Pandolfini's Puzzler #55: Winning the Hard Way the Easy Way

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Professor: Good day, class.

The class smiled back, some of the students even said “hi.”

Professor: Are there any questions before we begin today’s session?

Hale: I was wondering if I could show the final moves from a blitz game I had the other night.

Professor: Certainly. Let’s see them.

Here Hale went up to the board and set up the following position.

Question 1: How does White win material?

Hale: I had White and it was my turn.

Zephyr: That’s comforting to know.

Hale: It was a straight 5-minute game, and we both had very little time left.

Thomas: Just queen and rook vs. queen and rook?

Hale: Everything else had been traded off.

Ryan: You don’t see that too often.

Hale: Anyhow, I thought I had a winning line here.

Idris: You do, but it becomes queen vs. rook, and that’s not so easy to win.

Hale: I know, especially with my lack of endgame skill.

Idris: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Analytic engines have shown that type of ending to be quite tricky.

Hale: Fortunately, my opponent blundered into mate.


The class was amused once they saw what happened.

Professor: That was fun, Hale. Thank you for showing it.

Hale: I doubt that I could have won the position if my opponent hadn’t faltered.

Rachel: I wonder if any of us could have won it, especially in a speed game.

Idris: Rachel makes a good point.

Professor: Not today, but at some future time, we should review the queen vs. rook techniques and methodology.

Zephyr: So what are we going to do today?

Professor: Let’s follow up on what Hale has shown us. Please consider this related position.

Question 2: How can White force a win?

The class needed a little time to analyze, but it didn’t take long to find the winning line, with Idris spearheading the investigation.

Rachel: It’s definitely similar to Hale’s position.

Ryan: Heck, it’s practically the same.

Idris: Well, not exactly.

Professor: Different or not, let’s move to our next position.

Question 3: How can White force a win?

Idris: The maneuvering of the white queen is interesting, though winning the black queen is again not hard.

Lucian: Well, maybe not for you.

Rachel: One still must know how to play positions of queen vs. rook.

Lucian: Aha.

Zephyr: Is that an “aha” moment?

Professor: Whatever it is, let’s use it as a lead-in to our next problem.

Question 4: How can White win a queen for a rook?

Professor: As expected, White’s real target is the black queen.

Idris: Isn’t this a Troitzky position?

Professor: That’s right.

Lucian: How did he know that?

Zephyr: He seems to know everything else. Why not that?

Professor: How about one more position?

Zephyr: Okay. How about it?

Question 5: How does White win a queen for a rook?

Once again, the class had no trouble dissecting the position. But this time, there was a surprise. Zephyr beat Idris to the solution.

Professor: Very nice, Zephyr!

Zephyr: You didn’t think that Idris was the only one in this class who could play chess, did you?

Professor: No, I knew you were all smart kids.

Zephyr: You knew that?

Professor: Yes, Zephyr, I knew that.

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

Answer 1: Hale gained a material advantage with 1. Ra2+ Kb8 2. Qe8+ Qc8 3. Ra8+ Kxa8 4. Qxc8+, which gave her the advantage of queen vs. rook.

That situation can often require very precise play to bring home the point. In time pressure, however, her opponent blundered by 4…Rb8??, allowing 5. Qa6 mate.

Answer 2: This position, with analysis first published by Horwitz in 1862, is analogous to the one that developed in Hale’s game.

Here, the centralized white queen is ideally placed. White wins with the powerful intrusion, 1. Qf6!. This prevents a black queen check at h6 and constrains Black to move the king (if 1…Qg8?, then 2. Rh1+). Thus, after 1…Kg8, White wins by 2. Qd8+ Kf7 3. Rf1+, and mate soon follows.

Some sample variations: if 3…Ke6, then 4. Rf6+ Ke5 5. Qd6+ Ke4 6. Rf4+ Ke3 7. Qd4+ Ke2  8. Rf2+ Ke1  9. Qd2 mate. 

Or if instead 3…Kg6, then 4. Qf6+ Kh5 5. Rh1+ Kg4 6. Rg1+ Kh3 (for instance) 7. Qf3+ and mates next move.

Answer 3: In this position, which is a sub-variation of a Kasparyan composition, White wins by 1. Qg2+ Qg7 2. Qd5+ (another powerful centralization) Qf7 (2…Rf7 walks allows the pin, 3. Rg2) 3. Rg2+ Kh7  4. Qe4+ Qf5 5. Qh4+ Qh5 6. Qxh5 mate.

Answer 4: The winning line begins with 1. Re6+! (a clearance sacrifice, opening up the a6-f1 diagonal) Rxe6 (else Black loses a rook; note that e6 is now obstructed) 2. Qa6+ Kd5 (if either 2…Kd7 or 2…Kc7, White has 3. Qa7+) 3. Qc4+ Kd6 (if 3…Ke5, then 4. Qc3+) 4. Qc5+ Kd7 5. Qa7+, skewering Black’s king and queen.

Answer 5: In this 1926 composition by Rinck, White wins with 1. Qc5+ Kd8 (on either 1…Ke6 or 1…Kf7, a queen check, say 2. Qf5+, wins at least the black rook) 2. Kh6!. This subtle king-move leaves Black without a good reply.

If 2…Qa8, then 3. Qf8+, skewers king and queen.

If instead 2…Qxc7, then 3. Qf8 is mate.

If instead 2…Rxc7, then 3. Qf8+ wins the black queen.

If the black rook instead moves to a safe place along the d-file, say 2…Rd1, White has 3. Qe7 mate.

Meanwhile, the black rook can’t safely move along its 2nd rank (thanks to 2. Kh6!).

Finally, if 2…Ke8, then 3. Rc8+ is more bad news for Black.

Take note:

The queen vs. rook “basic mate” is not so simple, as many students soon discover. Even strong players have trouble winning it. They often miss astonishing resilience at key moments.

Good teachers have trouble teaching it. They typically describe it more than they explain it. Indeed, computers have shown that the beauty of general guidelines often fails when confronted with the ugliness of specific, aggravatingly resourceful moves.

But that’s just the way it is. Hey, who said chess was easy?


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