Kavalek at the HuffPost: Zugzwang in chess problems

6/3/2010 – The action on the chessboard is in the moves and chess players are eager to make them. But sometimes they would rather stay put, skip a move, go for a walk and never come back. The dreaded word "zugzwang" crosses their mind and they know they are in trouble. GM Lubomir Kavalek demonstrates three beautiful examples of zugzwang in chess problems. Solutions next week.

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Chess Puzzles: The Art of Zugzwang

By GM Lubomir Kavalek

Zugzwang is a German word and, according to chess historians, it was introduced into English in 1904 by the world champion Emanuel Lasker. What does it mean being in zugzwang? In simple terms, you have to move and you don't want to. Every move you make leads to a worse position and often to an outright disaster. You see it mostly in the endgame, sometimes in the middlegame and never in the opening. It flourishes in chess compositions – in chess problems and endgame studies. We give three examples of the zugzwang theme. Try to solve them! We will publish the solutions next week.

The first example is a chess problem, in which White mates in two moves. It is attributed to Paul Morphy, an American genius who conquered the chess world in the late 1850s.

Paul Morphy

White mates in two moves

One clear rule of chess is that king against king, with no other pieces, is a draw. It is still a draw if you add two knights to one side. Or is it? The French poet, novelist and playwright, Alfred de Musset (1810-1857), played chess with passion, fantasy and temperament in the Cafe de la Regence in Paris. He became famous, but not as a chess player.

In 1849 he composed and published a wonderful chess problem that turned the theory about two knights upside down, as if to prove that almost every strategical and tactical rule in chess has its exception. The solution to his three-mover, based on zugzwang, is remarkable.

Alfred de Musset

White mates in three moves

The theme of dominating knights appeared in the work of the Latvian chess composer Johann Sehwers (1868-1940), also known as Janis Zevers. He was a prominent linguist and literary historian and his collection of 64 endgame studies, "Endspielstudien," was published in Germany in 1922. Try to find out how white wins in Sehwers's amusing study.

Johann Sehwers

White wins

To all those, who welcomed me back, many, many thanks! We plan to run the column twice a month. Chess puzzles will appear separately every two weeks.

Original column hereCopyright Huffington Post


The Huffington Post is an American news website and aggregated blog founded by Arianna Huffington and others, featuring various news sources and columnists. The site was launched on May 9, 2005, as a commentary outlet and liberal/progressive alternative to conservative news websites. It offers coverage of politics, media, business, entertainment, living, style, the green movement, world news, and comedy. It is a top destination for news, blogs, and original content. The Huffington Post has an active community, with over one million comments made on the site each month. According to Nielsen NetRatings, the site has around 13 million unique visitors per month (number for March 2010); according to Google Analytics the number is 22 million uniques per month.


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