Dear Dr. Boli: I do not understand chess, there is no point except to catch the enemy’s king. Why do it that way instead of just killing him when you have the chance? —Sincerely, A 9-year-old reader with older brothers who play chess.

P.S. How did chess get started anyway?

Dear Sir or Miss: As Dr. Boli has explained elsewhere, the game of chess began as an elaborate prank at the expense of a neophyte checkers player. Since that humble beginning, however, chess has grown into a favorite game of statesmen and armchair strategists around the world.

The main attraction of chess as a game is that it enables the players to practice the art of war without the time and expense involved in the latter game. War is a game very similar to golf, in that the cost of the equipment spirals upward continuously, the cost for any given player dictated largely by his perception of the effectiveness of his opponents’ equipment.

The rules of chess are very similar to the rules of war. In chess, as in war, it is regarded as very bad form, and in fact a violation of the rules, simply to assassinate the leader of the opposing side. Instead, it is necessary to destroy a great many seemingly irrelevant subordinates before finally capturing the opposing leader. The rules are simplified in chess, where every piece belonging to one’s opponent is regarded as a legitimate target. In the game of war, targets are required to be “military.” It is considered a violation of the rules simply to kill greengrocers and accountants at random. The greengrocers and accountants must first be forcibly abducted and dressed in military uniforms—a process known as “conscription.” Then they become legitimate targets, and may be killed in whatever ways the players deem most entertaining. Players who ignore this rule are described as “terrorists,” which is game jargon for “cheaters.”

Dr. Boli is aware that he has rambled on for quite some time without addressing your real question, which is why such games as chess and war exist at all. The moment has come when Dr. Boli must admit that he has no idea.