Pandolfini's Puzzler #20 - Touch a Piece and You Can't Be Wrong

Pandolfini's Puzzler #20 - Touch a Piece and You Can't Be Wrong

brucepandolfini
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“I came upon a problem the other day I thought might be entertaining for our class,” Professor Pando began. “I can see on your faces you’re wondering what I mean by that.”
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Zephyr and Lucian looked enthusiastic but also a tiny bit puzzled. 
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“What do I mean by entertaining?” the Professor asked himself. “I guess I mean that it’s one of those problems that have easy features about them but also tricky features lurking about. Let’s consider the position in question.”
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“Obviously,” the Professor continued, “this position is not hard for White to win, since White has an overwhelming material advantage. But it’s not as simple as that. White has to mate in two moves.”
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“That’s not so remarkable,” Zephyr countered. “You often give us problems where White has to mate in two moves.”
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“That’s right,” Lucian added. Sometimes you even give us problems where Black has to mate in two moves. That’s not unusual either.” 
queen chasing white.png
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“How right the both of you are,” the Professor sighed out loud. “But let me make it a bit more interesting than that. How many pieces does White have here?”
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“Three,” Lucian blurted out. He went on: “The king, the queen, and the rook are White’s pieces.”
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Zephyr put her two cents in as well: “Yes, that’s right, since the pawn at a4 is a pawn, not a piece.”
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“Okay, you’re both correct in what you’ve said. So let me ask my question and stipulate further.”
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“Answer?” Zephyr asked with an air of uncertainty.
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“You mean there’s more than one answer to the question you’re about to ask?” Lucian asked in turn.
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“Yes!” remarked the Professor emphatically. 
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Question: How can White mate in two moves? 
  1. (a)By first moving the king? 
  2. (b)By first moving the rook? 
  3. (c)By first moving the queen?
“Wow, that does seem to be an intriguing problem,” Zephyr replied.
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“But you’ve given problems like that before,” Lucian commented.
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“Indeed, I have,” the Professor said. And so now I’m giving another one. Let me know when you find all three answers.”
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It took about 15 minutes, but the two whiz kids did come up with all three answers. Can you?
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Answers Below - Try to solve ProfessorPando's Puzzle first!
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ANSWER #20
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The mate with the king is perhaps easiest: 1. Ke6 Ke4  2. Rc4 mate.
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The mate with the rook begins with a cutoff: 
1. Re1 Kc4 2. Re4 mate.
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The mate with the queen is somewhat trickier: 
1. Qh3 (keeping control of the 3rd rank but also guarding f5) Ke4 2. Rc4 mate.
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Take note
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The mating positions above are not hard to understand. They’re basic ideas that most players learn fairly early on. It’s anticipating where the pieces have to go in order to create those basic setups that make the solutions a little bit more difficult. How does one get better at looking ahead to set up such patterns? By practicing and solving similar problems a lot and often!

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