Excuse me, sir...

Excuse me, sir...

| 54 | Strategy

In my new weekly column "Pros and Cons" I am aiming to show that a well known strategical concept can be both an advantage and a disadvantage for you, depending on the position. Today is the special Holiday edition of the column and for your entertainment I'll show you how this concept can be used by chess hustlers. 

I am not talking about the well known kind of chess hustlers who play blitz games for money and can be found in many public parks in New York, Philadelphia and other large cities. The tricky guys I'll describe today used a more sophisticated approach and it mostly worked in places where the average Joe knew a thing or two about chess. Naturally, the former Soviet Union (remember a cliche "Every Russian schoolboy knows!") was a paradise for such hustlers. Their modus operandi was very simple. When they saw a group of people playing chess (usually in some public place like a park or a beach), they would come to one of them and say innocently: "Excuse me sir, it looks like you are a good chess player, could you help me with this position please?"  Then the hustler would show a position and offer to choose the side.  He was willing to take the opposite side regardless of what side poor  Joe the chess player would take.  So, the position would look like this one:

The hustler says very politely " Excuse me sir, I've been analyzing this position for a long time, but still cannot figure out how to promote my pawn, do you know how to do it?"

Joe the chess player smiles and says "Sorry buddy, it is absolutely impossible since the Bishop is of the wrong color"  Then the conversation usually proceeds like this:

- What do you mean "wrong color"?  White has a huge material advantage, so there has gotta be a way to promote the pawn!

- Sorry pal, it is a well known theoretical position and it is a draw!

-You are kidding me, right? How is it possible that despite having such a huge material advantage White cannot promote the pawn? You are a strong chess player, so you are just making fun of me, shame on you!

So, the bickering continues until the hustler offers a bet and claims that he would be able to promote the pawn with the help of his extra Bishop. At first Joe the chess player refuses to bet and tries to explain that the hustler would lose money for sure since it is a well known theoretical position that has been known for hundreds of years, but the hustler persists. Finally, our Joe the chess player decides to teach the obnoxious guy a lesson and accepts the challenge.  So, the game begins and rather quickly reaches the following position:

And when Joe the chess player is about to say something like : " See, I told you it is impossible", the hustler plays 9. h8=Q+! Of course Joe the chess player takes the Queen with 9...Kxh8 and claims triumphantly: "Draw due to insufficient material!" Hustler calmly answers, "of course it's draw but our bet was that I was going to promote the pawn and I did exactly so, didn't I?"! 

Joe the chess player is embarrassed, angry and visibly shaken, but a bet is a bet, so he reluctantly pays the amount he just lost. Suddenly the hustler turns very sympathetic and says that he feels very sorry that it looks like he just tricked the poor guy, that the position is indeed a draw and just like poor Joe claimed it is impossible to promote the pawn. Now Joe the chess player is really confused, "What are you talking about?  You just showed me that even though the position is a draw, White can still promote his pawn even if his Queen immediately disappears from the board". 

- "I was able to promote only because you didn't defend the best way. Since the Bishop is of the wrong color, Black can definitely avoid the promotion of the White pawn!", answers the hustler.

Long story short they have a second bet, and this time it is Joe the chess player who claims that he will be able to promote the pawn and the hustler says that he, playing Black can definitely prevent it.

And so the second game begins:

Here the only legal Black move is 8...Kg7 when Joe the chess player will be able to promote his pawn, win the bet and get back the money that he lost.  The hustler grabs the King and Joe the chess player cannot wait, the moment of truth is coming... Suddenly, instead of moving the King, the hustler lowers it and proclaims: "I resign!" Joe the chess player at first doesn't really understand what's going on, but he senses that something wrong just happened. The hustler helps him to comprehend the situation: " You won the game, congratulations!  Unfortunately, you've lost the bet since you haven't promoted your pawn!" 

The lesson here is simple: stay away from hustlers or accept their bets only if you are willing to treat the money you are about to lose as a payment for the entertainment.

Happy Holidays!

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