Paolo Boi plays chess for life

Updated: Apr 21

The coasts of Spain had not yet completely dissolved into a fog of remoteness, when chess master Paolo Boi remarked with satisfaction that the voyage promised to be splendid. They set sail early in the morning. The weather was lovely, the sea calm, and the ship's captain proved a perfect chess partner: he played poorly, and Paolo's proposed rate of a ducat a game did not frighten him at all.

By the end of the first day's sailing, Paolo already had four captain's ducats in his purse. The fifth, lying by the chessboard, was about to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors.

However, the captain was thinking longer and longer about each move and the chess master, who was somewhat put to sleep by the silence and the gentle, steady tilting of the ship, was looking more at the sky and the sea than at the chessboard where the outcome of the game was already decided. The sky was cloudless, only low over the horizon, behind the stern, clouds rising as if from the sea were slowly lighting up with the purple of the coming west. In the glow radiating from them the sails of a ship were pinking. Paolo knew little about sailing and ships, but he thought that this unknown ship must be unusually fast, for it was growing before his eyes, even though almost all the sails were spread on the brig.

The ship attracted the attention not only of our master. The boatswain quickly ran up the steps from the deck and approached the captain and said something in a low voice, indicating the approaching sailing ship.

The captain reluctantly took his eyes off the chessboard, looked in the direction indicated and then shrugged his shoulders.

- You have been seeing pirates everywhere for some time now - he said to the visibly worried boatswain. - It must be some French clipper that is sailing to Majorca. No cursed corsair would dare to show himself so close to the shores!

The boatswain went away, and the captain, after a long consideration, finally made a move, after which the following position was formed:

Now, in turn, Paolo mused. He saw mate in two moves almost immediately, but he always tried to impress his partner that he was winning with him not without difficulty. An opponent who is played quickly and mercilessly can easily lose the will to play and to take further stakes out of the purse...

He finally stretched out his hand to make a move - but the hand hung in the air.

A shrill scream vibrated in his ears, paralyzing his movements. He looked down at the deck. The brig's crew was clustered around the petty officer, several hands outstretched as if in a defensive gesture. One glance in that direction and Paolo went numb. The unknown ship was very close, with a black pirate flag fluttering on its side !

The captain broke off abruptly and, cursing, ran down the stairs from the stern. Shots rang out on the pirate ship. A bullet from some musket shattered the end of the rudder, and a wooden block falling - fortunately from a small height - hit the master in the head.

He was revived by a stream of cold water and a loud retching. He opened his eyes. There were several pirates standing over him, one of whom was pouring the rest of the water from a canvas bucket over his head.

- What kind of bird is that?

A man with black hair and a brown-tanned face jumped into the stern. The pirates around Paolo stepped back with apparent respect.

Paolo, whose head was still buzzing from the impact, sat down. He tried to get up, but his legs refused to obey him.

He guessed that the newcomer was the ringleader of the corsairs and was surprised to see that he was richly and even somewhat exquisitely dressed, contrasting with the half-naked thugs standing behind him, who bore the marks of the battle.

- Who is this guy? asked the leader roughly. - What are you doing here? Tell me!

He explained to Paolo in somewhat confused words who he was and where he had come from on the merchant ship.

- I have heard about you, Signor Boi - said the captain in an unexpectedly more polite tone. He weighed in his hand the master's purse that one of the pirates had given him. - I like to play chess myself, but I never thought - he went on, looking inside the purse, - that it could bring such a profit... Damn it! All ducats! Did you play chess here too?

- I played with the captain - Paolo explained, pointing to the chessboard.

- So our visit has prevented you from continuing to collect those yellow pucks? asked the chief maliciously, picking up the ducat lying by the chessboard. - Surely you would have won this game too?

- I was just about to lose in two moves - Paolo explained, feeling an unjustified surge of optimism. Maybe this time chess will help him in a difficult moment?

The chief gave brief orders to the robbers around him, who immediately dispersed, while he himself sat down in the captain's seat.

- I wonder - he said after a moment, looking at the position on the chessboard. Indeed, it is dead in two moves. But if you want, I can finish the game for the captain. What were you playing for? - A ducat - said Paolo, surprised.

- A stake worthy of a miserable trader! - said the captain. - I value higher the honour of facing such a master as you. If you win against me, I'll return your purse and put you ashore... as close to the harbor as possible. Do you agree?

Paolo, not believing his ears, just nodded.

- Very well. Then we'll finish this lot - said the pirate. - But if you don't give me defeat in two moves, I'll keep the piece and you'll have to get ashore by yourself.

That means - he explained, seeing Boi's bewildered face - that I'll just have you thrown into the sea.

- In the... the sea? - Boi exclaimed in horror.

- I doubt that any slave trader will buy you - said the captain. Nothing will pay to take you all the way to Algiers. And we are not in the habit of feeding freeloaders. My people would never agree to that. For once in your life, you'll be playing for really high stakes... Anyway, he added carelessly, it's not that far to land. See that dark line on the horizon? That's Majorca.

- But I can't swim! Paolo said.

- What a pity... For you, of course, signor. But I can't be held responsible for your lack of education, and we don't have time for swimming lessons now. I'll give you a beam on which you can support yourself...

Paolo was stunned. The buccaneer's calm voice, his cool politeness and correctness of expression were so blatant against the ominous content of words that the master felt the growing chaos in his still aching head. Thousands of thoughts ran through his head in a mad rush - only one of them stuck out clearly: this is really a mate in two moves... I am not risking anything!

- I agree - he finally said in a voice not his own.

I was sure you would agree - smiled the pirate. There is only one small detail left to discuss...

You won't require me to play in a hopeless situation and pay for the failure of my predecessor with such a high stake? We will exchange this queen, saying this he took off the white queen from the chessboard, putting the black queen in its place.

- Oh yes. The position hasn't actually changed, and the forces have equalized a bit. Now give me a defeat in two moves.

- But this is impossible! - howled the terrified master. - I can't give the mate now.

- Perhaps - answered the chief mockingly. - You know better than I do. But the conditions have already been discussed, and I advise you to hurry up. As soon as my men are ready to go, we will have to part...

Boi listened in stupor.

- If you can't give that mat, I agree to another one... - The corsair threw carelessly. - I am not finicky...

The master was looking at the chessboard with increasing intensity and suddenly a flash of joy lit up his face.

- I give mate in two moves - he called out.

He made a move, and the astonished checker saw that he would indeed be defeated in the next move.


This is Caissa's story about playing for the life chess master Paolo Boi :-)

Did it really work out that way ? Hmm, who knows...

Here are the solutions to the two chessboard positions quoted above.

In the position of the first diagram you should play 1. Nxe6.

In the position of the second diagram - after swapping queens - solve 1.Nb5.

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