Pandolfini's Puzzler #43 - Up the Down Staircase
Professor: Hey, class. How’s it going?
Zephyr: It could be better.
Professor: Wow, such ups and downs. Listening to you is like being in an elevator.
Lucian: It beats going up and down stairs.
Zephyr: Now that you mention it, I saw the old Hitchcock film “Vertigo” the other night.
Hale: How vertiginous.
Ryan: Isn’t that the movie where the main character has trouble with high places and staircases?
Zephyr: The music is so eerie.
Lucian: Oh yeah. I love that Led Zeppelin score.
Hale: What are you talking about?
Lucian: “Stairway to Heaven,” right?
Professor: Let’s get back to Earth. See if you can cope with the following position and its chessic kind of descending staircase.
Question 1: How can White force mate?
Professor: Here, all you have to do is avoid stalemate while getting the white king close enough to support mate.
It didn’t take long. All four members of the class actively participated. In no time, the group found a solution that produced mate in 11 moves, with the white king descending down the board.
Professor: That was nicely done. I like the way you worked as a team, step by step and downward.
Ryan: Can we see another one?
Professor: Sure. See if you can get both kings to dance down the staircase in our next problem.
Question 2: How can White force a win?
And so, the class once again did their analytic best. They solved the problem quickly, and pointed out the staircase maneuver.
Hale: How about another one?
Professor: Certainly. Here’s a problem that has more to do with ascent than descent.
Question 3: Can White force checkmate?
Lucian: I wonder where is this problem going?
Ryan: Maybe nowhere, like the stairs in a crazy painting by the Belgian surrealist and chess player René Magritte.
Professor: Well, let’s go somewhere in particular, especially to our next problem.
Question 4: Can White force a win?
So the analysis began, and the class remained relatively silent. The troupe commented only when it seemed helpful, which was unusual. Of course, the wunderkinder analyzed without moving the pieces. After 15 minutes, they had worked out the entire winning variation.
Professor: That was glorious. And because you’ve been so good, on and off the chessboard, I’m going to give you one more staircase problem. Not surprisingly, the descent is very controlling for one piece and very controlled for the other.
The solution didn’t take long to come across, and the class wound up laughing and giggling at the end.
Hale: That’s pretty funny.
Professor: And a good way to finish, going up and down the staircase, from one end to the other. Class dismissed.
Zephyr: Wait, I’ve just gotten a text message saying the elevator is out.
Ryan: So we’ll take the stairs.
Lucian: Let’s hope they weren’t designed by Magritte.
Answer below - Try to solve ProfessorPando's Puzzle first!
In problem 1, White wins by 1. Kb7!, which avoids the stalemate, allowing the black knight to move. Thereafter, a likely staircase line is 1…Ne3 2. Kb6+ Ng2 3. Kc6! (once again, avoiding stalemate) 3…Ne3 4. Kc5+ Ng2 5. Kd5 Ne3+ 6. Kd4+ Ng2 7. Ke4 Ne1 8. Ke3+ Ng2 9. Kf3 Nh4+ 10. Kf2+ Ng2 11. Bxg2 mate. Indeed, White’s amble down the board suggests the act of walking downstairs.
For diagram 2, the white king descends the staircase along with a partner: the black king. The main variation is 1. Rg2+ Kf8 (1…Kh7 loses immediately to 2. Rh2+ Qh5 3. Rxh5 mate) 2. Kg5+! (starting the descent) 2…Kg7 (following in the white king’s steps) 3. Kf4+ Kf6 (moving to the h-file once again runs into Rf1-h1+) 4. Kg3+ Kg5 5. Kf2+ Kf4 (again, the h-file is verboten) 6. Kg1+, and now Black’s king must move onto the e-file, allowing White a skewer check (Rf1-e1+), winning Black’s queen.
In diagram 3, White wins, not with a descending king move, but with an ascending queen move. The main variation is 1. Qc3! (the ascent begins) 1…Kb1 (threatening to promote the a-pawn) 2. Qd3+ Ka1 (threatening to promote the b-pawn) 3. Qd4Kb1 (continuing the staircase ascent) 4. Qe4+ Ka1 5. Qe5 Kb1 6. Qf5+ Ka1 7. Qf6 Kb1 8. Qg6+ Ka1 9. Qg7 Kb1 10. Qh7+ Ka1 11. Qh8! Kb1 12. Qh1 mate.
In the 4th problem, White’s queen descends before starting its ascent. The main line is 1. Qa1+. That’s the descent (from the ludicrous to the sublime?) Kh7 2. Qb1+ (a little sidle before beginning the ascent) 2…Kh8 3. Qb2+ Kh7 4. Qc2+ Kh8 5. Qc3+ Kh7 6. Qd3+ Kh8 7. Qd4+ Kh7 5. Qe4+ Kh8 6. Qe5+ Kh7 7. Qf5+ Kh8 8. Qf6+ Kh7 and 9. Nf8+, winning the black queen.
In example 5, the joke-fest begins with 1. 0-0-0!. That forces the black king to take the plunge, plummeting down the board into mate. The winning variation continues 1…Kxa7 2. Rd8! (first an ascent) Kxa6 (and now it’s almost entirely descent) 3. Rd7! Kxa5 4. Rd6 Kxa4 5. Rd5 Kxa3 6. Rd4 Kxa2 7. Rd3 Ka1 8. Ra3 mate!.
“Walking the staircase” simply refers to any repetitive maneuver (or series of steps) that take a particular piece across the board, from one distant perimeter to another. Such an operation can be crucial to certain problems and studies.
The two pieces that rely on staircase movements the most are kings and queens, though there are ingenious problems that offer syncopated opportunities for other types of pieces to step so methodically as well.
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