Checkmate

Another circle of 3 coincidental events prompted this week’s blog. According to the U.S. Chess Federation:

“The King is the most important piece. When he is trapped, his whole army loses. The King can move one square in any direction. (An exception is ‘castling’, a special move that lets a player move two pieces at once–the King and one Rook.) The King may never move into check–that is, onto a square attacked by an opponent’s piece. … The main goal of chess is to checkmate your opponent’s King. The King is not actually captured and removed from the board like other pieces. But if the King is attacked (‘checked’) and threatened with capture, it must get out of check immediately. If there is no way to get out of check, the position is a ‘checkmate,’ and the side that is checkmated loses.”

Hold that thought while I introduce the 2nd segment.

Corteo, the relatively new show by Cirque du Soleil, set up its tent recently in the parking lot of The L.A. Forum (located in Inglewood, quite the hellhole nowadays; the graveyard on the north side of the parking lot is probably the safest place in town for a decent person; whoever chose this location for the show should be fired).

I had not driven through this neck of the woods for about 10 years (back when I was scoping libraries to exhibit my history-of-writing collection), & thought it would make an interesting detour Sunday morning–the best time to drive anywhere in L.A. To my surprise, a line of cars was waiting to get into the parking lot, & I had no idea what the event was; I had thought Corteo had taken complete control of the site during its 1-month stay. Later that day when I got home, I checked their website & discovered that a church had bought the site & used it for its worship services, pastored by Kenneth C. Ulmer.

Now hold segment 2 as I recount segment 3.

While searching AiG’s website Monday morning (Labor Day), I noticed a link not relevant to what I was searching for: The King Always Has One More Move. It’s a 28-minute (6.6Mb MP3) lecture by David Crandall, & 16 minutes into it he takes off on Acts 16:16-26 & relates an anecdote about a painting entitled “Checkmate”.

It depicts 2 chess players, 1 of whom appears arrogantly confident, & the other (Faust? You? Me?) looks forlorn. A visitor to the museum exhibiting the painting studies the arrangement of the chess pieces, & determines that the title doesn’t fit the scene because the forlorn-looking player actually has the ability to defeat his opponent–though he obviously doesn’t realize it.

His king can still make another move!

Dr. Crandall didn’t cite his source or any specifics about the museum, other than that it happened “several years ago at a brand new museum”, so I immediately began some research & found a slew of similar retellings online–mostly by preachers, & at least 3 were considerate enough to cite Bishop Ulmer as their source. Unfortunately, I could not find it at his own site, but found an earlier source of the tale along with a photo of the painting–“Checkmate! The King Has One More Move” by Patricia Hulsey (116 pages; published by Harvestime International, 2002-5-31):

I don’t have the book so I don’t know if she states therein where the painting is located. Other renditions of the story mention The Louvre (obviously not brand new), but I did not find “Checkmate” in their database.

Jason Albelo of East Hill Church concluded his “Dismantling the Dungeons” series on 2007-8-19 with a sermon, “The King Has One More Move”. You can download the 43:39 video (27.1Mb WMV), which takes off on Matthew 18:21–35, but he doesn’t introduce the Checkmate story until about the 30:20 mark (preaching concludes around 37:15).

Unlike the majority who save this story for the punch at the end of their message, Steve Wilbraham of Congregational-Presbyterian Church began his 2006-9-10 sermon, “The Word Became Human”, with it; then took off toward John 1:1-14. (Note that he also uses “The Blind Men & the Elephant” that I opened “Evolution Science” with.)

Glen Jackson of Faith Christian Church of Simi Valley (located on Royal Ave!!!) also uses it near the beginning of his sermon on Colossians 1:5-8, “The Power of the Gospel” (an undated sermon).

Jack Coldren of New Hope Church preached this sermon 2006-12-31. It’s available as a 23.5Mb MP3 at “The King Has One More Move”. Its runtime is 33:28, & from about 14:45-18:30 he takes off on 2Corinthians 2:11, & adds a twist to the story that instead of being a painting in a museum exhibit, it’s seen by a chessmaster as a guest at a dinner. An additional twist is that he recreates the positions of the chessboard on his own, & then challenges the dinner guests to play the Devil/Mephistopheles/Satan role.

Richard Pfeil of White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church concluded his “My Life Should Be Easier Than This!!!” (59kb Word Doc) sermon on 2007-6-10 after taking off from John 9:1-3. Now the painting moves to London, & instead of 2 men–one being a chess champ–it’s a teacher with school students on a field trip! But at least he admits up front that he doesn’t know if it’s a true story or not!

