1078: Knights

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1. Nf3 ... ↘↘↘ 2. Nc3 ... ↘↘↘ 0-1
Title text: 1. Nf3 ... ↘↘↘ 2. Nc3 ... ↘↘↘ 0-1


This comic is comparing the opening moves of the game of chess to the opening moves of the Battle of Agincourt, which was fought between the English and the French in the Hundred Years War. In the battle, just like in the comic, the English used their longbowmen effectively, neutralizing the French knights and infantry. The two pieces that are moved out of the white side of the board are both the pieces known as the Knights. White moves first in chess, and in the actual battle, the French knights on horseback attacked first; the English being the black pieces may also be a reference to Edward the Black Prince, who was a prominent figure in an earlier stage of the Hundred Years War. As you can see, all the pawns (foot soldiers) on the right side of the chess board have bows.

The word "gambit" means "an opening in chess, in which a minor piece or a pawn is sacrificed to gain an advantage". The usual gambit of sacrificing a pawn is subverted to be a sacrifice of a high-value piece, as an analogy of what happened at Agincourt.

The title text uses algebraic chess notation. Nf3 means a knight has moved to square f3. Nc3 means a knight has moved to square c3. N means knight because the king piece has the K abbreviation covered. What comes after the typical chess move is what can only be read as a hail of arrows. 0-1 at the end means that "Black Wins". This implies that White resigned, as he is not in checkmate (for non-timed chess games, the only ways to win are by checkmating your opponent or by having them resign). It seems to be an error that ellipses are included before Black's moves, as algebraic notation uses ellipses only to indicate that White's move has been omitted.


[A chessboard, The black pawns have all gained longbows and have specifically taken down the white knights as they move forward, without any black pieces needing to move from their opening positions. Caption below the panel:]
The Agincourt Gambit


  • In the title text, Nf3 was accidentally written as Ne3. At the beginning of a chess game, neither white knight can move to e3. The proper move (and the move actually made, in the picture) is Nf3. This was later corrected.
  • There is an actual chess opening known as the Agincourt Defense: 1. c4 e6. However, in the case of the Agincourt Defense, White represents the English and Black the French, which is the opposite of the situation depicted in the comic. This is because the move 1. c4 by White is the English Opening, and the move 1... e6 by Black is the same as what Black plays in the French Defense, which is 1. e4 e6.

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At the beginning of a chess game, neither knight can move to e3. The proper move (and the move actually made, in the picture) is Nf3. The Nc3 move is correct. 23:44, 29 August 2012 (UTC)

Indeed, thanks for pointing that out; the move was corrected on xkcd.com, so I did the same here. - Cos (talk) 13:53, 30 August 2012 (UTC)

Why didn't black move? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

He did. The lines represent black pawns raining down a hail of arrows to kill the knights. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I seem to remember that the bows and arrows at Agincourt (and thereby taking down the horses) was something of a surprise -- as it would be in chess, as well (otherwise, they wouldn't have made their horses so vulnerable). I'm too lazy to look this up myself, so if anyone already knows a bunch about that, that'd be something to add. --Ricketybridge (talk) 23:05, 20 January 2014 (UTC)

It was a surprise because on other terrain it wouldn't have worked (the ground was muddy, impeding cavalry, and the approach was narrow, making it a shooting gallery; under more favorable conditions for cavalry, the knights would have closed and slaughtered bowmen before the bowmen managed to take down more than a handful of them). Plus the French were stupid; obviously, they must have noticed that the terrain was not ideal, but apparently they vastly underestimated how much difference it would make. Protagoras (talk) 04:08, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

Someone wins and someone loses every game. We don't know what really happened. Wikipedia tells us the ground was muddy without explaining why or why it was an hindrance to the white team. Why (for example) would the ground have been ploughed in October (the season of mellow fruitfulness)?

Presumably there is no limit to how many troops the locals can muster; just a limit to how many they could train and deploy correctly. But Henry was the challenger, fighting was on his side, a winter war with the logistics problem was not.

The story is the stuff of comics.

There was no such thing a French in those days. All loyalties were a political net that would change like the wind. Popular misconception is the the English would not have to so much to win. In fact they would have had to do nearly everything and at the double. (Example gratis:) Moving the stake barrages closer to the French arrows. How would they have done that? Who knows? They were low Welsh and English hoi palloi of little account. I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 17:58, 21 January 2015 (UTC)

To answer your question: It rained the night before the battle, and the ground was soft and muddy. The French, expecting an easy victory (they outnumbered the English 6 to 1, some knights were even drinking and feasting the night before the battle), neglected to send scouts to survey the battleground, and they found out how bad the terrain was only on the morning of the battle. They decided to use their (poorly drawn) plan, which was too attack with heavy cavalry (which attacked without its full strength—of 1200 knights on horse, only around 420 attacked). Each of henry's archers had cut a wooden stake and set it in the ground in front of him, to defend against cavalry. Henry's archers pulled up their stakes and moved forward to a narrow gap between the woods, forcing the French to make a frontal charge and be hampered by their numbers. The ground sloped downwards toward the English line and the field gradually tapered off to a funnel shape as they got closer to the stakes. The French knights charged, got bogged down in the mud and were massacred by the English archers and men at arms. Herobrine (talk) 06:53, 25 February 2015 (UTC)