The Second Defeat
The King of Magadha was a Master of Chess. No one could match him at that game. Several champions of chess had played against him and lost.
Over time, the king was convinced that nobody could defeat him in chess.
To stop the endless stream of players who were anxious to play him, the king declared that those who challenged him to a game of chess and got defeated would be beheaded.
This declaration ended the stream of players who came from very distant parts of the country to have the credit of being defeated by the great Master of Chess. If, now and then, a player or two came with the hope of trying their skill with him, the king reminded them of his declaration and persuaded them to go away.
Soon the king was left alone. If anyone wanted to have the pleasure of playing a game of chess with the king, he had to pay for it with his head, and no one wanted to risk his head. It looked as though the king would never touch chessmen again.
At that time, a great mathematician lived on the banks of the Kaveri. He was very fond of the game of chess. He would watch the game for some time and suddenly declare that the game could be concluded in so many moves. If given a chance, he did it too.
This Brahman came to know about the king of Magadha. What he heard made him angry. Why should the king be so vain about his victories? The joy of the game was in the play, not in winning. If two men played chess, one was bound to be defeated. That did not mean defeat was a crime to be punished with death. What sort of a player was the king?
The Brahman thought that the king of Magadha deserved to be taught a lesson. So he started on foot and reached Magadha over time. He saw the king and talked with him.
“O King,” he said, “I have come from the banks of the Kaveri. I learnt that you are a Master of Chess and came to witness you play.”
“I can understand that!” the king replied. “I am also anxious to play. But where is the man to play me? I have proclaimed that he who plays chess with me and loses the game will lose his head. So no one will play me.”
“In that case,” said the Brahman, “I’ll be glad to play you myself.”
“My friend,” the king said, ‘you’ll lose your head. Are you prepared for it?”
“Before I answer that question,” replied the Brahman, “I want to know something.”
“What is it you want to know?” the king asked,
“I shall lose my head if defeated,” the Brahman replied. “But what will I gain if, perchance, I defeat you?”
“To one who defeats me at chess, I can give anything,” the king boastfully. “What would you like to have?”
“Only paddy grains,” replied the Brahman. “If I win, give me grains for all the 64 squares of the chess board, doubling the number of grains from one square to another.”
“How simple-minded you are!” exclaimed the king. “Is that all you ask of me in case you defeat me? You have no hope of victory.”
“But I have!” said the Brahman. “I am hoping to defeat you twice with one game!”
“What do you mean by it?” the king asked, surprised.
“You’ll know that after the game,” the Brahman replied.
The match was arranged on. “the following day. A good number of people came to see the game. Everyone was sure that the Brahman would die.
The king played the match with a firm resolve to win, yet the Brahman defeated him in the end.
“Well, you win,” said the king sourly. “You are a good player. But haven’t you said something about defeating me twice? Surely I’m defeated only once!”
“Give me what you have promised,” said the Brahman. “We can talk about your second defeat later.”
The king once ordered a few paddy bags to be brought. “I think,” said the Brahman, “it will be better if you calculate what is coming to me.”
The court accountants were summoned. They listened to all the conditions of the gift and, turning to the Brahman, inquired, “How many grains do you want for the first square of the chess- board ?”
“Oh, one will do,” replied the Brahman modestly.
The king laughed at the simplicity of the Brahman, but when the calculations were finished and the total figure was presented to him, the king was astounded. The king owed the Brahman 18, 446. 744, 073, 709, 551, 615 grains!
“Tell me what it will amount to,” said the mystified king to his accountants.
Measures were brought, and the number of grains per measure was counted. Calculations went on, and finally, the accountants informed the king: “Sire, you owe this Brahman the entire paddy yield of our kingdom for two lakhs of years!”
The king was speechless with surprise and shame.
“Good gracious!” he said at last. “Is this my second defeat?”
“I think so, Your Highness,” said the Brahman coolly. “If I was defeated, I could have given my head easily enough. But having been defeated, you cannot give me what you promised.”
“It is all right now since you’ve won,” the king said. “But you were taking a terrible risk, weren’t you?”
“I don’t think so,” replied the Brahman. “When you promised to give me what I asked for, I knew you were not clever at figures. Before I agreed to the death penalty, I ensured you would not win.”
The king was surprised at the cunning of the Brahman. He loaded him with all sorts of gifts and sent him away.