Pandolfini's Puzzler #58: The Queen Doesn’t Always Win

  • NM brucepandolfini
  • | Sep 5, 2014

Professor: How nice to see you all today, class.

The class tried to look like it was smiling.

Professor: If you recall, last week’s session began with a position Thomas had emailed me.

Thomas: It was a position where a queen beat a rook and knight.

Hale: Then you showed four other positions where a queen also beat a rook and knight.

Professor: That’s right. This week I thought we’d go in the opposite direction.

Zephyr: North by Northwest?

Lucian: I love that film.

Professor: No. Rather, I thought we’d show how a rook and knight can beat a queen.


Lucian: I guess the queen would have to be poorly placed.

Zephyr: I’m sure you guess right.

Question 1: Can White force a win?

Hale: That’s just a one-mover.

Ryan: Okay. We get it. Sometimes the queen has to be sacrificed to stop mate.

Thomas: How about something more complex than that, Professor?

Professor: Now that I know you’re all awake, let’s see a slightly harder problem.

Question 2: How can White force a win?

This proved to be just as easy. Everyone seemed to get the answer at once.

Rachel: So winning with a skewer is another way for the weaker forces to win.

Thomas: It’s probably harder to get to a winning position than to win once you do.

Professor: Interesting point. Let’s try another problem.

Question 3: How does White force a win?

The variations got a little trickier here, but Idris came to the rescue and found the winning idea.

Idris: In the end, it’s more of the same business, perhaps slightly more challenging, but not really.

Zephyr: Well, apparently not for you.

This elicited some general amusement.

Professor: Shall we see another?

Question 4: How does White force a win?

Although this problem didn’t take long to solve either, it was Hale who got the solution first, not Idris, and not Ryan.

Lucian: It has a little of the feel of the first problem.

Zephyr: Well, according to the way you look at things.

Lucian: At least I actually look.

Professor: Looks aside, let’s take a gander at this last problem.

Question 5: How does White force a win?

This last problem was the hardest for the group. But Idris eventually got the winning idea before anyone else. Things seemed back to normal.

Rachel: So those are some of the ways a rook and knight can get beat out a queen, yes?

Professor: Yes.

Thomas: I’m curious. Which would you rather have, the queen or the rook and knight?

Lucian: Given any random setup? I’d rather have the queen.

Rachel: Random setup? Not in this class.

Zephyr: Oh, this class. Okay, maybe I didn’t mean to say random setup.

Lucian: What did you mean to say?

Hale: Maybe she meant to say random comment.


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

Answer 1: With 1. Nf6+, Black is forced to play 1…Qxf6 to stop mate next move. Even so, after 1…Qxf6 2. Kxf6 Kh8 3. Kf7 Kh7 4. Rh1 is still mate.

Answer 2: Black loses the queen after 1. Re1+ Kg2 2. Rg1+ Kh3 3. Rh1+.

Answer 3: White wins with 1. Nf5.

If 1…Qc3+, then 2. Nb3+ forces a quick mate. For example, 2…Kg1 3. Rg2 mate or 2…Qxg3+ 3. Kxg3 Kg1 4. Re1 mate. 

So Black answers 1. Nf5 by 1…Kg1, which leads to the loss of the queen after 2. Rg2+ Kf1 (if 2…Kh1, then 3. Ng3 mate) 3. Ne3+ Ke1 4. Nc2+.

Answer 4: The winning line is 1. Rg7+ Kh2 2. Kf2 (threatening 3. Nf3+) 2…Qe4 (for instance) 3. Nf3+, with mate to follow.

For example, Black could lose by 3…Kh1 4. Rg1 mate; or 3…Kh3 4. Rg3 mate; or 3…Qxf3+ 4. Kxf3 Kh1 (or 4…Kh3 5. Rh8 mate) 5. Kf2 Kh2 6. Rh8 mate. Black does have some choice how he loses.

Note that 2. Nf3+ (instead of 2. Kf2) Kh3 3. Kf2+? fails to 3…Qg2+! 4. Rxg2 stalemate.

Answer 5:With 1. Rg5!, Black must stop the rook check along the h-file. But after 1…Qh7 2. Rg1+ Kh2 3. Rg2+ Kh3 (3…Kh1 allows 4. Ng3 mate) 4. Ng1+ Kh4, Black gets skewered by 5. Rh2+.

Take note:
Pure queen vs. rook-and-knight positions are not very common. Obviously, the kings are always on the board, and typically pawns are present as well, which can affect the result significantly.

Nevertheless, the study of such clean piece endings gives a greater understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of these pieces in action. Students may question the study of this material.