Jan Farley of The Village Community Presbyterian Church used it in a 2006-4-23 sermon, “Cracked Pots”, which takes off on 2Corinthians 4:7-18 with a nice section on jar usage in antiquity.

One of the preachers who cited Ulmer was David A. Miller of Faith Presbyterian Church. He told the story in his 2006-4-16 sermon on John 11:1-34, “Resurrection Power”.

Another one who cited Ulmer was Rick Kirchoff of Germantown United Methodist Church. He told the story in his 2007-4-8 sermon on 1Peter 1:3-8, “A Living Hope”.

Notice that in Kirchoff’s version, Daniel’s lions get “lock jaw”; in Miller’s, they’re on a “low-protein diet”!

And I’m not the first blogger to have discussed this topic too.

See “The King Has One More Move!” by Walt Koelln at Hedgehog Hodgepodge on 2006-4-16.

Gill Lee at the Benefice of Earl Soham Baptist Church published a letter (sort of a blog) 2007-2-24, “The King has one more move!”

The anecdote even appeared in the 2007-3-19 issue of Poker Player in an article by Jennifer Matiran, “Be Well”. Strictly non-Biblical, she says, “My friends, always remember that if you just trust and have faith, there is always one more move, that through faith and believing, not only do you have one more move but the king that flows through you will make that last move for you and YOU WILL WIN!”

OK … sure [as I back away slowly & respectfully hoping she won’t notice] … moving right along…

Two other relevant books utilize the same title.

One, just released last week (total coincidence I’m sure): “When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box” by John Ortberg (256 pages published by Zondervan, 2007-8-27). Portions of this one are available online, & the final chapter (21, beginning on p. 229) carries the title: “The King Has One More Move”. You can also purchase a sermon he preached on this subject: “The King Has the Last Move” via Willow Creek Association. And there’s also a 118kb PDF with an excerpt of his 2006-1-8 sermon, “One More Move”. Therein he too credits Ulmer & takes off on John 11 … actually, you can tell by the dates that Miller probably plagiarized the sermon direct from Ortberg (including the “low protein” tidbit). But notice that Ortberg locates the painting at The Chicago Museum of Art (a place name that doesn’t actually exist–probably the Museum of Contemporary Art, but a more likely candidate for the genre–assuming the story is true–would be Loyola University Museum of Art), & links a friend of Ulmer directly to the anonymous “international chess champion”!

I give high praise to Greg R. Stovell of First United Presbyterian Church for crediting not just Ulmer, but also Ortberg! In a take-off on the old hymn, “What Child Is This?” (a 42kb PDF dated 2005-11-27), he tells the story with a humorous intro about funny place names (ironic in light of Ortberg’s mystery museum).

The other book: “Joy to the World: Inspirational Christmas Messages from America’s Preachers” by Olivia Cloud (editor). Pages 90-98 of the 416-page book contain “The King Has One More Move” by Dan Chun of First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. Atria published this book 2006-11-21, but this sermon preached 2005-12-24 is available online in PDF format (104kb) at his church’s website. What’s fascinating is that he relates the same story, but instead of a painting, the chess match takes place in the 1957 Ingmar Bergman movie, “The Seventh Seal”!

Craig W. Versprille also mentions “The 7th Seal” scene in the 2006-12 issue of Messiah Messenger, a Messiah Lutheran church bulletin (422kb PDF). In Chun’s & Versprille’s versions, the person who identified the lost opportunity in the movie’s scene was a “Russian chess master”. Versprille appears to have plagiarized Chun a year later after reading Cloud’s book.

Douglas Scalise of Brewster Baptist Church added another detail in his 2007-8-5 sermon, “The Meaning of Faith”. After taking off from Hebrews 11:1-6, he identifies the well-known American chess player, Bobby Fischer, as the person who identified the lost opportunity in the movie.

Greg McDonell of Central Presbyterian Church, in his 2005-6-12 sermon, “Remembering Is So Easy To Forget”, that took off from Matthew 11:25-30 cited no one, referenced a movie [b]ack in the sixties”, swapped the Reaper with the Devil, but also named Fischer.

Last on my list, which will no doubt grow as more preachers discover this anecdote on the Internet in years & decades to come, Edward DeJesus not only retells it in the first chapter of his 2006 book, “Countering the Urban Influence”, but also identifies it confidently as being at The Louvre with this photo on the book’s cover:

Note that he also identifies the chess champ as a Frenchman, & dates the encounter to “nearly two decades ago”.

