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At the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Ron sacrifices himself in a game of wizard chess so that Harry would be free to checkmate the king.
However, I don't understand why Ron was even sitting on the back of the knight in the first place. Harry and Hermione had to play because there were two pieces missing from the board, but Ron did not need to take the place of the knight, as there was already a knight on the board. He could have controlled the game from the sidelines and not been injured.
Is there something I have missed as to why he was even on the board in the first place?

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  • Related, not dupe; scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/9619/…
    – Valorum
    Nov 8, 2015 at 16:38
  • I'd have to watch the movie again to be sure, but I don't think it gives us any reason to think that the chess pieces would have allowed Ron to direct from the sidelines, or to cross the board without begin part of the game. Nov 8, 2015 at 20:17
  • The real question is why Ron didn't instruct one of them to take the place of the king, reducing the change they would have to be "sacrificed." Jan 4, 2016 at 20:51

3 Answers 3

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In the novel it's a little clearer. The knight tells him that he has to take the place of a piece in order to cross the board. Once he makes his selections, three pieces clear the board at his command:

‘I think,’ said Ron, ‘we’re going to have to be chessmen.’
He walked up to a black knight and put his hand out to touch the knight’s horse. At once, the stone sprang to life. The horse pawed the ground and the knight turned his helmeted head to look down at Ron.
‘Do we – er – have to join you to get across?’
The black knight nodded. Ron turned to the other two.

...

The chessmen seemed to have been listening, because at these words a knight, a bishop and a castle turned their backs on the white pieces and walked off the board leaving three empty squares which Harry, Ron and Hermione took.


In the film, only two pieces are missing, one assumes because it creates more dramatic effect for Ron to steer the battle on horseback like a young Napoleon:

enter image description here

As to why he sacrificed himself, it should be fairly obvious that Ron recognises the danger inherent in Voldemort getting back to full health. When he spots a "win condition" he takes it:

The film version makes his thought process rather clearer than the novel:

Harry: He's going to sacrifice himself!

Hermione: No you can’t! There must be another way!

Ron: Do you wanna stop Snape from getting that Stone or not? Harry, it’s you that has to go on. I know it! Not me! Not Hermione! You! Knight to H-3. (He moves) Check. (The Queen makes her move and smashes the horse he’s on to bits. Ron flies off and lands in a heap on the floor.) Ah!

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    As a side note, the film had a worked-out chess game where a knight sacrifice was the winning move. The book, in contrast, the book simply had a disconnected set of moves selected for dramatic purposes.
    – Mark
    Nov 8, 2015 at 19:17
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    @Mark Also, while a full CGI chess scene can make for good movie material, two pages' worth of chess move notations would have made for a very boring scene in the book except for chess fanatics. Nov 9, 2015 at 9:22
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    I always thought that Ron on the horse was a visual foreshadowing of the sacrifice he was to about to make. Basing this on the "Hoof-position symbolism myth" you can find briefly summarized on Wikipedia's Equestrian Statue page.
    – YLearn
    Nov 10, 2015 at 6:08
  • @Shadur What about pretty pictures?
    – BCLC
    Nov 10, 2015 at 11:37
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    @Shadur You'd be surprised.
    – Sneftel
    Aug 17, 2017 at 16:41
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I assume you're talking about the movie, because this is slightly different to what happens in the book. Here are the relevant quotes (all taken from Chapter Sixteen - Through the Trapdoor).

‘I think,’ said Ron, ‘we’re going to have to be chessmen.’

He walked up to a black knight and put his hand out to touch the knight’s horse. At once, the stone sprang to life. The horse pawed the ground and the knight turned his helmeted head to look down at Ron.

‘Do we – er – have to join you to get across?’

The black knight nodded. Ron turned to the other two.

'This wants thinking about ...' he said. 'I suppose we've got to take the place of three of the black pieces ...'

...

The chessmen seemed to have been listening, because at these words a knight, a bishop and a castle turned their backs on the white pieces and walked off the board leaving three empty squares which Harry, Ron and Hermione took.

Ron was on the board because, just like Harry and Hermione, he had to take the place of one of the chessmen. There were no empty spaces on the board, they had to switch out for an existing chess piece. While they didn't try it, it's assumed that they wouldn't be allowed to take part in the game if they weren't on the board.

As for why Ron sacrificed himself, easiest to just let him explain:

'Yes ...' said Ron softly, 'it's the only way ... I've got to be taken.'

He didn't have a choice, it was the only way to win the game.

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    As jeremysilman.com/shop/pc/… explains, there was actually a way to win one move faster in the movie's position, but that would involve the sacrifice of Harry rather than Ron. Which would clearly be unacceptable. Nov 9, 2015 at 10:17
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In the book it's different. But in the film the other chess pieces of knights have riders on the back; on Ron's one it didn't, so he had to sit on the horse to be the knight's complete piece.

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