My novelette, The Rooftop Game, features a life-and-death struggle for survival on the rooftop of a castle tower. When the castle is overrun by enemies bent on killing the king’s family, Royal Bodyguard Lydio Malik takes refuge on the roof of the castle’s tallest tower with the infant Princess Analisa.
A chess-like battle ensues, as the villain, Tulis Razmar, sends his men to assault Malik’s position while the Royal Bodyguard desperately tries to survive long enough for rescue to come. To emphasize the chess similarities, each chapter began with an applicable chess quote, albeit attributed to denizens of the fantasy world and not their real-world counterparts.
I wanted to include a list of the real-life quote attributions in the book when it was published, but I’d mislaid my original notes.
Having now found said list, here are the chess quotes for each chapter, their real attributions, and some notes on why I used a particular quote.
Note: Some of the commentary provides mild spoliers for the story, so readers be warned.
In the opening, achieving positional advantage is paramount.
I’m a little fuzzy on this one, since I wrote this story quite a while ago. I’m pretty sure I invented this quote. I needed something that justified Malik’s decision to occupy the high ground, the tower rooftop, as a defense against the ruthless attackers seeking to kill his charge, the infant princess of Salasia.
I feel as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved.
I picked this quote because I wanted to tell the readers that the Royal Bodyguard is that immovable piece. In fact, the whole chapter is designed to not just tell, but show, how stubborn Lydio Malik is.
Chess is ruthless; you’ve got to be prepared to kill people.
When Nigel Short said this, he was speaking metaphorically. But it’s not a metaphor in my story. With this quote, I’m telling readers that people are going to die. Lydio Malik is literally fighting for his life and the life of the little princess. By the end of the chapter, his first rooftop assailant has been dispatched.
No chess game is ever over if the mage piece is still in play.
I made this quote up for two primary reasons. First, The Rooftop Game is a second world fantasy, which means it’s not based on our world. Chess is, and always has been, a war game, albeit one abstracted from the real world. In a world where magic exists, and mages wield great power, that fact needed to be reflected in chess. In other words, we’re playing a variant of chess.
I did research on chess variants. In the Thousand Kingdoms version of chess, one of the bishops is replaced by the mage piece, which can move either like the bishop or a knight. This makes it only slightly less powerful than the queen.
The second thing I’m telling the reader, although they won’t realize it until later, is that there’s still a mage piece in play in this deadly drama. And if Malik can survive until the endgame, then the mage piece may come into play.
The Middle Game
Chess is not for timid souls.
The popular image of a chess player is some sort of high school geek. It’s often hard for some people to realize the level of ferocity implicit in a chess game. Here, I’m really just reiterating that this chess game is going to be deadly.
You win chess by taking away your opponent’s choices, so that he can only do what you want.
I really wanted readers to get the idea that Tulis Razmar, the villain, and Lydio Malik were engaged in a high-stakes game. With this quote, I’m driving home again that Malik’s ascendance to the tower rooftop has removed many of Razmar’s choices. In short, Malik made a good move. The rest of the story will be exploring the ramifications of Malik’s desperate move.
It’s possible I made this quote up, but I feel like I found it somewhere obscure. If so, for the life of me, I can’t figure out where.
I am convinced, the way one plays chess reflects the player’s personality. If something defines his character, then it will also define his way of playing.
The way you play chess reflects your character. Malik is stubborn, smart and simply refuses to give up no matter the odds. Razmar…is willing to spend the lives of other people, as many as it takes. Both of their actions are character-revealing.
In life, as in chess, forethought wins.
I like this quote because it addresses both life and chess, which seemed apropos for a story that is essentially a real-life chess game.
Chess is a waste of time, an outmoded hobby from a past era, of interest only to imbeciles, the elderly and other useless layabouts.
This is a made-up quote attributed to Tulis Razmar, our illustrious villain, who doesn’t realize that he’s essentially playing a real-life chess game. In one statement, I’m revealing much about Razmar’s character and the flaws that will lead to his downfall.
It is not a move, even the best move that you must seek, but a realizable plan.
With this quote, I’m hinting that Malik actually has a plan. This is another clue that there’s a potentially viable endgame in the offing.
In top-flight chess, you must drive your advantage home unmercifully.
The quote uses “top-flight” chess, but I decided that sounded too much like 20th-century usage to be believable in a fantasy world, so I changed it to “master-level” in the book.
For most people, chess is just a simple game of plastic or wooden pieces. To those who are serious about it, it’s a brutal, cutthroat game. Once again, I’m emphasizing the brutality and deadliness of this game.
Plus, as controversial as he was, Bobby Fischer was one of the great chess players and I wanted to get a quote from him into the book.
Never underestimate the power of a pawn.
Another made-up quote. Some of the local townsmen find a way to help Malik, at least for a little while. In effect, they’re pawns. This is basically foreshadowing for the help they’ll render.
Still true in chess, though. There are books written about pawn strategy.
You have to have the fighting spirit. You have to force moves and take chances.
Another cool quote from Bobby Fischer. We’re in the endgame now, so the struggle has intensified. I think the quote reinforces this.
It’s always better to sacrifice your opponent’s men.
The endgame is getting bloody. And even Malik is no longer at his best. Exhausted, injured, how long can he last?
The winner of the game is the one who makes the next-to-last mistake.
Hilariously true. And totally appropriate for the endgame.
Tactics means doing what you can with what you have.
This basically sums up the situation that Malik has been dealing with throughout the story.
One doesn’t have to play well, it’s enough to play better than your opponent.
This seemed like a fitting quote for the end of the chess game.
Other Chess Quotes
Here are some more chess quotes that I liked, but which did not make the cut to be used in my book. For a few of them, I’ve provided comments as to why I think they didn’t fit.
During a Chess competition, a Chessmaster should be a combination of a beast of prey and a monk.
Alekhine should be a name familiar to anybody who has watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix.
Chess is war.
Life is like a game of chess, changing with each move.
Chess is the art of analysis.
Chess is a sport. The main object in the game of chess remains the achievement of victory.
I like the above quote, but the chess-like battle I was describing was life-or-death, not a sport.
Tactics flow from a superior position.
Life is a kind of Chess, with struggle, competition, good and ill events.
Excellence at chess is one mark of a scheming mind.
—Sherlock Holmes (by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
In chess, we have styles – like in any other field. There are also fashions in the kinds of systems that people play. So I’m trying to knot my opponent as much as possible.
Chess is an infinitely complex game, which one can play in infinitely numerous and varied ways.
When you see a good move, look for a better one.
Chess is above all, a fight!
Chess is a more highly symbolic game, but the aggressions are therefore even more frankly represented in the play. It probably began as a war game; that is, the representation of a miniature
battle between the forces of two kingdoms.
If a ruler does not understand chess, how can he rule over a kingdom?
—Sassanian King of Kings, Khusros II (Ruled Persia from 590-628 A.D.)
Fencing is a game of living chess, a match where reflexes only work in combination with intent, and mind and body must work together at every moment.
—V. E. Schwab
If your opponent cannot do anything active, then don’t rush the position; instead you should let him sit there, suffer, and beg you for a draw.
I liked the above quote, but it seemed to be more about fencing than chess. And I really didn’t look at Lydio Malik as a fencer but as someone who wore armor and fought with a heavier sword, which is why the quote didn’t get used in the book.
How dreadful…to be caught in a game and have no idea of the rules.
The mistakes are there, waiting to be made.