Locard’s exchange forensic principle: Every contact leaves a trace

Edmond Locard

The great forensic scientist Edmond Locard is known as the French Sherlock Holmes. Locard’s exchange principle is that every contact leaves a trace

A gun fired leaves residues that are revealed in the hair, on skin, and most markedly on the thumb and forefinger of the shooter. Unfortunately for the criminal investigator, and fortunately for the perp, the residues can be transferred.  Not just to another person using the gun, but by the act of shaking hands, or other physical contact.

George Simenon attended Locard’s lectures and drew on them to give authenticity to Inspector Maigret cases. I was remained of Locart’s principle after an unfortunate incident which occurred in a chess game some years ago. As the actual details are now no more than the fuzziest of memories, I might as well make them up, claiming only that they are based on a true story.

My chess story

My opponent, according the league website, is a stronger player that I am.  I have the white pieces and start a game which he turns into a Benoni.  It leads to a complex maneuvering game, after Black sacrifices a pawn.

Note for chess historians: For many years I thought the Benoni defence was named after a tournament held in the South African town of the same name.  In checking for this post I kind the name has been attributed to a seventeenth century German expert who studied chess to help him deal with his moods of depression. In describing a gambit for black, he called it the Benoni, a rather wry comment, aware of the biblical reference to ben Oni or Son of sorrow.

Son of sorrow

Back to the game. After the sorrowful opening, things are going well for me, and I have some pressure in the centre, and nicely-coordinated pieces. The physical conditions we are playing underplaying area are rather cramping, with little elbow or knee room.  I slide my recording sheet half-way under the board to my right to secure it.  Much of the play is to my left (the queen’s side of the board where the pawn had been offered up and snaffled by me.

My two bishops have established as a formidable attacking battery. My opponent threatens one of them. As I move to deal with the threat, the precarious balancing act of the chess clock, chess board, my score sheet, and cramped knees beneath collapse. I touch the pieces, knocking over both bishops and a pawn (collateral damage).

I replace the pieces. But I have already made a big mistake.  My eagle-eyed opponent notices I have touched not the bishop I had intended, but its fellow cleric in the melee. I have also failed to utter the absolution ‘j’adoube’, chess language for sorry, just putting the pieces right’.

Touch a piece move a piece

My opponent is convinced that I had blundered and then contrived the disruption to get away with playing a different move. Anyway, my opponent thinks I’m cheating.  The ‘touch a piece move a piece’ rule is invoked. A discussion is initiated with the two team captains.  It is left up to my opponent to claim his justice according to the law, with me muttering about pounds of flesh, justice and mercy.

He claims his rights.  I have no decent move with the ‘wrong” bishop and resign, expressing disappointment at his ignoring what is touched on briefly as ‘the spirit of chess’ in the league handbook.

That. as I recall, is what happened. But now, with thoughts of Locard in my mind, I replay the incident.

Enter the CIA

In the middle of the dispute, the door to the playing room bursts open.  Members of the elite Chess Investigation Agency, burst in.

“CIA. Nobody move. Don’t touch the position. Just slowly stop the clocks” Scene of Chess Assistants (SOCA) isolate the overburdened table, with me and my glaring opponent inside the tapes they have strung around it.

“We need swabs from all of you. And from the chess pieces. Starting with you two.”

We are swabbed.  Then the other players, uncomplaining and fearful of the reputation of the Serious Chess Offenses department of FIDE.

Several months later, the case goes to the FIDE court.  The forensic evidence is clear. It shows without doubt I had touched both bishops, but the first and wrong bishop first. My defence plea that it was an accident was accepted, and I was charged with the lesser crime of being guilty of accidental injury to a chess game, and sentenced to a season’s community work writing up the reports of our league matches.

It is going be a long season.

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