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Football games are often compared to chess matches, but for retired NFL offensive lineman John Urschel the board game was far more important than just a sports metaphor.

“Chess, with its dual emphases on calculation and intuition, appealed to me naturally. I could spend hours thinking about a single position,” Urschel says in his biography, Mind and Matter.

Born in Winnipeg, he played college football at Penn State before being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. He appeared in 40 games before deciding to cut short his NFL career to concentrate on academia.

In his second year with the Ravens, he suffered a concussion. That eventually got him thinking about how football and brain injuries might jeopardize his academic career, and his life.

Urschel, 30, eventually completed his PhD in mathematics, and is currently at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He returned to Winnipeg in 2018 to give a lecture on the “multiplicative weights algorithm.”

He once challenged U.S. champion Fabiano Caruana to a match, and held his own for the first few moves before quickly succumbing. For a while, Urschel had ambitions to become a national chess master, but he now concentrates mainly on his academic pursuits.

Mads Andersen v Simen Agdestein, Helsingor, 2018

Handout

What does Black, a former pro soccer player and chess grandmaster, play to win?

31. … Qf2 and White is mated or loses a Rook.