Playing Chess with Death

Posted on 8th August 2019

What better way to practice being a Freethinker than imagining yourself playing to win a game of chess with Death.

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman (1918 – 2007) has one of the longest and most distinguished careers in the history of cinema. He is a three time winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, along with nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Director and Picture, and a host of other prizes. And yet, if you asked the people about Bergman’s cinema, there would be one thing that everyone would point to: the iconic chess game played against Antonius Block and Death in The Seventh Seal (1957).

At the beginning of the game, the film’s protagonist Antonius Block begins well attacking Death with his bishop and knight. However, as the game progresses Death enters into a dialogue where he becomes a confessor to the sins of Antonius. During this confession Antonius realises that Death is too good a player for him and so he decides to cheat.

Thus the film poses the timeless question, can you cheat Death?

Antonius Block cheats by illegal moves and even taking pieces off the board but all this proves pointless as Death eventually checkmates him. You may prolong Death but you can’t successfully cheat him and he will always win in the end.

The film ends with the chess game over and Death is seen leading Antonius Block away to his eventual fate.

Chess as a Game of Life Strategy

When playing chess you start out with a strategic plan of how to play your game, but your plan will always be affected by the actions of the other player. Think of the other player not as Death, but life itself.

Your plan has to constantly modify itself sometimes to the point where the original plan has become unrecognisable.

To stick blindly to the same goals you set out with at the start when the other player has changed the pattern of play will mostly all of the time lead to failure. The 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer says chess is best played like life when, “We are compelled to modify our tactics”.

Jennifer Shahade

Adaptability is the key as the future is a game still being played and the outcome to be decided.  Being a freethinker, focus on the state of the board as it now and modify your play accordingly.  The female grandmaster Jennifer Shahade, says when playing, “Think of a move, disregard it and think of a better one.”

Using your freethinking skills, in chess like life you should have a strategy of reflection and revision to become a better player.

You may not be able to cheat Death but in the game of life you should always give him a good game.

It’s your move.

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