Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Game of Chess

Harold Finch sits alone staring at a chess board of unmoved chess pieces on a warm fall afternoon in 2003 in Central Park, New York.

"Hey, Man. So you wanna play or what?" a thirty-something black man walks up to him and asks.

"Oh, that's very kind of you, but I'm playing with a friend." Finch answers.

"You've been sitting here alone for hours, dude." the black man retorts.

"My friend is a little shy." Finch answers, "And somewhat indecisive." Finch exclaims.

"I thought you wanted me to teach you how to play." Finch asks the Machine. "Each possible move represents a different game; a different universe in which you make a better move. By the second move, there are 72,084 possible games; by the third, 9 million; by the fourth..." Finch's phone vibrates with a message that reads, "318,000,000,000."

"There are more possible games of chess than there are atoms in the universe. No one could possibly predict them all, even you." Finch tells the Machine. "Which means that that first move can be terrifying.  It's the furthest point from the end of the game, there's a virtually infinite sea of possibilities between you and the other side. But it also means that if you make a mistake, there's a nearly infinite amount of ways to fix it. So you should simply relax and play."

An hour or so passes as Finch and the Machine continue to play chess.

"How many moves did you consider that time?" Finch asks the Machine. His phone vibrates and the message reads, "47,035."

"That's good. You're paring them down, concentrating on the most aggressive possible moves." Finch's phone vibrates again and he moves a chess piece. "I didn't see that." Finch says.

"You like the Queen, don't you?" Finch asks the Machine as he picks up the White Queen chess piece. "She can move in any direction targeting anything. Wasn't always the case though. She used to be one of weakest pieces. They played chess in the Royal Court of Spain in the 15th century. Queen Isabella was offended. She asked her advisers if they thought her that feeble. Their response was to make her the most powerful piece in the game."

Finch's phone vibrates. The message reads, "Qf7." Finch picks up the White Queen and moves it.

"You have to be careful though. Because in chess, the more powerful a piece is, the more useful they are. Not just for winning..." Finch's phone vibrates, and he moves more pieces. "...but to be used for sacrifice. As a trick." Finch's phone vibrates again as he continues to move chess pieces around the board.

"How many moves did you consider that time?" Finch asks the Machine as his phone vibrates; the message reads, "647,000."

"A second is like an infinity to you, isn't it?" Finch asks the Machine. "You can take the time to consider everything. Or almost everything. I'm afraid you missed it." Finch moves his chess piece to capture the White King and win the game against the Machine.

An hour or so passes as Finch and the Machine continue to play chess. Finch's phone vibrates and the message reads, "Checkmate."

"Yes, yes, you needn't rub it in. One afternoon and you're a grandmaster." Finch tells the Machine. "Mind you, you'll encounter far more capable opponents than me if you go looking." Finch's phone vibrates and the message reads, "Once Again?"

"No. I don't think so." Finch answers. "You asked me to teach you chess and I've done that. It's a useful mental exercise. And through the years, many thinkers have been fascinated by it. But I don't enjoy playing. Do you know why not?" Finch asks the Machine. His phone vibrates. The message reads, "No."

Finch says, "Because it was a game that was born during a brutal age, when life counted for little. And everyone believed that some people were worth more than others. Kings and pawns. I don't think that anyone is worth more than anyone else. I don't envy you the decisions you're gonna have to make. And one day I'll be gone, and you'll have no one to talk to. But if you remember nothing else, please remember this. Chess is just a game. Real people aren't pieces. And you can't assign more value to some of them than to others. Not to me. Not to anyone. People are not a thing that you can sacrifice. The lesson is that anyone who looks on the world as if it was a game of chess deserves to lose."

Harold Finch stands up from the chess board and walks away.

- Scene from the 2015 CBS Television series "Person of Interest", Season 4, Episode 11, "If-Then-Else"

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