Pandolfini's Puzzler #53: In Passing

  • NM brucepandolfini
  • | Aug 1, 2014

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.

Zephyr: Duh.

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.

Answers below -- Try to solve NM Pandolfini's puzzles first!

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.

Take note:

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.



  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    MiniKnight Yes, I agree. Actually, the position is usually posed as a mate in 2, with the c-pawn, as you suggest, starting on c2. I don't recall why I offered it in class the way I did. These things happen. Thanks for your perceptive suggestion.

  • 2 years ago


    It might be interesting to make the last puzzle a mate in 2 for white before c4

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    Pladsen  I have to tell you, since you brought up Klingon in your comment of a month ago, I have seen the episode of Frasier where he speaks Klingon at a Bar Mitzvah. It's hilarious. If you haven't seen it, I think you can catch it on the Internet. You might enjoy it. Have a great holiday weekend.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    chaotic_iak Thanks for the fix. And if you have other problems relating to any future or past column, please feel free to share them with us. Much appreciated.

  • 2 years ago


    Yes, I didn't mean to say that the problems are worthless; they are interesting, unusual problems for chess players. I only explained why Frankwho commented like that.

    By the way, no, my problem was flawed too (Black could have made 0... f6xg5); here's the fix.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    chaotic_iak Thank you for your considered comment. I see your point, but, if I may, I do not fully agree with it. Here is why. I think it’s a mistake to judge the problem as if it were an isolated entry in a composition contest. It is not. Rather, it is an example given in a classroom to support an overall lesson – how en passant can impact a position tactically. So let’s think about this. Two critical pieces of information are given the reader up front. First, for problem 2, it is “mate on the move.” If in problem 2 there’s another way to mate in one move, fine. Let’s see it. But if there isn’t, it seems illogical to write off the one solution that fulfills the stipulation, even if the proposed answer does not rigorously conform to the guidelines of the Codex. Second, this particular session and its discourse revolve around en passant captures. Accordingly, each one of the posed positions must have an en passant capture in it – by definition. So, to me at least, it doesn’t seem reasonable to dismiss en passant captures altogether, even in light of the precise language of the rule. Nonetheless, I appreciate your thoughtful reply. In the context of this instructional column, however, I do not feel the reservation you’ve raised undermines the session’s presentation. (PS – By the way, I like the problem you’ve composed. Thanks for sharing.)

  • 2 years ago


    According to the Codex of Chess Compositions (Article 16), en passant captures are illegal unless it can be proven that the corresponding two-step pawn move occurred just before. Since in Puzzle 2 this is not proven, according to the Codex this problem are not sound.

    Here's a composition I made just now, a mate in 1.

    I believe here you can prove that Black did a double-step by his pawn, and hopefully I have ruled out all but the intended move.

    This is what Frankwho is talking about. In Puzzle 2, it cannot be proven that this is the case (last move might be 0... Rd3-c3, among others). In Puzzle 6, it cannot be proven by the diagram alone, but luckily you gave that Black has a move available (because it's not stalemate), and thus it must be en passant. I've seen even weirder composition regarding en passant, and yes, this is one of the favorite tricks of us retrograde analysis solvers.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    computo200 I think I see what you're getting at. Perhaps the last puzzle is a puzzlement. Thanks for sharing your take on it.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    goblin4563 I'm in total agreement with you. No one wants to lose a rook. It's just not fun. I'm sure Rachel is in harmony with that, so I will convey your analysis upon her return to class.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    Frankwho Thanks for your thoughts. I think the problems are okay. No other possibility suggests itself for mating on the move in problem 2, and problem 5 is straightforward. If Rachel missed something concrete, let me know and I will pass it on.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    Anubhav_2000 I appreciate your good thoughts. I will share them with Rachel when she returns from vacation. In her mind, she's as real as one can get.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    NjChristian I concur. Take it back a move, make the problem White mates in 2, and there's much more kick to it. Thanks for your perceptive comment.

  • 2 years ago


    That last puzzle though

  • 2 years ago


    For problem 1,you should also mention that the black king must move oust of the way after the rook capture, to prevent the skewer by Rh5+(It's not an en passant, but of course black doesn't want to lose another rook)Cool

  • 2 years ago


    In puzzles 2 and 5, there is no way to prove that the last move allowed en passant.

  • 2 years ago


    Congrats to Rachel on her debut!

    BTW, is she a character composed by you, NM Pandolfini or a real person?:P

  • 2 years ago


    The 6th puzzle would have been even more amusing if we had white to play a move earlier, and Mate in 2! I'm sure if you posted that puzzle out of the context of this article if would confuse some for quite a while.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    Pladsen My facility with Klingon isn't as good as it used to be, but thank you. I'll pass on your nice words to Rachel. 

  • 2 years ago


    Please pass on my compliments to Rachel.  She did an excellent job.

    Perhaps one way to settle the pronounciation debate is to adopt the Klingon term "juS" (courtesy of the Bing translator).

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    MeTristan Aren't they attacked twice? I'll check again, but it seems to me that the white bishop is attacked by the pawn at b5 and the rook at c3. Meanwhile, the white rook is attacked by the bishop at c2 and the pawn at b5. True, the b5-pawn is not threatening to take the rook, since it's pinned to the black king by the c4-bishop, but the b5-pawn is certainly attacking the rook. Nonetheless, I'll tell Rachel about your point. I do agree the problems this time were very easy. It was her first presentation and she was somewhat nervous. 

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