Monday, January 30, 2017

Playing cards versus playing chess.

There's a subject that I've written on before that came back to me tonight: the difference between playing cards and playing chess.

My personal view is that Sherlock Holmes was a card player . . . which we know he was, given his aborted attempt to get a game going in "The Red-Headed League." But not only that he was a card player, that it was, at his core, more the player of cards than ever the player of chess.

Moriarty might have been a chess player. Mycroft might have been a chess player. Powerful men with grand plans, moving pieces around the board that was England, or perhaps the world. But Sherlock?

Sherlock was the one who could see "the fall of the cards," as he said in "Bruce-Partington Plans." He never knew just what hand the villains of England were going to deal for him next . . . he just looked at the cards he was given and worked out how best to play them.

"You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table," he told Watson when they faced Charles Augustus Milverton. And he was right. That case was a very bad hand, and Holmes made more than one play that was out of his normal methods -- a seemingly heartless bit of fraud, a burglary, covering up a homicide.

Those in power get to play chess . . . whether they are good players or ill . . . but the lowly consulting detective is only left with every bit of skill he possesses and the hope that luck will bring the right cards his way.

Something about that is ringing very on-point with me right now, as we see a greater game being played out in the news, with the stakes as high as we've seen in some time. Time for the card players, like our friend Sherlock Holmes, to ply their skills.

And I think of Josiah Amberly, a pathetic, futile broken old man, as Watson described him, who was a chess player. A chess player who planned out his schemes of punishment for those he felt wronged by to the last detail. And Amberly was successful to a point . . . the point Sherlock Holmes picked up the cards Amberly had laid out for him.

Perhaps I have a certain fondness for card-players, and their ability to deal with what might be a perfectly awful situation in the moment and still bring about a happy conclusion. I also have a definite fondness for Sherlock Holmes.

And I don't think those two are unconnected. Here's to the card-players.

1 comment:

  1. Texas Hold'em of course, and he mastered it on that trip to Dallas to solve the JFK assassination. As you can see, for some unexplained reason, your blog gave me flashbacks to that horrible pastiche "Sherlock Holmes in Dallas" by Edmund Aubrey.