Rescuing a Hippo, Killing a Horse

At the World Championship Match, in Helsinki, Finland, they reached a complicated position where The Champion intended on sacrificing a knight.

The giveaway was not an obvious tactic; with all the minor pieces still on the board, the position offered a large number of possible variations, all of them leading to interesting circumstances, but nothing concretely winning. When The Champion allowed his mind to envision the sub-plots, he found nothing with a satisfying conclusion. Tendrils and threads of ideas translated into imagery wove into each other, blurring his mental picture, turning his entire design a dull brown. His brain became flooded with hundreds of branches from the decision tree, spreading like supercharged mycelium with molecular rapidity.

Then, for no reason he could explain, The Champion remembered a line from his favorite children’s book, All the Animals!, which his Grandpa Harry had read to him on an almost nightly basis. Oh, what a difficult job it was! Pulling the hippopotamus out of the marsh.” (The accompanying illustration showed an unnaturally pink hippo frowning unhappily, sitting in a swamp, with front arms crossed.)

To the spectators in the auditorium, it appeared that The Champion was studying the position, massaging his throbbing temples and applying his flesh-melting death stare to the checkered board. In fact, he was lost in a daydream, transported to an African savannah, near a lake, with a mangrove swamp. His body was in Helsinki, hunched over the expectant pieces, but, with the game clock running and the world watching, The Champion’s mind had jumped to another continent in an altogether “real” virtual world located someplace on the space-time continuum.

He approached the problem from several perspectives simultaneously, envisioning and calculating the best method for accomplishing the impossible feat of dragging a hippopotamus out of the muck.  Would it involve hydraulic jacks implanted by scuba-diving excavators? An Archimedean system of levers? Bungee cords and helicopters?

Every scenario The Champion concocted led to failure. The necessary technology had not yet been developed; the hippo wouldn’t cooperate; the swamp was too unpredictable. He had to admit, if called on to rescue a stuck hippo, he couldn’t see how to do it without badly hurting the animal, possibly drowning it.

Drowning it. When The Champion had the awful thought of the stranded beast drowning in the marsh, slowly sinking into the muck, the imaginary doomed hippopotamus suddenly disappeared, as though it had been sucked down an unseen drain. The marshy space the hippo had previously occupied was calm and undisturbed, tranquil as the surface of a country pond at midday, as though a lumbering 1,000-lb. mammal hadn’t been there a moment ago, half-submerged in mud and reed grass. Poof. Gone.

When the hippo departed, The Champion instantly departed, too, returning from imagined Africa to actual Helsinki, where the terribly complicated position on the chessboard no longer appeared quite so complicated.

He now realized calculating all the variables was akin to dragging a hippopotamus out of a swamp; practically impossible. Because of this, The Champion’s planned knight sacrifice was purely intuitive, speculative, imaginary. And since it would lead to an unpredictable game and a potentially beautiful design, and since he thought his coach would approve of this way of thinking, The Champ knew it was the right move.

He steered his equine jumper to an early death, knowing its martyrdom would not be in vain. He would make sure this beautiful, innocent horse would be a part something bigger than a too-brief life ended by a lowly pawn.

He would see to that.

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