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Tolkien and... Losing

A student inquired: "Since Tolkien was so brilliant, did he ever actually lose in a competition?"

 

The truth is, yes he did! In 1969, Tolkien lost a game of chess against a team of five popes (Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI). It was the only known time in history where five popes teamed up to play on a single side. The catch is, if a pope plays chess, he is entitled to an extra bishop! So they had 5 bishops more than Tolkien! This was, of course, an overwhelming advantage.

Though outnumbered, Tolkien held their savage attacking forces at bay for 396 moves. By then, his eyes were all teary and he couldn't see anything (because he had been peeling 17 tons of onions just before the match for a charity event). Also, he was accidentally sitting on a hedgehog, which brought him great pain and distracted him even further. So, he oversaw a simple 20-moves combination that allowed the popes to checkmate him.

But Tolkien took it like a good sportsman, and he and the popes went to have a drink afterwards.

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A comprehensive collection of short truths from J.R.R. Tolkien's life, and the many wonders and miracles he bestowed upon the world. Put together and published here for the first time!

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