Pandolfini's Puzzler #60: Let's Play Detective!

Pandolfini's Puzzler #60: Let's Play Detective!

| 26 | Scholastics

Professor: Hey, class, what’s up?

A murmur of hello could be detected.

Zephyr: Speaking for the class, we’re ready for some chess.

Lucian: What are we doing today?

Professor: I thought we’d play detective.

Rachel: Play detective? What do you mean?

Professor: I plan to show you a block of five problems.

Hale: You almost always do that.


Professor: Yes, but these problems are related.

Ryan: So what? The problems are usually related.

Professor: True.

Rachel: So what’s different about them?

Professor: Well, I’m not going to tell you the theme I'm looking for.

Lucian: You mean we have to figure it out?

Professor: That’s right.

Zephyr: So that’s what you mean by “playing detective.”


Professor: Yes, so let’s consider our first position.

Question 1: What is White’s quickest win?

Everyone seemed to get the solution at once. The kids laughed and joked about the setup question.

Ryan: Why did you ask for the quickest win?

Hale: Yeah, wasn’t there only one way to win?

Professor: Yes, that’s true. Want to suggest a general theme?

Lucian: Let’s see a second problem.

Question 2: What is White’s quickest win?

This proved to be a little trickier. It seemed to take zillions of nanoseconds. The answer was found, but no one was sure who spoke first.

Thomas: Does the theme have to do with mate?

Professor: Yes and no.

Hale: I don’t think the first two mates were terribly connected.

Professor: Oh fiddlesticks. Let’s see another problem.

Question 3: Can White force a quick win?

The group appeared to be stumped, when suddenly Idris got an insight. It was correct, and the kids started looking for more themes.

Ryan: Does the theme have something to do with minor pieces?

Zephyr: Yeah, like winning with a bishop or knight?

Professor: That’s interesting, but it’s not really the motif I had in mind.

Lucian: What did you have in mind, Professor?

Professor: Right now the only thing I have in mind is the next problem.

Question 4: Can White force a quick win?

Here, Ryan quickly found the quick win. She said the solution reminded her of a longer Troitzky composition.

Thomas: It’s pretty clear that so far all the problems have ended in mate.

Rachel: Yes, and in two moves, too.

Hale: With the mates being delivered by minor pieces.

Professor: I like the way you’re summing up the clues.

Lucian: But there’s more to it, isn’t there?

Professor: Maybe it would help to see one more position.

Question 5: What is White’s quickest win?

Once again, the group got the answer fairly quickly. The solution was followed by repartee and frolic.

Lucian: Clearly, the theme is mating in two moves with a minor piece.

Professor: Both those ideas have already come out. There’s still more to it.

Zephyr: All right. What is it?

Professor: From the way Idris is smiling, I think he knows.

Idris: It is obvious. Each mate in two begins with a king move.

The Professor nodded his head “yes.”

Ryan: Very good, Idris.

Zephyr: Hey, I had figured it out, too.

Hale: You had?

Rachel: How come you didn’t quickly speak up and tell us?

Lucian: Yeah, like you usually do.

Zephyr: Oh, I was just being polite to Idris.

Lucian: Hah!

Professor: I think it’s time to go home.

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

Answer 1: White wins immediately with 1. Kb6 h1/Q (for example) 2. Nc5 mate.

Answer 2: The key is 1. Kg6, when 1…Kxf8 2. Bd6 is mate.

Answer 3: The winning move is 1. Kd8. If 1…cxb6, then 2. Bh2 is mate; and if 1…Rh1 instead (for example), then 2. Nd7 is mate.

Answer 4: There are a number of tries, but 1. Ke7 has no adequate answer.

For instance, if 1…Nc6+, then 2. Nxc6 is mate.

Or, if the black knight moves anywhere else, then 2. Nc6 is mate.

And, if the bishop moves anywhere instead, then 2. Nd3 is mate.

Answer 5: The forced win is 1. Kb7! (temporarily blocking out the bishop) Kd5 2. Kb6 mate.

Take note:

From the very first steps taken in chess we’re overwhelmed with admonitions to be careful with the king. We’re told not to move the king too soon or unnecessarily. We’re advised to preserve the right to castle.

To be sure, we’re urged to castle early in the game. What’s more, we’re continually reminded not to expose the king to attack or to weaken the terrain around it, so that we don’t make it more vulnerable. This incessant bombardment of warning and caution makes it difficult for many players to get into the spirit of playing smartly in the endgame.

That’s unfortunate, since much of intelligent endgame play hinges on the active use of the friendly king. But the resistance to moving the king is so great, often built up over years of being inundated by general sayings and aphoristic teachings about the openings, that it can make acquiring real endgame expertise an onerous task indeed.


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