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Chess pieces, placements, and boards

January 08, 2004

Chess, pieces of play, and stuff

If Ron plays the dual role of Knight and King, what does everyone else play? We have a few guesses, some better than others. Some are explicit in the text (Harry and Hermione as Bishop and Rook), others seem very obvious (Voldemort, Sirius, Bellatrix), and others still we think are good guesses (Neville, Lily, Draco, the Longbottoms, etc.)

One more thing, please understand that not all the characters have been assigned to the game. That doesn’t mean we think they are absent or don’t care about them, much less think them not important. It just means we want YOUR input and the reasons why they should go. If you’re not familiar with chess, as we were not, that you check the links on the last page for info on that.

First, let’s start with the explicitly stated in the text:

The Explicit
Hermione as Rook (Castle)

On the chessboard the Rook moves in a straight line, horizontally or vertically and can’t “jump over” other pieces. Looking at this behavior, it becomes quite clear why JKR chose this piece to stand for Hermione. The Rook may move straight up and down or side to side only. Straight and narrow. That’s our Hermione. There is some additional symbolism in the relationship between the Knight and the Castle in terms of medieval history (Think Lancelot and Gwenevere). The Knight defends the Castle, and the Castle provides for the Knight. Though they often fight amongst themselves, we see Ron (the Knight) jumping to Hermione’s defense all throughout the series, most especially against Draco.

The Rook is an end-game piece, as its moves are limited in the beginning (blocked by other pieces). The Rook is typically used to protect the King (castling), and then is used more aggressively towards the end of the game to take out other pieces, much like the Queen. Similarly, we see Hermione playing things close and conservative early on, but becoming more aggressive and powerful striking down opponents (Umbridge, Marietta) later in the series.

Harry as Bishop

The Bishop moves in straight diagonals. He may not jump other pieces. He doesn’t move along the vertical and horizontal lines like Hermione, his moves are oblique — indirect. This is fitting for Harry because, as Snape is fond of pointing out, the rules do not apply to him, as he gets around them so many times. The Bishop is also a religious symbol, a seeker of enlightenment, devoting his life to a single cause. The series is most certainly about Harry’s journey from naïve boy to full fledged wizard, with the defeat of Voldemort as his primary mission. He can do nothing else until this is done (‘one cannot live while the other survives'[US OotP Ch37 pg. 841]). He is the soul of the books and is the Good to Voldemort’s Evil — the piece is fitting.

Much like the Rook, the Bishop grows more powerful as the endgame nears. Also quite fitting for Harry.

Ron as Knight

The Knight moves very differently from all other pieces. His moves are erratic. On the chess board the Knight moves in an “L” shape with one move in one direction and the next two at a 90 degree angle, allowing it to “jump over” pieces as it moves. He doesn’t move in straight lines and he can hop over other pieces. He is an excellent mid-game piece because he can maneuver well with lots of other pieces on the board. In an endgame situation, his indirect movements are a liability because he cannot move in straight lines it takes him more moves to cover the board. At the end of the game, it is better to have two Bishops than a Knight and a Bishop or two Knights.

In medieval lore, the Knight is the warrior: he is brave, loyal and perhaps a bit foolhardy.
The Obvious

Voldemort as King

On the side of evil, Voldemort is the game piece. If he is taken out for good, the war is over. Similarly, if the King is taken out, the game is over. The King is also the metaphorical player- he represents the person playing the game. Lose your King and you lose your game. The King is the leader, and obviously, Voldemort is the leader/player orchestrating the moves of the characters on the side of evil. We can really see no other choice for him.

Sirius as Knight

Sirius is the first major character we see taken out in the books and the Knight is the first major piece we see taken out of the game. That particular point in the game parallels Sirius’s death in OotP so eerily, that we really see no other choice for him. He is loyal, brave and reckless with an erratic move that serves well mid-game, but not endgame very much a Knight.

Bellatrix as Queen

The Queen is a powerful piece on the board, perhaps THE most powerful in terms of her ability to take out other pieces. She can move unlimited spaces in any direction. Bellatrix is shown to be a very powerful and very ruthless witch- a close parallel to the role of the White Queen in the chess game. The White Queen takes out the Black Knight in the game, much like Bellatrix takes out Sirius in OotP. Bellatrix was clearly the leader on the mission that incapacitated the Longbottoms; she is also Voldemort’s right hand woman. We really see no other choice for her.
The Good Guesses

Lily as Queen

Yes, we know that Lily is dead, but her presence is still felt. The Queen is probably the single most powerful piece on the board. Yet, the Queen on the Black side goes completely unmentioned in the game the trio plays. While on the surface McGonagall seems a more obvious choice for Queen, it is actually Lily who enabled the temporary defeat of Voldemort and whose love still protects Harry pretty much anywhere he goes. For this reason, we believe that Lily is the Black Queen and in the second war- powerful, but silent.

