Sunday, January 6, 2013

TOS: The Corbomite Maneuver

My dad was a straight-up chess champion. He was captain of his chess club (king? president? knight? I can only speculate about chess club hierarchy) and he won a bunch chess competitions. When I was seven years old and wanted to play with his fancy-pants marble chess set, he said, "Yeah, ok." Then, he sat down on the floor and taught me to play the game.

There are a lot of references to chess in Star Trek, a lot of people playing chess, a lot of remarks about strategy. Spock and Kirk play. Data plays with Troi. Sisko has a set in his quarters. The list goes on and on.
Spock's chess set is even more fancy-pants than my dad's. 
Even before "The Corbomite Maneuver" chess was already integrated in the Star Trek canon. Spock plays against Charlie in "Charlie X" and in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" says one of my favorite Trek lines during the match against Kirk: "Irritating? Ah, yes. One of your Earth emotions."

"The Corbomite Maneuver" is all about chess. It's all about strategy. This whole episode is a battle of wits between Kirk and the alien, Balok. When the mysterious alien gives them only minutes to pray to their deities before he promises they'll be blown up, it seems The Enterprise is finished. Spock even says, "Chess, when one is out-matched. The game is over. Checkmate."

That statement says a lot about Spock's personality and highlights the difference between Kirk and him. It sets up what we'll all see later--The No Win Scenario. This subtle difference between Spock and Kirk comes to mean so much, not just for the first series, or for a single movie, but for the entire franchise. Chess is a war of of attrition and one typically plays by the rules. If Kirk starts losing according to those rules, he just changes the game. That's who he is and it's one of the things that makes him such a fantastic captain.

As Balok ticks away the minutes, Kirk says, "Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker." That's when the tides turn. Now, Balok is playing Kirk's game and that's a game only Kirk can win.

He broke out the "Sly Face!" You're goin' down, Balok! 
I don't play chess anymore. I never really got past that original lesson with my dad. I know how to move the pieces around but I don't have any of the strategy. Like Kirk, I'm more interested in cards. When I was a kid, and got frustrated with chess and my dad's relentless execution of Four Move Checkmate, my mom said, "Here, settle down. Let's play cards instead." Then she got out her trusty Uno deck and I learned, like Kirk, how to bluff, how to wriggle out of a losing hand, and how to just enjoy the game.

1 comment:

  1. This is good advice for life. I'm thinking back on past frustrations, and realizing I may have been playing one game when it would have been more beneficial to have the mindset of another.


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