Pandolfini's Puzzler #38 - Nine Lives

Pandolfini's Puzzler #38 - Nine Lives

| 31 | Scholastics

Professor: Good afternoon, class. I hope this past week has been spectacular.

Zephyr: It was for me. I got to go to a concert. I heard Beethoven’s "Symphony No. 9". It was glorious.

Professor: The Ninth Symphony! I wish I could have been there. And you, Lucian, did you do anything as exciting as that?

Lucian: No, I just went to a baseball game. The Mets got crushed. So there was nothing similar about our experiences.

Zephyr: Sure there was.

Lucian: Really? What?

Zephyr: The number nine. It has its place in baseball, too.

ted williams.jpeg

Lucian: Are you talking about Ted Williams? He was a great hitter. His number was nine. Roy Hobbs also wore number nine in "The Natural".

Professor: That was a wonderful flick. Hobbs was a great hitter, too.

Lucian: Or maybe Zephyr was alluding to there being nine players on the field for the defensive team.

Zephyr: No way. I was thinking about the nine innings they play. But playing nine innings of baseball is not the same as listening to Beethoven’s "Symphony No. 9", or Schubert’s ninth, Dvorak’s ninth, or Mahler’s ninth.


Lucian: Now I feel like I’m stuck somewhere in Dante’s ninth circle.

Zephyr: Hey, it’s only one of your nine lives.

Professor: Whoa! Before fueling an inferno of catty nine-ness, let’s use this playful banter constructively.

Lucian: What did you have in mind, Professor?

Professor: Why don’t we feature the number nine in today’s puzzle?

Zephyr and Lucian: How?

Professor: Let’s start by taking a look at it.

Question 1: How can White force mate in nine moves?

Zephyr: This is just the basic king and rook mate.

Lucian: But doing it in nine moves might be tricky.


Professor: It is. So be creative.

Zephyr: Whatever.

Lucian: Actually, more like however.

So the two young analysts, working in tandem, began their calculations. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it took some time, and there was disagreement on what to try first. But the team did work it out eventually, including key side variations. The Professor was very pleased.

Professor: Your finely-tuned efforts please me very much. For that, I’m going to give you one more problem. It’s not too difficult, as you’ll soon see. You don’t even have to be creative.

Question 2: What is White’s best move?

Professor: By the way, after finding White’s best move, you can put the icing on the cake by showing what happens after each of Black’s nine bishop moves.

Zephyr: Black has nine bishop moves? That’s funny.

Lucian: Funny odd, though it does suggest White’s first move.

Professor: Fine. Now solve the problem and answer the question.

And so they did. In five minutes they had worked out all the required variations, peppering the analysis with their own special humor.

Professor: That was very well done. In fact, since we have another nine minutes left in the period, I’m going to let you do something that I never let you do.


Lucian: What’s that, Professor?

Professor: I’m going let you play Bughouse.

Zephyr: But Professor, there are only two of us.

Professor: So? Be creative.

Answers Below - Try to solve ProfessorPando's Puzzle first!


For problem 1, White begins the winning process with 1. Kf2. After 1…Kg8 the best move is 2. Rf4. Play might then continue 2…Kg7 3. Kg3. Now Black has several tries.

If 3…Kh7, there follows the line 4. Rg4 Kh6 5. Kh4 Kh7 6. Kh5 Kh8 7.Kg6 Kg8 8. Rf4 Kh8 9. Rf8 mate.

If instead 3…Kh6, play continues 4. Rg4 Kh5 5.Kf4 Kh6 6. Kf5 Kh7 7. Kf6 Kh8 8. Kf7 Kh7 9. Rh4 mate. Note that in this variation, if 6…Kh5 instead of 6…Kh7, then 7. Re4 (the rook could also move to d4, c4, b4, or a4) Kh6 8. Re7 Kh5 9. Rh7 is mate.

Finally, if 3…Kg6, then a representative line is 4. Kg4 Kh6 5. Kf5 Kg7 6. Kg5 Kh7 7. Kf6 Kh8 8. Kf7 Kh7 9. Rh4 mate. Note that on 7…Kg8 there follows 8. Rh4 Kf8 9. Rh8 mate.

The best move in diagram 2 is 1. Rg2!. Black now has nine bishop moves.

Both 1…Bf2 and Bh2 hang the bishop.

Both 1…Bf4 (2. Kf5) and 1…Bh4 (2. Kh5) drop the bishop to a discovered check.

If 1…Be1, then White wins with 2. Re2 Bb4 3. Re8+ Bf8 4. Rd8 Kh8 5. Rxf8 mate. Note that on White’s fourth move the rook could temporize elsewhere, to c8, b8, or a8.

If Black tries 1…Be5, then 2. Re2 wins similarly.

Both 1…Bc7 and 1…Bb8 lose to 2. Rc2.

And if 1…Bd6, then 2. Rd2 Be7 3. Rc2 (or 3. Ra2) will win the bishop.

Compare to this:

Take note

In the endgame rook vs. bishop, the defending king is typically driven to one of the board’s four outside rows. In those situations, there tends to be good corners and bad ones. A bad corner is reflected in the example offered during the class. Bad corners are of the same color on which the bishop travels. They can lead to checkmate. Good corners are opposite in color. They may end in stalemate.


  • To help solve the first example, make sure you master our Computer Workout on mating with a rook;
  • To master the second example, make sure you can defend our COmputer Workout on bishop versus rook;
  • Let's add a pawn to endgame - how should you use the rook now? Professor Pando knows!
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