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Chess night

In Star Trek TNG, the main characters spend a lot of time playing poker. I mean a lot of time. Whereas in TOS the officers met up in the Recreation Room, apparently an open environment where different ranks appeared, the poker is an activity of selective groups in closed rooms. (TNG's Enterprise does have an open social space, Ten-Forward, but it seems to be more of a bar. It's not like the TOS Recreation Room, where Spock twanged his Vulcan harp and Uhura might sing.)

The conversations are interesting, but not everyone plays poker. Poker is a very common social activity in the United States, and some knowledge of it seems to be fairly normal there. But in the rest of the world this is much less true. Gambling of this sort is less socially acceptable in many places. (Though this raises the question, if there is no money in the Federation, what are they gambling with? See The Economy of the Federation.) The basic idea of poker is reasonably familiar, but lines like "The game is seven card high/low with a buy on the last card—and just to make it more interesting, the man with the axe takes all" are gibberish to a large proportion of viewers worldwide. They might as well be in Klingon. Indeed, DS9 did introduce a Ferengi card game "Tongo" that was not explained.

Suppose, instead of poker, they played chess?[1] Since it only has two players, though, the rest can be kibitzers. (I don't play poker but I do play chess, though not brilliantly.) Chess is a much more universal game. Worldwide there must be a lot more people who understand "Sicilian Defence" or "en passant" than understand "seven card high/low". There are also a lot who don't, of course. This would spread the incomprehensibility much more fairly.

(Worf and Data sit at the board; others sit and stand around. Data makes a move without hesitation.)

Riker: Sometimes I wonder if he's mentally reading from the ECO.

Data: I assure you, Commander, I disable access to memory files on chess books during play.

Worf: I hope so.

Crusher: c5, Sicilian Defence.

O'Brien: I think you should go for an Accelerated Dragon.

Riker: Modern style, Data. Why not classical? e5 and the centre.

Data: I would point out, Commander, that the Sicilian is recorded as far back as 1594. Rational analysis shows that it is highly successful.

Troi: Chess isn't just a game of rationality and rules, Data. You might do better to go hypermodern and rebel against Worf's inner Tarrasch.

Worf: Klingons do not read Tarrasch. Anderssen is our hero.

O'Brien: Wouldn't have thought a3 was your style.

Riker: No, it's the "Attack, always attack" I imagine.

Worf: It is better in the original Klingon. Data, it is your move.

Data: Yes, I am contemplating your f4. The Grand Prix attack was not unexpected, but I consider it unsound.

Worf: Talk, or play.

Troi: Data, have you ever tried the Nimzowitsch Defence?

Data: Not in over-the-board play, Counsellor, but I have played it 19,723 times against the ship's computer.

Riker: I would have thought he's more of a Centre Counter man.

Crusher: I always bet on Worf playing a gambit. Also he always accepts gambits. He doesn't fork, though.

Worf: Klingons do not fork. It is dishonourable to attack a piece which cannot fight back.

Troi: d5 isn't very original, Data.

Data: Originality is not the object in chess.

O'Brien (feigning surprise): It isn't?

Data: Indeed not. The game is descended from an ancient Indian game chaturanga and I am inclined to the conjecture that the object was originally to actually capture the king. Be that as it may, the object is to reach a position in which the king is threatened and such a capture would be unavoidable, known as checkmate. I would be glad to explain the intermediate stages including the modification of moves, the discarding of secondary forms of win, and the development of modern castling, a particularly fascinating subject. Originality, is course, a feature of many great players—

Worf (banging down a piece): P x P!

Data: I assume you mean exd5, Lieutenant.

Worf: Klingons do not use algebraic notation.

Data: Nf6.

Riker: He's got you there, Worf.

Data: Mate in 37 moves.

Crusher: I don't think you can do that, Data.

Data: On the contrary, doctor, allow me to briefly go through the four thousand trillion main lines to be considered.

Intercom: Picard to Worf. Please report to the Bridge.

Note: the Sicilian variations are from Wikipedia. I don't normally play the Sicilian.

[1] Actually, "Tri-Dimensional Chess" does appear in Star Trek, notably in TOS. It has 64 squares as in normal chess but they are arranged on different levels, in an artistic fashion. The rules are never made clear. [Return]

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