As was reported in the Oct. 3 edition of "Music News Of The World,"
Phish has challenged their audience to a traveling game of chess, which
has been going on since their September 30th concert at the Shoreline
Amphitheater in Mountainview, CA. What started out as kind of a goofy
idea, however, has taken on a life of it's own. Through the magic of
the Internet, the match has been followed and debated globally, with
novices and chess masters alike weighing with their opinions.
Chess has always been a passion and a pastime for Phish and their
crew. "Everybody in the band plays, but the fiercest rivalries have
been between myself and Fish (drummer Jonathan Fishman)," said Page
McConnell, a chess player since age 7.
The idea of a band vs. audience chess game had been kicking around
among the group for a couple of years, but was finally given life on
this latest tour. Set designer Chris McGregor of First Call
Productions (who has worked in the past with Phish, the Grateful Dead,
the HORDE tour, and the Residents) was mulling over set designs for the
band when he was instructed to build a large, mobile chess board.
"The board we designed is 8' x 8', with individual squares measuring
one foot square. It's a fairly simple construction, two aluminum
pieces hinged in the middle, with both the board and the chess pieces
covered in Velcro." The whole contraption folds in two with the pieces
intact, ready for the next move at the next gig.
With the use of a 10' ladder, the combatants in the match can execute
their moves, generally to the accompaniment of an instrumental number
by the band. (Recent "chess music" has included "White Rabbit" and
"Night Moves"). The first night saw three moves each by both parties.
Since then, it's been one move aside per concert. "We move at the
beginning of the night and they have the 1st set to analyze it and take
a vote, and send a representative to make the move at the beginning of
the second set," said McConnell.
Between sets, the chess fans gather at the Greenpeace table in the
lobby of the venue where a chess board has been set up for analysis.
The discussions there have been loud and lively. During the set break
at Shoreline Amphitheater, one of the participants in the discussion
was National Chess Master (U.S.C.F.) Eric Schiller, who was attending
his first Phish concert. "Many moves were suggested by the public,"
said Schiller. (For the record: 3...a6, 3...Nf6, 3...Bc5, 3...f5,
3...f6, 3...Qf6, 3...Nge7 and, with some fervor, 3...d5.) "I
explained why I felt that the choice should be between 3...a6 (which
has been seen in half the games of the Intel-sponsored PCA World
Championship in New York), and 3...Nf6. Eventually 3...a6 (3...P-QR3)
was selected by vote," said Schiller.
Schiller was selected by the fans to go to the stage that night to meet
the band and make the final audience move of the show. "They (Phish)
are really into chess, and I was very happy to discover this, because
chess does suffer from such a geeky image that to find brilliant and
imaginative alternative music performers with a love for the game is
really rewarding," said Schiller. "Of course they weren't too
confident, being a bit surprised to face professional opposition, but I
encouraged them by explaining that so far the position was the one that
reigning World Champion Garry Kasparov has been using as White against
challenger Viswanathan Anand."
Not only is Schiller a National Master in the world of chess, he is
also a noted on-line chess personality, and has been moderating the
coverage of the recently completed World Chess Championship on the
Internet Chess Server. In the course of working on the Chess
Championship, he alerted the worldwide chess community about this
traveling match. "Some of our best players are hoping that I can get
them in to make the move when the tour heads East," said Schiller.
"Specifically, I spoke with Josh (Searching for Bobby Fischer)
Waitzkin, and he may check out the next New York show. Grandmaster
Alex Shabalov was very excited and is interested in anything in the
Pittsburgh or Cleveland area, even wondering if he could be invited to
make a move at a Cleveland show, because he figures that the current
U.S. Open Champion (GM Alex "the Yerminator" Yermolinsky) might want
To keep both chessheads and Phishheads abreast of the progress of the
match, Schiller has created a web site which shows the moves played
thus far (using graphical images of a chess board), and discusses the
various strategies which are being employed. The url for this site
Phish heads have been engaging in serious discussions on the Phish
newsgroup regarding both the progress of the game and what prize which
should be awarded to the winner. Most phans seem to expect the band to
play some older, rarely performed material as a reward for an audience
victory. "They can hang up that line of reasoning, cause they're going
down," commented McConnell. "We're feeling strong. If we actually
end up winning this game, don't think we won't make a spectacle. Let's
just leave it at that." The battle lines have been drawn.