Snooker without Balls

Chess has been likened to many activities; among others I have come across are the following:

Science (Botvinnik)

Art (Fred Reinfeld)

Sport - especially boxing, tennis and football (various)

War (Em.Lasker)

Life (R. Fischer)

Watching paint dry(a Guardian journalist)

Some chess professionals even talk about it as though it were work. Ridiculous! Ofcourse, a well balanced person is someone who treats chess as if it were only a game (well balanced maybe, but usually not very strong). Ultimately chess is just chess - 'not the best thing in the world and not the worst thing in the world, but there is nothing quite like it'. I think W.C. Fields said that, though he may have been talking about something else. Yes,I suppose that should be on the list above too (J. Speelman and R. Fine).

Here is an example of an analogy from chess into football. Does the bishop manoeuvre in the solution of the following study not remind you of Maradonna dribbling through the defence and scoring?


After the foreplay: 1.Nf6+ Kg7 2.Nh5+Kg6 3.Bc2+ Kh5 4.d8=Q Nf7+ 5.Ke6 Nxd8+ 6.Kf5 Maradonna finally gets to work - already he threatens to score from the f3 square. Black is helpless except for:
6...e2! 7.Be4 e1=N! 8.Bd5!! c2 9.Bc4 c1=N! 10.Bb5 Nc7 11.Ba4 +- Magic! 1-0.

Often the analogies flow, just as aptly, in the other direction too. I have come across many examples of activities or situations being likened to our noble game or some aspect of it. How often on the news one hears of negotiations reaching stalemate. In that case, of course, they should agree a draw and go home. In an interview on French television Boris Spassky once said that he and his wife had eparated since they' got on like opposite coloured bishops!' Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour Party, wrote in hisi ntroduction to the Penguin edition of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift: 'Second only to chess, it is the best game I know. Variations are infinite; there is always something new to learn. But, as with chess too, participation is possible at quite differentl evels. Gulliver can be enjoyed by those who know nothing of openings and gambits.' One should attempt to digest such a staggering conclusion in a self-possessed and dispassionate way.

So, industrial disputes, a relationship with one's wife and reading Gulliver's Travels are all somewhat like chess. The list could go on and on but I will restrict myself to just one more example.

When snooker first started to get televised in a big way I used to watch it a little bit (now I try to avoid it; there must be better things to do in life). One of the commentators (I forget his name) was quite fond of likening snooker to chess. Occasionally, after a great and profound session of creative thinking lasting upto as much as ten seconds, one of the players would play a shot cleverer than usual. Maybe it would simultaneously improve the position of one ball while potting another, thus facilitating the future course of the break. This display of a measure of foresight (which could be used to differentiate snooker players from orangutans) would, without fail, prompt our dear commentator to sigh and utter something like: 'a wonderful game, snooker, like chess with balls'.

The first few times I found this sort of comment quite amusing, but then I realised that it is in fact something of an insult. Thinking of the great Winston Churchill ('If I valued the honourable gentleman's opinion, I might get angry') I maintained my calm and finally managed to put my maths degree to use. Three years of training enabled me to formulate an equation corresponding to the snooker commentator's insight. Following this up with some complex mathematical manipulation (the full details below), I discovered a surprising result:

Assuming Chess + Balls = Snooker

Then, subtracting the Balls from both sides of the equation, we get:


It follows that chess is like snooker without balls. Amazing! Well I knew from experience that chess is a funny old game but this new insight came as quite a shock. Just imagine it: snooker without balls - sounds pretty interesting, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps F.I.D.S.S.B. (Federation Internationale des Snookers sans Balles) could create a whole new range of titles. After all, there are too many 'masters' these days anyhow. The IM title (like money) used to talk but now it goes without saying...

It was difficult, I must admit, but in the end I managed to think of an example illustrating the power and scope of the analogy with snooker. Consider the following position:

empty board

Now place the cue ball on g8, the pink on f5 and the black on f4. In how many shots can you set up a snooker on the back rank with the cue ball and the pink hovering over the top left and top right pockets respectively, and with the black placed awkwardly near the cue ball, say on b8? This is a serieshelpsnooker - a much underestimated art form, but one just as rich, diverse and stimulating as certain better established modes of expression within our culture, e.g. rap music. All this may help you solve the following problem by a well-known composer of snooker positions (with balls) from the nineteenth century.


S. Loyd, 1860

It is a helpmate in three. Remember that Black goes first and White mates Black after his third move, both sides cooperating.

Normally this would be a pretty difficult problem, but I think you have been given a helpful c(l)ue!

Back        Top of this page        Main page