Writing in 'The Guardian', Stephen Moss argues that hess was one of Samuel Beckett's great obsessions, touching everything from Murphy to Endgame. Perhaps this game of fierce purity and life-or-death stakes is the key to all his work. Stephen concludes thus:
" ... The influence of chess is especially apparent in Beckett's earlier work, particularly in Murphy, his first published novel. He had originally wanted the cover of Murphy to be a drawing of two chess-playing chimps, which he had seen in a newspaper, but the publisher vetoed the idea (one of the rare occasions when Beckett did not get his way). At the end of the book, Murphy – a drifter based to a large extent on Beckett himself – plays a fatal game against Mr Endon, who despite (or probably because of) being mad, has an aesthetically attractive style, full of repetitions and reversals, which Murphy realises he will never be able to match, forcing him into the ultimate form of resignation – suicide.
Beckett annotates the game, the moves of which are ridiculous in chess terms, in a flowery, rhetorical style typical of 19th-century chess books. "A coup de repos long overdue," he says of one passive move by white; "the flag of distress," he exclaims of another; "the ingenuity of despair," he writes after an abortive attempt at a queen sacrifice. For Mr Endon, who always played black, the narrator has only praise: "exquisitely played," he says of move 22; "black now has an irresistible game" is the comment after move 27.
After move 43, in which the black king returns to the back rank (though on the queen's original square), leaving Mr Endon's pieces virtually where they began while Murphy's army is raggedly dispersed across the board, the latter submits. "Further solicitation would be frivolous and vexatious," says the narrator, "and Murphy, with fool's mate in his soul, retires."
As I re-read Murphy, I find myself wondering whether the hero's name could be an allusion to the great 19th-century chess player Paul Morphy, a dazzling, New Orleans-born player who by the 1850s had established himself as one of the greatest the game had ever known, only to retire abruptly in his early 20s and withdraw from the world. Morphy, who would have been a worthy opponent for Mr Endon, drowned in the bath, and for a long time was thought to have committed suicide. Beckett would have appreciated both Morphy's genius and his willingness to negate it; he may have loved games, but he was all too aware of the delusion that they meant something."