Indeed, such positions are not likely to occur in real games. Yet the same concerns arise over the study of the bishop-and-knight basic mate. It seldom happens, too. So, why should esoteric positions be studied at all?

I could say because they’re there. After all, serious players respect the game’s intricacies and fine points. If you love the game, and want to master it, you’ll want to know everything. It’s the kind of urge that drives us to true mastery.



  • 10 months ago



  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    john_jungleboy I learned a new lesson today, too. I hope to share it with the class this Friday. Have a great chess day!

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    j2009m Whatever cognitive dissociation you're experiencing, it's okay, as long as it's not catching. Heck, it's okay even if it is catching. Be well, and here's to chess.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    D_Ostwald Thank you for youre well wishes. I back. My head is still in the air, but my feet are back on the ground.

  • 2 years ago


    cool. i learn new lesson today

  • 2 years ago


    I must be experiencing a cognitive miser today. I better come back later to look at these puzzles.

  • 2 years ago


    Have a nice flight, be safe.  Thanks again.  :)

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    Did I leave anyone out? Before I run to catch my next plane (I hate planes, by the way), I wanted to make sure I had at least attempted to respond to the readership. Sometimes it's not easy, but heck, I enjoy doing it, and I revel in reading all the wonderful pro and con things you say. Thank you, all of you, for your support.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    anupam002 That's not a sin. Some of these puzzles can be quite intricate. You should see what I miss on a daily basis. Thank you for sharing your reasonable idea.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    whirlwind2011 I appreciate your perceptive comment. I see what you mean and I agree that reading the text the way it’s presented does influence thinking. Now I have to say that the column is primarily an instructional one, designed to be helpful to kids, which means providing useful directives and cues for reinforcement. But if one approaches the column (as many readers can and do) for the sake of the puzzles alone, the hints can be annoying. So I apologize about that. What I will say is this. There are hundreds -- no, thousands -- of straight puzzle offerings on the Internet. There are some very good ones, there are some very bad ones, and there are many, many undistinguished ones. But they are there, in abundance. I have no wish to add to their viral numbers. Happily (I hope), there are other ways to approach the material in this column. What a lot of the more experienced players do, especially if they have no interest in the classroom chatter or its instructional intent, is to skip all the words and simply look at the problems and the questions appended to them. I do that myself when looking at many other columns that have chess problems and a good deal of explanation and such around the puzzles. That is, I focus on the problems and blot out everything else. Sometimes I miss things of relevance because of that, but usually the essence is there and it’s the problems I mainly want anyway. Nonetheless, I will take your thoughtful suggestions into account and try to control some of the blatant commentary from the kids. Well, I will try. Thanks again, and I do indeed value your reasonable remarks. 

  • 2 years ago


    NM brucepandolfini Ohh I completely missed Kg1. Thanks for pointing out.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    sagarsamel I thank you in turn. And I thank you again in turn.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    mistermoritz Very nice! I missed both of those additional ways, though I have to say that I stopped looking after finding the more mundane solution. I do indeed like the elegance of Qb4-g4+! in particular. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    NM llamalord42 Thank you. You're obviously correct, as I've just answered solskytz myself. But I'm getting older and less observant every microsecond, so it's helpful to have the stamp of corroborative reinforcement from strong players. Much appreciated.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    solskytz I appreciate your line of analysis, but there's a stalemate shot, where the queen checks on c3 and winds up with a sac on g3, taking the blocking/checking knight, and it doesn't matter how White retakes on g3, it's still stalemate. But good try and thanks for sharing.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    D_Ostwald Thank you for your good thought. I try to make the material fun, and I have fun doing it, so it adds even more to the fun when the audience feels the same.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    anupam002 Your analysis is interesting, but, unless I've missed something, I do not think the queen is yet won by your variation. The black king does not have to go to g3 on move 4. It can instead go to g1. So it would cost white his rook to win the queen in that line, which reduces the position to insufficient mating material. But I thank you for your idea, which is clearly worth analyzing.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    komouro What a wonderful comment. Thank you for making me smile. I wish I had more time to do a better job (it's a refrain I'm afraid I typically resort to over the past 42 years), but I nonetheless appreciate the support of such an intelligent fan base. It's one of the things that keeps me going.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    FM backreg  Thank you for your helpful comment and suggestion. It's possible you happened to see a pre-publication form of the column, which lacks a certain functionality, but I will tell the staff about what you've said. I will also check into Serper's column, which I already know to be excellent.

  • 2 years ago

    NM brucepandolfini

    knightknocker Thanks for the good thought. You've helped make my Monday morning a bright one.

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