Making all the right moves

Making all the right moves

As ways of making drinking a cerebral pastime, whisky chess takes some beating. Alex Kraaijeveld explains how it works

News | 25 Nov 2004 | Issue 44 | By Alex Kraaijeveld

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Have you ever heard of shot glass chess? It’s a game of chess played in which glasses of different shapes and sizes serve as pieces.The glasses are filled with either a clear (for ‘white’) or a coloured spirit (for ‘black’) and whenever a piece is captured, its contents have to be drunk by the side making the capture.I’m about to embark on a game of shot glass chess which is quite a bit more sophisticated than the bar version. The game I want to play has two challenges and a twist.Challenge number one is clearly to win the game. Challenge number two comes from my girlfriend, in my absence, having filled the ‘black’ pieces with malts from my whisky shelves, a different malt in each kind of piece.So on top of having to play and win the game, I am also faced with a blind tasting of six different malts, taken from among those open bottles on my whisky shelves. And the twist? I’m playing the game against Kasparov.No, not that Georgian bloke, I’m playing against a Kasparov ‘Simultano’ chess computer. As there’s not much point in pouring vodka on the computer’s chips, the ‘white’ pieces are filled with water and the potential effect of alcohol on the computer’s playing ability is simulated by lowering its playing level each time it makes a capture. And I’m allowed to use the water from the captured ‘white’ pieces to cleanse my palate between tasting.Of course, I’m going to take this nice and slow because the point is clearly not to get drunk. I want to win and I also want to give myself the opportunity to get as many malts right as I can.Off we go on what must be a historic event in the worlds of whisky and chess, the first ever game of shot glass chess against a computer! For those interested, I will give the entire move sequence of this historic game.1. e4 c5, 2.c3 Nf6, 3. e5
Nd5, 4. d4 xd4, 5. Qxd4My first capture of the game. And the first chance to taste the pawn-malt. It’s light and quite subtle, I get grassy notes and the finish is slightly drying. I’m bound to capture another pawn, so I’ll hold my judgment for now and continue the game.5. e6, 6. Nf3 Nc6, 7. Qe4 d6,
8. Nd2 xe5, 9. Nxe5My second pawn. Again, clear grassy notes and a subtle complexity. I’m thinking Lowland and I’m thinking Rosebank. It won’t be the last pawn, so I won’t claim it yet.9. Nf6, 10. Qa4, Bd7,
11. Nxd7First and possibly only chance to taste the bishop-malt. Sherry! Loads of nutty dry sherry, with some citrus notes breaking through. This has got to be Macallan and a very special one at that: the Buxrud- Macallan (which is the only Macallan on my shelves at the moment, so that wasn’t
too hard).11. Qxd7, 12. Bb5, Rc8, 13.
Ne4, Nxe4, 14. Qxe4The knight-malt. I get some honey, some vanilla, some earthy notes. This is really a hard one to call... Scapa maybe? But the earthy notes don’t really fit... Still, malts can taste quite different depending on what you tasted before, which was a sherry monster. I have to call it now as I may very well not capture another knight. So Scapa it is, unless I get a chance to change my mind.14. a6, 15. Be2 Be7, 16. Bf4
0-0, 17. Rd1 Qe8, 18. Bd3 g6,
19. Bh6 f5, 20. Qxe6+Pawn number three. Definitely Rosebank.20. Rf7, 21. Bc4 Ne5, 22.
Bd5 Bc5, 23. 0-0 Qxe6,
24. Bxe6Queen exchange! Very curious what malt Irma considered to be fit for a queen. Massive orange attack! I often get orange marmalade from Dalmore, but never anything remotely close to this scale. The nose is just pure orange... on the palate the orange retreats somewhat, and some whisky shines through, but this is quite baffling... Oh, of course! Irma is showing her wicked side; this is not a malt, it’s technically not even a whisky. It has got to be Orangerie, John Glaser’s delicious whisky infusion. Just goes to show: be careful with women, whether queen or girlfriend! Back to the game...24. Re8, 25. Bd5 Re7, 26.
