Excuse me, sir...

  • GM Gserper
  • | Dec 30, 2012

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!


  • 4 years ago

    NM BMcC333

    There is another favorite hustler trick to come out of the old soviet union that everyone should be aware of. Winding only your opponent's clock. This is especially effective with those huge white russian plastic clocks. I guess in the digital age their chances are less. I have had 2 russian 2600s fail to wind their clock while my side was apparently wound to the hilt. One is a famous GM right here on chess.com. One had the nerve to tell me that winding my side of the clock HE bought to the board was my business. Thankfully, on him, although  I lost that game, I beat him the next 2 times we played. When I complained to the TD in the 2nd incident, she appeared to think it was just accidental. I had pretty much already clinched a decent prize and ended up winning 3000, so I looked at my opponent and then her and said I would bet my entire prize that his side of the clock is fully wound. Neither person took me up on my bet. What was really annoying was that after getting up from the board, this hustler found another russian 2600 and they had a big laugh about it. I am still waiting for a chance against this one, but the guy he laughed with went home broke when I held a pawn down ending with black.  The moral, beware soviets bearing clocks!! I also never met an American who said they ever wound only 1 side of a clock or had this happen with anyone but a soviet 2600+.

  • 4 years ago


    Instead of mr. Joe i wouldnt pay anything. Cze these are trics based on words not real bets

  • 4 years ago


    love it hahaha

  • 4 years ago

    IM Squarology


  • 4 years ago


    This is so funny!  Only in Russia!  Very nice!  It reads like a Russian novel without all the name changes.  Could also be used on April Fools Day.

  • 4 years ago


    1 must be ready to give away the money before playing with them.

  • 4 years ago


    OK, now we must play a chess game.

  • 4 years ago


    I like food,oops, I didn't realise that this comment would go to the top of the list... i will have to actually stud the position now.. sorry .. (perhaps.. )

    ... I suppose that familiararity with a  concept is only a disadvantage in life if the other person is aiming for a higher goal and the actualisation of your familiar concept is less important that another more important issue, this  can apply to life, on the chess board this is only a form of misdirection that only works if you don't see what the most important issue is. if he did it to me i would say false pretenses and fart on him... because HE missed the bigger issues,and thats not clever... actually..(sorry but its true, good story with a good lesson, but the husrler wasn't REALLY that smart, was he? FALSE PRETENSES ON SMALLER ISSUES THAT THE IMPORTANT ONES 

  • 4 years ago


    Emily, you are one looney chick! Will you marry me in our minds after the depromotion...? Foot in Mouth

  • 4 years ago


    One hustle I remember is betting someone you can finish two beers before they finish their shot.  

    The rules are; neither participant can touch the others glass, and the person downing the shot will only begin after the one drinking the beer sets down his first glass.  

    The trick is after finishing the first beer, setting the glass upside down over the shot.    

  • 4 years ago


    Emily93, you really make no sense.

  • 4 years ago


    Someone has to point out that the logic in Emily93's posts is not sound. In the first case it is a queen that is taken (the promotion havng already occured), not a pawn. In the second case the pawn was not promoted because the game is over; the fact that it would have been promoted is moot. Using words like "clearly" does not help.

  • 4 years ago


    I also liked Stektrowski's comment about Averbakh.

  • 4 years ago


    Interesting story indeed, Thanks.

  • 4 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    At first I was going to think that it'd be some kind of anecdote about Yuri Averbakh who in his coaching days would often show a position to the grandmasters of USSR national team and say, "Evaluate it". They would say, for instance, "It's won for White", and Averbakh would reply, "Then defeat me." Surely, Averbakh drew. "So, is the position drawn?" Averbakh would switch sides and crush his opponent as White.

    But the actual story is even funnier!

  • 4 years ago


    I laughed my face off! Thanks very much!:)

  • 4 years ago


    This is exactly the way the politicians hustle the American people every day. They make a statement and then twist their words around so that no one knows what they were really saying. George Orwell called it doublespeak. 

  • 4 years ago


    big lol..this is hilarious !!!!

  • 4 years ago

    NM calemcc

    Allegedly, master got $50 from an 1800 from both of these puzzles at a chess club I go to...

Back to Top

Post your reply: