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# Pandolfini's Puzzler #18 - Listen to the Question

| 18 | Scholastics

“I’d like you to consider a position I often show in many of classrooms,” Professor Pando said in his usual clarion voice. “Of course, I have some comments to make about it. But before we go any further, let’s take an actual look at it.”
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“From the starting setup, White to move mates in two moves,” said the Professor. “Here’s my question.”
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Question: Do you know how to solve a position like this?
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With practically no thought at all, Lucian blurted out his thinking: “White plays king to f6, giving a discovered check.”
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“That doesn’t make sense,” Zephyr replied. "If that were going work, why wouldn’t king to d6 work just as well?”
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“Actually,” the Professor shot back, “neither suggestion makes sense. That is, if you’re trying to mate in two moves, either king move allows the black king to escape from the back rank. No way you’re going to mate on the next move then.”
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The professor continued. “But that’s hardly the point. Neither one of you answered my question. I didn’t ask you how White mates in two moves. I asked a very different question. I asked do you know how to solve a position like this?”
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Zephyr and Lucian looked terribly puzzled.
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“I can see you’re both at least a little confused,” the Professor was forced to admit. “To truth is, I don’t see how you can answer my question without asking me a question first.”
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Zephyr and Lucian looked even more confused after that.
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“Let me put my cards on the table,” the Professor went on. “I think you first have to ask me what I mean by the words ‘a position like this.’ Well, what kind of position is this?"
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“I think it’s an endgame,” Lucian offered.
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“No,” was Zephyr’s rejoinder. “It’s a simple forced mate.”
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“I guess you’re both right,” the Professor commented. “But your comments are not particularly relevant or helpful.
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“Let me give you a helping hand,” the Professor suggested. “I think it’s this kind of position: it’s a position where the defender has very few moves.”
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“That’s true,” Lucian said in surprise.
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Zephyr then added: “In fact, Black has only two moves. His king could go either to d8 or f8.”
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“Precisely!” The Professor injected.
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He continued: “And that’s the technique I’d like you to focus on. To solve this problem, don’t look for your move. Rather, start by looking at your opponent’s possible moves. See where he or she has to go and then work backward, playing a first move that takes advantage of where your opponent is likely to be.”
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Work backward!
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The Professor added: “Do this right and you’ll find the correct answer – all three of them!”
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What three correct answers allow White to mate in two moves?
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Answers below - Try to solve Professor Pando's puzzle first!
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First, let’s go through the analysis.
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If Black goes first and moves his king to f8, White would like to be able to move his queen to h8. That would be mate.
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If Black goes first and instead moves his king to d8, White would like to be able to move his queen to b8.
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Thus, working backward, all White has to do is play a first move that attacks both h8 and b8. In that event, White would then be able to exploit the black king no matter the direction it chooses, whether it goes to f8 or d8.
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There are three moves that do that. They are (a) Qe5 (b) Qh2 and (c) Qb2.
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Take note
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This idea has been alluded to in previous columns – the concept of imagining ahead and working backward. Here, we’ve unveiled a technique for solving similar problems. That is, when the opponent has very few moves, perhaps it might be better to see where he or she is likely to go and then work backward, trying to play a move to capitalize on the future possibility.
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But something else should come out from this problem, and it’s this. Too often we don’t really listen. Time and again, students answer questions not asked and don’t answer questions that are asked. The trick is to listen carefully before reacting – to make sure you understand the problem before trying to solve it.

RELATED STUDY MATERIAL

• Here's another Pando Puzzler where you have to think backward;
• He likes this theme - another puzzle where the answer is actually the past not the future;
• Bounding Owl's article shows many variations of the same kind of checkmate!

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