Neville as Bishop

We feel fairly confident that Neville plays the second Bishop on the Black side. He is the other child in the Prophecy with the Potential to defeat Voldemort. While Dumbledore seems pretty adamant in telling Harry he is ‘the one’, we disagree. Only Neville and Harry are seen to hold the Prophecy in the final showdown in OotP [US OotP Ch 35 pg. 804]. We do not think this an accident. It is a clue. In addition, having two Bishops towards the end of the game provides a very, very powerful advantage. While the Bishop has a wide range on the diagonal of his color, he must stay on his color. With two Bishops, the board is completely covered. We see this played out in OotP Harry and Neville teaming up against the Death Eaters. So while we do believe that Harry will ultimately defeat Voldemort as shown in the chess game the trio plays, we believe that Neville is Dumbledore’s plan B. Preferably, he would like to keep them both until the endgame.

Lupin as Rook

In drawing parallels between the Marauders and the trio, Lupin most closely resembles Hermione. He plays it straight and narrow, he is studious and he is made Prefect to keep James and Sirius in line. In OotP, we see this very much in his interactions with Sirius even as an adult. Remus Lupin is the Rook to Sirius’s Knight, in much the same way Hermione is the Rook to Ron’s Knight. If you would like to draw conclusions regarding shipping S/R… please do. We did.

Draco as Bishop

Draco is set up from the very beginning as Harry’s opposite. In PS/SS, Dumbledore even compares Harry and Draco to James and Snape. Hermione is said to take out a White Bishop, and we believe this to be Draco for reasons stated earlier.
Why Harry is not the King

Quite a few people have proposed that Harry is the King. This, however, is impossible as a King absolutely cannot checkmate another King it is against the rules of chess. This is why Dumbledore is the only one Voldemort ever feared and also why Dumbledore himself cannot defeat Voldemort. Harry can indeed defeat Voldemort; therefore he is not the King. In addition, Dumbledore has a spare Bishop in Neville. Without Harry, the game is still not lost.
The Chessboard

Below are two illustrations of the chessboard and some of the pieces discussed above. Some pieces not discussed are included as well as two illustrated moves.

Edited to add (2-22-04): We’ve received many emails and livejournal comments about how the moves on the board can’t be done (Harry taking he White King’s space) or that the pieces chosen for the layouts below are not the correct ones and I want to take this time to add here that the illustrations below were done for the purpose of visualization only. Our curiosity pushed us to see how far JKR might be using the tools of chess and it’s pieces to help her form, if anything, as part of her over all structure for this grand septology she’s got us all hooked on.

We’d still love to continue the discussion on who’s playing who on the board. We believe the only numbered moves we get are Harry’s is because the story is told from his POV, for the most part. So everyone else’s moves will to match up exactly to the years corresponding to Harry’s.

I bring this up as many have pointed out that Ron makes his sacrifice before Harry moves his last four spaces. What we think this means is that the point between Harry’s first 4 moves and his last 3 something pivotal happens that may be the beginning of Ron sacrifice. The foreshadowing of this of course is strewn about in GoF: Ron being the thing that Harry will miss most, Ron and Harry fighting, and the possible introduction of dress robes being a pre-view to what is to come for Ron being Dumbledore.

Anywho, on to the rest of this…

Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy are included as a Knight and Rook for the side of Voldemort. Seeing the correlation of the other pairs of Knights and Rooks, this pair on the side of evil might also be included in with the Good Guesses group.

The spaces of Harry’s Bishop are numbered and color coded for each one of Harry’s years Hogwarts. In the passage analyzed, JKR is explicit and takes care to show us that this piece, Harry’s Bishop, is the only one to be given a specific number of spaces to move.

Sirius, being the first Knight to be taken, makes his moves according to the rules of chess. Much discussion with those in the know of the game helped us deduce the possible paths his Knight might take to be in a position where the White Queen would take him. What’s truly revealing in analyzing these moves is where Sirius path takes him and the correlations the moves have to each of Harry’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th school years.

In the first half of Sirius’ first move he ends up just under Harry’s third space/year, indicated by a 3. The second half of the “L” shaped move takes Sirius through Harry’s third space/year. As we all know, Harry’s third year at Hogwarts deals centrally with Sirius Black as told in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.

The next “L” shaped move takes Sirius, up a square that sits next to Harry’s 4th space/year and becomes the turning point in that “L”shaped move taking him away from Harry’s path on the board and ending him up on the spot where “The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged him off the board, where he lay quite still, facedown.” (US PS Ch 16 pg. 281-284)

7 is 7

When we originally thought of who was which piece, for a while James was slated as the Knight next to the Rook (Alice) and Bishop (Frank). That didn’t make any sense though, for the reasons involving the Longbottoms. So we set him in Harry’s place… but he still didn’t seem right.

Then, hours before we posted this theory to the public, D. Ericka made an observation about the relationship of between the Longbottoms and how they reflect the Potters. Both pairs were top characters in the first war, both couples defied Voldemort three times, both had children that fit the prophecy, and when James fell, Sirius took his place. Harry and Neville were in both games all along!


chess board 2

One more thing about the madly fabulous D. Ericka, she has composed several lists that include a great deal of the minor characters, as well as alternate placings to our own, which can be found here…

Other theories will be added by other commenting in unplottables!
Edited to add (2-22-04): More on chess theories, Knight2King discussion, and other unplottable theories can be picked apart at the new forums!

Note, the boards are not complete. This was on purpose. The link above will have another picture on it before 01-10-04 (TBA) reflecting the pieces listed on SBBO’s page.

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