Run around the house and chess in Bucharest

During WWII, while working in Bletchley Park to break the Enigma code, Alan Turing invented a game that combined chess and running. The contest rules: You sit with your opponent in front of a chess table. You make your move and run around the house. The other player has to move before you return. Once you sit down at the table, the other player runs around the house. Then you have to move, etc. You lose if you are checkmated or fail to move before your opponent returns to his chair.

The above mentioned is a rare example of a game that exercises both mind and muscles hard. But what made Turing invent such a strange game? At Bletchley Park, there were excellent chess players ( e.g., C. H. O’D. Alexander was the British chess champion and became International Chess Master). They were playing a lot of chess. Turing was a modest chess player despite all his tries. But he was a very competitive person. And a great runner with a personal best of 2:46 per marathon. That would be a fantastic time, even by today’s standards. The game mentioned above helps the fast runners as it gives them more time to think.

Romanian Parliament House

During my stay in Bucharest, I played in a chess tournament and ran a half marathon in May. The chess event happened inside the giant House of Parliament, the most prominent building in Europe. The start and finish of the race were in front of the same house. That made me think about the game proposed by Turing, although in my case, the two events (chess and run) happened within one week, not on the same day.

Side view of the Parliament House

It is funny to imagine Turing’s game inside the House of Parliament in Bucharest. One run around this house is longer than 3 km, and after just 14 moves, you run more than the equivalent of a marathon. This game would require players with great physical shape. This is an amusing edge case for the proposed game.

Playing venue inside the Parliament House.

First, it was the chess event. About 200 players from 15 countries gathered in a massive hall from Parliament House. There were 10 rounds of rapid chess (15′ +5″ format). My result was 4.5 points from 10. Because 9 out of 10 opponents were ranked higher than me, I gained 38 ELO points. My opponent had a considerable advantage from the opening in one of the games. I continued playing as I still had pieces on the table. He relaxed, and his advantage started to decrease. I kept calm and played the best I could. The position was drawn, and then I had the advantage and won. The win was not because of a blunder but because of the constant improvement of the situation. Later, I saw that my opponent was above 2200 ELO in classical chess while I was 1800. The lesson is to continue the game as long as the position still could give some hope. Playing in this tournament was a fun experience!

I was happy to see that chess is becoming more popular in Romania.

At the start of the Bucharest Half Marathon

The second event was the Bucharest Half Marathon. I’ve participated in the last five editions of this competition. This year the weather was ideal for running. I tried to improve my time from the Warsaw half marathon in March but failed to do that for 3 seconds! The official time was 1:54:30.

Close to km 10.

One statistical aspect is that the average time for finishing this half-marathon was 1:58, while in Warsaw was 1:54, and in Krakow, 1:52. Although I failed to improve my time, I was happy to see many people I knew. It is good to say hi! and exchange a few words.

With colleagues from “Trupa lui Fane” after the race

Let’s get back to the story about Turing. The run-around-the-house chess had no success. Nobody was willing to play it (for some reason, runners are not interested in chess, and chess players do not run). Turing did not give up. He came up with the idea to create a program to play chess and defeat his colleagues. At the time, the computer was at its beginnings. Turing created the first chess program called Turochamp in 1948. His idea was that if I couldn’t beat you, I would make a program that would do that. This second plan was much better. It led to a challenge between man and machine. These days a chess program on any smartphone can defeat the best human chess player.