Hangin Rooney

Did you ever wonder

How to get an elephant out of a swamp?

Ever wondered how in the world Tal managed to pull an elephant out of a swamp while playing chess? I mean, seriously, who does that?

And have you ever thought about why the legendary Mikhail Tal used some out-of-the-box thinking to solve chess problems? Victor Kortchnoi suggests reading mystery novels for inspiration. Yeah, you heard that right, mystery novels!

Let me break it down for you. Remember Tal's book? If you read it, you'll recall this crazy game where he had to tackle a mind-boggling situation on the board. The position was like a labyrinth of chess moves, begging for a tactical solution.

But guess what Tal did? Instead of diving headfirst into the chess maze, he decided to channel his inner swamp explorer and figure out how to rescue an elephant from the muck. Yep, you heard that right, an elephant!

And, believe it or not, solving the elephant problem actually helped him find the solution to the chess position he was facing. I mean, at the time, it seemed pretty ridiculous to me.

The only problem was, Tal never bothered to share how he actually rescued the poor elephant from the swamp. Can you believe it? I was left hanging there, clueless about elephant-extraction techniques!

So, fast forward to one of my tournament games. I'm up against the number one player, and lo and behold, I find myself in a mind-boggling position. That's when I start thinking, "What would Tal do in this situation?"

When I'm faced with a complicated chess position, I often ponder how the great players of the past and present would handle it. And let me tell you, this particular position was as complicated as extracting an elephant from a swamp!

But here's the catch: I couldn't ask for help during the game. Chess rules, you know? But hey, extracting an elephant from a swamp isn't exactly a chess-related problem, right? So, I had a brilliant idea. I approached the tournament director (TD) and asked if I could make some calls to an engineering company about removing a large object from a swamp.

The TD looked at me like I had sprouted two heads when I mentioned my swampy elephant dilemma. But he gave me the green light, saying it didn't break any chess rules since it wasn't about the game itself. He did remind me, though, that my clock was ticking and I had to make 40 moves in the next two hours, or I'd lose on time.

"Okay," I said, slightly relieved.

I rushed out to the lobby, grabbed my phone, and dialed information to find a local engineering company experienced in moving big stuff. They connected me to TDI Engineering, and there I was, speaking with their top engineer. I explained that I needed to lift a massive object out of a swamp. When he asked what kind of object, I casually replied, "An elephant." Can you imagine his reaction?

He assured me they could handle it, but they would need a special harness. That's when he dropped the bombshell—I had to contact a veterinarian to get instructions on the right harness to use, ensuring it wouldn't harm the elephant. I thanked him and hung up, my mind swirling with thoughts of veterinarians and elephant harnesses.

So, I made another call, this time to the local vet. I explained my predicament, emphasizing that I needed a harness to lift a large animal out of a swamp. When the vet asked what kind of animal, I casually replied, "An elephant."

But alas, the vet only had a harness for horses. Imagine that! So, he directed me to contact the zoo, hoping they had the appropriate gear. Meanwhile, precious minutes were ticking away, and my chess clock seemed to mock me.

I finally got in touch with the zoo, and although they had a suitable harness, they had no clue how to put it on an elephant stuck in a swamp. However, they did mention a guy in Africa who had the knowledge I needed.

They gave me a number to call in Kenya, Africa. I dialed the number and a woman answered, explaining that Kali, the person I needed to speak to, was on his way to work and would be available in about half an hour. She kindly took my number, assuring me that either she or Kali would call me back soon.

Twenty more minutes passed, and I still had twenty minutes left on my chess clock. Nervously, I paced back and forth, eagerly awaiting Kali's call. Finally, my cell phone rang, and I answered with bated breath. It was Kali himself! He inquired about the elephant stuck in the swamp, and that's when it hit me—I had to clarify that it wasn't a real elephant. In a frenzy, I came up with the name "Ed," inspired by the famous Mr. Ed from the '60s TV show.

Kali then proceeded to give me instructions. He advised me to gather some 6x2 wooden planks with tongue and groove and drive them into the ground, forming a box around Ed. After letting the sun dry up the moisture, I had to carefully dig around the elephant and remove the surrounding dirt. And here's the tricky part—I had to coax Ed into the harness by calling his name and using bananas as a reward. Once all four legs were securely in the harness, I had to strap it over his back. Finally, I would connect the crane to the harness and gently lift Ed out of the swamp, being careful not to frighten him.

It was an "Aha!" moment for me. I profusely thanked Kali and rushed back to my chess game. With only ten minutes remaining on my clock, I reentered the playing hall and caught the attention of the TD. He was glad to see me back, but quickly reminded me that time was still running out.

Curiosity getting the better of him, the TD couldn't help but ask why I had left in the first place. Unable to contain myself any longer, I blurted out, "Have you ever read Tal's book? The one about his life and games?" The TD nodded with a smile, indicating he was familiar with it. And then I spilled the beans, "Well, I just had to know how Tal managed to extract that elephant from the swamp!" The TD burst into laughter, shaking his head. "Rooney, it wasn't an elephant! Tal wanted to get a hippo out of a marsh! Tal never did get that hippo out of that marsh!!" I was dumbfounded, realizing I had wasted a whole hour fixated on the wrong animal. The TD pointed me back to my game, and I slumped dejectedly into my seat.

But something remarkable happened. As I gazed at the intricate chess position before me, it all clicked. The planks, the interference motifs, the removal of defenders(mud), the attraction motif (bananas).I saw the moves unfold in my mind's eye. With renewed focus and determination, I made my moves swiftly, employing the strategies I had inadvertently learned from my swampy misadventure.

And you know what? I successfully pulled off the required moves, avoiding a time loss and emerging victorious. It turns out that elephants, or rather, hippos, and chess can intersect in the most hilarious and enlightening ways!