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Carlsen and Caruana deadlocked in battle of Mozart and Killah Priest of chess

The captivating rivalry at the World Championship in London may finally bring the game in from the cold

North-west India, the sixth century. Two men play a board game on an eight?by-eight grid. The pieces are divided into four ranks, representing military divisions: five foot soldiers, three cavalry, one chariot, one elephant. At the end of the game, one man says: “That was great. We should play that again.” His opponent nods: “Yeah, it was fun.” Then his brow furrows: “But I don’t know, was it cool?”

New Orleans, circa 1875. Paul Morphy, the dominant chess master of his era, a legend of the sport by the age of 21, walks up and down the long veranda of his home. Over and over, in French, he mutters: “He will plant the banner of Castile upon the walls of Madrid to the cry of the victorious city, and the little king will go away looking very sheepish.” Morphy is not yet 40 years old and hasn’t played competitively for a decade. It is assumed he has been driven to madness by the infinite possibilities of chess: that there are more possible moves in a game than atoms in the universe. But perhaps not; maybe he’s just ruminating: “Will this game I’ve played better than anyone in history ever be cool?”

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