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