Bg5 Re8, 27. Bf4 Kg7, 28.
Bxe5+A chance to change my mind on the knight-malt. I’m not getting anything else than first time round and the honey and vanilla do remind me of Scapa. So that remains my call.28. Rxe5, 29. Bxf7Capture of the first rook. I wouldn’t be surprised if Irma poured an Islay malt in the rooks, but then again she could have kept Islay for the king. Nope, Islay it is, a real peat blast! Wonderfully warming, but without any sweetness. That would rule out Ardbeg for me. And would leave Lagavulin (it isn’t Laphroaig, wrong kind of peat). Gotta be a cask strength judging from the flavour intensity (not to mention the alcohol intensity)… wonder how that will affect my playing… nice and slow is the motto and the computer sure won’t complain if I take it easy.29. Kxf7, 30. Rd7+ Re7, 31.
Rd1 Kf6, 32. Kf1 h6, 33. f3
b6, 34. b4 Rxd7, 35. Rxd7Second rook. I won’t change my mind,Lagavulin it is.35. Be7, 36. Ra7 Ke6, 37.
a4 Kd6, 38. a5 xa5, 39.
Rxa6+ Kd5, 40. xa5Two more pawns in quick succession. After a cask strength Islay, it’s hard to taste anything of the Rosebank! With two pawns ahead and a rook against a bishop, I’ve basically wrapped up the game, but as I have to taste the king-malt as well, I need to carry on to checkmate.40. Bd6, 41. Ke2, Kc5, 42.
g3 h5, 43. f4 Kd5, 44. Ra7
Kc4, 45. a6 Kxc3, 46. Rd7
Ba3, 47. a7 g5, 48. a8Q
Bc1, 49. Qc8+ Kb2, 50.
Rb7+ Ka2, 51. Qa8+ Ba3,
52. Qa4 g4, 53. Qb3+ Ka1,
54. Qxa3±Another bishop, another Macallan, and checkmate in 54 moves and almost four hours of play/tasting. So, the final malt to taste, the king-malt. First impression is sherry. My taste buds are not in optimal shape, so I’m sure I don’t pick up any subtleties. It can’t be another Macallan
(Irma wouldn’t be that mean), so that brings me to Glendronach. I’m not at all comfortable with that one, but I have to put down a claim, so Glendronach it has to be for now.Game won, first challenge achieved. How did I do on the second one?The pawn-malt was indeed Rosebank, the 12 year old Flora & Fauna bottling.Closing Rosebank distillery ranks among the biggest injustices in the world of whisky. Who has the guts (and the money) to bring the greatest Lowland distillery of modern times back to life again?The knight-malt was not Scapa, far from it. It was Ben Nevis 10 year old. I’m amazed how wrong I was on that one, but there you go. Macallan was the bishop-malt and it did bring back good memories of that unique Macallan tasting organised by Ulf in London a few years ago…The malt in the rooks was Lagavulin; the 12 year old cask strength bottling to be precise. So right again.The queen doesn’t really count. It was Orangerie for sure and a tribute to John’s innovative mind, but for this it was too easy. And I was pretty wrong on the king-malt. No Glendronach, but Highland Park! It was the Blackadder ‘Old Man of Hoy’ bottling. Irma and I actually saw the real Old Man of Hoy on Orkney last summer and I have fond memories of actually having a dram of ‘Old Man of Hoy’ while looking out over the Old Man of Hoy.Maybe the similarity between the shape of the red sandstone pillar and the shape of the king glass inspired her to reserve that one for the king? Or maybe it simply was the male connection? Anyway, I was (again) pretty off the mark on that one.So, not counting the Orangerie queen, I got three out of five. Not bad given the circumstances, I feel! I’m sure it wasn’t the greatest game in the 1500 year or so history of chess and I’m equally sure the computer suffered more from the level reduction than I suffered from the alcohol, but still, it just was a lot of fun to do this blind whisky tasting ‘with a twist’!
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