In light of the evidence, there’s a good chance that Ulmer plagiarized DeJesus since the latter’s book was published in the first part of 2006, & had probably been written–& he had probably been lecturing–late in 2005 at which time Ulmer met him. I’m just guessing, & apologize if both versions are separate, original-but-coincidental accounts. Ulmer obviously has a larger audience than DeJesus, whose book isn’t even listed on Amazon. And DeJesus lectures on young troublemakers (school dropouts), & Inglewood (Ulmer’s turf) is indeed an aforementioned hellhole epitomizing this genre.

But also note that the chess-piece positions differ in these 2 pictures. These photos are probably too blurry, but it would be interesting to also get a snapshot of the movie scene to compare all 3. Did the real King inspire 2 or 3 versions of the same basic message in these different venues, & does the same King really have another move remaining?

Chronological summary:
2002-5-31, Patricia Hulsey (book)
2005-6-12, Greg McDonell (sermon)
2005-10-21, David Crandall (sermon)
2005-11-27, Greg R. Stovell (sermon)
2005-12-24, Dan Chun (sermon)
2006, Edward DeJesus (book)
2006-1-8, John Ortberg (sermon)
2006-4-16, David A. Miller (sermon)
2006-4-16, Walt Koelln (blog)
2006-4-23, Jan Farley (sermon)
2006-9-10, Steve Wilbraham (sermon)
2006-11-21, Olivia Cloud (editor; book)
2006-12, Craig W. Versprille (letter)
2006-12-31, Jack Coldren (sermon)
2007-2-24, Gill Lee (letter)
2007-3-19, Jennifer Matiran (article)
2007-4-8, Rick Kirchoff (sermon)
2007-6-10 , Richard Pfeil (sermon)
2007-8-5, Douglas Scalise (sermon)
2007-8-19, Jason Albelo (sermon)
2007-8-27, John Ortberg (book)
?, Glen Jackson (sermon)

Sermon topics:
Matthew 11:25-30
Matthew 18:21–35
John 1:1-14
John 9:1-3
John 11:1-34
Acts 16:16-26
2Corinthians 2:11
2Corinthians 4:7-18
Colossians 1:5-8
Hebrews 11:1-6
1Peter 1:3-8

Song of the week: “One Day More” by Les Miserables Dream Cast (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 30-second sample; 393kb).
G.M. Grena

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6 Responses to “Checkmate”

  1. Worth Wilson Says:

    As I read your blog on the painting checkmate I was interested it your documentation. You give the source of the story as Kenneth Ulmer and wonder why others have not given him credit.

    Well Ulmer is not the first minister to use this story as a sermon illustration. I used for the first time in the early 1990’s after discovering it in a sermon delivered by Dr. Tony Evans. I gave Dr. Evans credit the first couple of times I used it then I discovered it was used by others too. Since then I have only used it a couple of times.

    I do appreciate your research to uncover an image of what appears to be the painting. I continue to do research to discover where the painting hangs.

  2. G.M. Grena Says:

    Thanks for your comments, & for your work as a minister, & also for giving credit where it’s due! If you ever post any of your sermons online, feel free to come back & include a link. I’d very much like to hear your rendition!

  3. jac Says:

    This is a painting by Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch (oil on panel)
    Its in private hands and was last sold at Christie’s in 1999.
    A fairly good color resolution can be found here.

    http://www.artnet.com/artists/lotdetailpage.aspx?lot_id=029943A35BF30DA1

    Thanks for the info on its usage.

    • G.M. Grena Says:

      Thank you, “jac”, for the link to the alternate painting! One must wonder now how many versions exist since this one differs from the black & white version shown here in my post. There are many subtle differences, but probably the most noticeable one is the gap of space between the angel’s hands & the table. In the b&w version, the table overlaps the hands so that there is no gap, whereas in the Retsch color one, there’s a considerable gap.

  4. jac Says:

    It gets better – the original story was published in a chess magazine in 1898/99.
    It appears the painting may have begun life as an engraving on a “paper wrap” and then the artist produced the oil version.

    http://www.chessville.com/misc/History/HowMorphyBeattheDevil.htm

    I much prefer the 19th century version of the story of the chess solution.

    Pastor Judy
    St Marks Presbyterian Church
    Lomita CA

  5. Sermon: Marks of a Relevant Church–Puncture Holes in the Despair of Our Age — Kairos Blog ... Says:

    […] [i] This story with particular emphasis on the experience of Rev. Jeremiah Wright is adapted with gratitude from a sermon preached on July 22, 2012 entitled “Another Move” by The Rev. Mark Ramsey at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Ashville, North Carolina. The underlying material on Faust has quite an extensive history, going back as far as I can tell to Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer. A lengthy history of some use of this story in other sermons is available at the blog post http://lmlk.wordpress.com/2007/09/07/checkmate/ […]

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