Pandolfini's Puzzler #54: Give Me Something
Professor: Howdy, class.
Here the class responded with a collective “hi.”
Professor: We have a new class member being added to our roster today. I’d like you to meet Idris.
Everyone smiled coyly, but warmly.
Zephyr: What’s on the agenda for today’s session, Professor?
Professor: I thought we’d look at positions where players have to jettison material.
Lucian: Jettison material? You mean like throwing it off a boat?
Rachel: To make a sinking ship lighter?
Professor: Sometimes it’s the only way to survive.
Thomas: So “jettison” also refers to a chess tactic?
Professor: That’s right.
Ryan: Can we see an example of it, Professor?
Professor: Absolutely. Consider this first example.
Question 1: How does White force a win?
Hale: That’s simple enough. Black has no choice but to play a bad move.
Thomas: Nice going, Idris. We all got the idea, but you got it first.
Idris smiled slightly.
Rachel: Are most jettisons that elementary?
Professor: No, even with light material, some can be more intricate.
Zephyr: Can we see a harder one?
Professor: Well, take a look at this next problem.
Question 2: How can the knight outmaneuver the bishop?
This one did prove to be more complex, and the class needed some time to analyze. But eventually the zugzwanging notion was found by Idris, who worked out the precise winning variation.
Rachel: That was somewhat more challenging.
Ryan: Not for Idris.
Idris smiled a little more.
Professor: How about another problem?
Lucian: Sure, what did you have in mind?
Professor: I was thinking we’d consider this next one.
Question 3: Is Black’s queen safe?
Once again, before the class hardly got going, Idris had found the winning line. Everyone was impressed and Idris tried his best to suppress a pleased glow.
Zephyr: Wow! I think our class, as smart as it is, has gotten smarter.
Ryan: That’s a smart thing to say.
Professor: Very good, Idris. Let’s see how you and your classmates cope with this next position.
Question 4: Can White force mate?
Ryan: White most certainly can force mate.
Hale: As Idris, once again, just showed us.
Thomas: Idris, do you have a hidden computer or something?
As reticent as he was, Idris now sported an even bigger smile. He was beginning to feel accepted by the rather outgoing group of egos around him.
Professor: How about one more challenge, before going back to shore?
Lucian: Why not? Maybe one more problem can help me get over these jettisons and my apparent seasickness.
Question 5: How should White take the b-pawn?
Ryan: Oh no, Idris was the first to find the solution once again.
Rachel: Even with the trick question.
Zephyr: All kidding aside, Idris, you’re a pretty smart kid.
Lucian: Yes, he truly is.
Professor: Is there anything you’d like to say, Idris, before we dock for this session?
Idris: That was fun. When can we go seafaring again?
Answers below -- Try to solve NM Pandolfini's puzzles first!
Answer 1: Even saddled with a lowly h-pawn, White scores immediately with 1. Nf6!. That “stalemates” the black king, and the g7-knight must be jettisoned.
Answer 2: White wins with a careful knight maneuver. The main winning line is 1. Nh4 Kg8 (note the leitmotif here –- if 1…Bg8, then 2. Ng6 mate) 2. Nf3 Kh8 3. Ne5 Kg8 (again, if 3…Bg8, White has 4. Ng6 mate) 4. Nc6 Kh8 5. Ne7!, and Black is forced to jettison the bishop, 5…Bg6, since 5…Bg8 allows 6. Ng6 mate.
Naturally, after 5…Bg6, White must capture with the knight (6. Nxg6+) to avoid giving stalemate.
Answer 3: There’s no lifesaver for Black after 1. h4+ Kg6 2. Rf8!, when the queen must be jettisoned.
Answer 4: Simple enough is the winning line 1. Re1+ Rg1 2. Rf1!.
Whether Black takes the white rook immediately or not, Black will have to jettison his a-pawn. In the end, the newly created white a-pawn will promote with a crushing queen check (or possibly bishop check) from a8.
For instance, if Black takes the rook, 2…Rxf1, the game ends via 3. Kxf1 a5 4. bxa5 b4 5. a6 b3 6. a7 b2 7. a8/Q mate! (or 7. a8/B mate!).
And if Black doesn’t take the rook, 2…a5, it’s still bad news after 3. bxa5 b4 4. a6 b3 5. a7 b2 6. a8/Q mate! (or 6. a8/B mate!).
Answer 5: Taking the pawn with either the king or the bishop would be a blunder, leading to a positional draw, since White has “the wrong bishop” and can’t guard a8.
The correct idea is to stalemate the black king, forcing Black to jettison the b-pawn. White then gets a b-pawn in turn, which soon delivers a mating check from b7.
The winning line is 1. Bf4! b5 2. axb5 a4 3. b6 a3 4. b7 mate!.
The position of diagram 2 has a curious subtext. In pre-production, and for most of the filming, it was the alternate ending to the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. While it has its own charm, and though a version of it was suggested by grandmaster Pal Benko, the composition is too well known.
After thinking it over, again and again, I decided that it was unlikely for third-graders, even gifted ones, to find themselves in such a Troitzky-like position and then play it so precisely. Nor does the position quite connect to the movie's final championship game, which had as many as 22 visual concepts the filmmakers wanted to highlight.
As hard as I tried, and even with the help of several supportive GMs and IMs, I was unable to construct a game showing all those visuals, concluding in that particular arrangement. Lastly, this possible final setup also has nothing to do with the queen, the piece that is underscored in the movie. So, as much as I wanted to keep it, in the end the position had to be jettisoned.