Pandolfini's Puzzler #53: In Passing
Professor: Bonjour, class.
Class: Bonjour, to you as well, Professor.
Lucian: What’s with the French?
Thomas: Were you trying to confuse us?
Professor: No, not at all.
Zephyr: Then why use French to say good afternoon?
Ryan: Doesn’t saying it in English work?
Professor: It does indeed.
Hale: So what’s going on?
Professor: I thought it might be an appropriate way to introduce Rachel’s topic.
Ryan: Oh, that’s right. She’s going to talk about en passant.
Lucian: En passant? You mean the rule?
Zephyr: Yes, the rule that some of us pronounce as if it’s an English term.
Lucian: French or English: does it matter how you pronounce it? The rule is still the rule.
Ryan: I prefer en passant, but maybe Lucian and Zephyr are both correct. Perhaps you can pronounce it either way, en passant or en passant.
Professor: Well actually you can, but pronunciation aside, Rachel is going to show us some positions involving the en passant rule.
Lucian: Okay, we're ready. Let's see her positions.
Professor: Rachel, are you ready to begin?
Rachel: Thank you, Professor. I'd like to open up with an easy example.
Question 1: How does White win a rook?
Hale: You’re right. It is quite easy.
Lucian: And funny, too.
Ryan: Funny? White just forks king and rook. What's funny about that?
Lucian: Well, I'm laughing because capturing en passant doesn't help.
Hale: True, Black still loses a rook.
Rachel: That's correct. How about trying this one?
Question 2: How can White mate on the move?
Thomas: That’s also amusing.
Ryan: Oh yeah, it’s hilarious.
Zephyr: Risible or not, en passant is a good thing here, at least for White.
Rachel: Now you’re getting the idea. This next problem doesn't change matters much.
Hale: That's good because I was just getting used to things.
Question 3: How can White force mate?
Hale: En passant doesn't provide much solace for Black in this example. It merely delays the inevitable.
Ryan: Black has to capture and thereby open a file, and that’s that.
Professor: So far so good. Can we see another position?
Question 4: How does White mate in three moves?
Hale: So en passant still messes Black up.
Zephyr: Zowie! But rather than open something Black has to close something.
Thomas: True. Black is forced to block an escape square.
Lucian: Yep. So here, en passant didn't help Black one little bit.
Rachel: And it doesn't help Black in this next illustration either. Black will have a choice of en passant captures, and neither one can save the day.
Question 5: How does White mate in 2 moves?
Ryan: How did this happen?
Thomas: It seems that White had played Ba7-b8+, to which Black blundered, playing Kd6-d5.
Hale: So in this position en passant fails doubly.
Thomas: Yeah, that's right. En passant fails doubly.
Professor: Is there one more problem in your presentation?
Rachel: Yes, Professor, and this is it.
Question 6: What should Black play?
Lucian: That’s even funnier. Or should I say, en passantier?
Zephyr: Actually, I wish you wouldn't.
Lucian: You know, it looks like stalemate, but Black does have a move. Otherwise, it would be stalemate.
Hale: Such japery.
Professor: Enough of that. Thank you, Rachel. I’m sure the class appreciates your efforts.
Lucian: Yes, we do, Professor.
Zephyr: The rest of us thank you, too, Rachel.
Each classmate congratulated Rachel for her good work.
Lucian: So, is en passant good or bad?
Hale: Clearly, it shouldn't be looked at in those terms. En passant is just a rule of the game. In itself, it's not good or bad.
Zephyr: Too bad Lucian doesn't know how to pronounce it.
Lucian: I know how to pronounce it. You'll see next time we meet in a tournament.
Professor: Let's bring this bantering to a close. Rachel, do you have anything to add?
Rachel: How about passez une bonne journée?
Lucian: Thank you, Rachel. You have a good day, too.
Answer 1: White wins with a simple pawn fork, 1. c4+. And if Black plays 1…bxc3, saving the b5-rook, the a4-rook hangs, 2. Rxa4.
Answer 2: Even though both of White’s pieces are attacked twice, White salvages it all by 1. axb6 mate! It’s double check, en passant, and mate -- all in the same package.
Answer 3: With 1. b4+ axb3 2. Ra1 mate, White is able to survive Black’s en passant capture.
Answer 4: White wins by 1. b4+! axb3 (this capture blocks up the b3-square) 2. d4+ Kc4 3. Rc6 mate.
Answer 5: White mates in two moves either of two ways: 1. c4+ dxc3 2. e4 mate; or the equally good, 1. e4+ dxe3 2. c4 mate.
Answer 6: In Rachel’s last position (if it isn’t stalemate, and we’re essentially told it’s not), Black has only one possible move: 1…dxc3. That allows 2. Ra4 mate. En passant is a culprit once again.
For an English speaker, what is the right way to pronounce this rule?
Should we say it the French way, en passant, as Zephyr favors? Or the English/American way, en passant, as Lucian prefers?
It was Burt Hochberg (1933-2006), longtime editor of Chess Life, and also chess-and-games editor at Random House, who explained his take on the question. Burt held that both ways of pronouncing the term are quite correct, and he was very adamant about it.
As a great admirer of Burt, perhaps America’s leading authority on such matters, and my superior at four different publishing establishments, I accepted his pronouncements ex cathedra.