checkmate

  1. Even if no checkmate is mentioned just chess players the devil is still playing with a defeated team. As morphy has proven there are many more moves for Faust as he represents Gods kingdom. While people lose their souls for sure those playing on Gods team are the winners and the issue is who will choose to play the devil on Gods winning side?

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