Workshop: Pawn captures with mate?

7/18/2003 – Games uncovered by using ChessBase 8's maneuver searches are a great resource for training questions. But maneuver searches can also be a source of fun. In this week's ChessBase Workshop, Steve Lopez goes hunting for checkmates caused by a capturing pawn. ChessBase Workshop

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by Steve Lopez

Recently I was having a discussion with some friends about "odd chess moves", weird things that happen only once in a blue moon. I mentioned an old article I wrote about finding Bishop underpromotions using ChessBase, and someone asked about pawn captures with mate -- games in which the final move is played by a pawn which causes a checkmate by capturing. "Ever see any of those in your database?" I was asked.

"Not yet," I replied, "but give me a few minutes and I'll find some."

I fired up ChessBase 8, right-clicked on Mega Database 2003, and selected "Search" from the popup menu. I clicked on the "Manoeuvers" tab and got the following dialogue:


This, of course, is the dialogue that lets you conduct maneuver searches in ChessBase (and, yes, I did anglicize the spelling of "maneuver" just now -- too danged many vowels the other way). Creating a maneuver search is a lot like creating a mathematical formula. Don't let that scare you off -- it's easy. You just take it a step at a time.

Let's do something extra weird here -- we'll limit the search to Black pawns which capture and deliver mate. So the first step is to tick off the radio button next to "B" (which means that you click on the little circle to the left of the "B", not "tick it off" by making a remark about its momma). So we now have something that looks like this:


Note the large white box to the left -- it shows a lower-case "b" (for "Black") followed by a bunch of question marks. This means that we've defined the piece color. Now we need to fill in the rest of the parameters. To the right of the white box is a tiny box with a pulldown menu button. Click on that button to get a list of letters for the various pieces and select "P" for pawn:


Skip the next two boxes to the right -- these are where you would type in the coordinates of particular squares. We'll leave these blank because we don't care what squares a pawn starts and ends on. Next we'll check the tiny white box -- this designates that a capture is part of the move. In the next box to the right, pull down the list of piece abbreviations and select the question mark, since we also don't care what particular White piece gets captured. Finally, we'll check the box next to "Mate" (which also checks by default the box next to "Check", since a mate is just a check from which one can't squirm out). We wind up with the following:


In the large white box, we see the "formula" for our search: "bP????x?#", which means "Black pawn on any square moves to any square, capturing any piece, creating mate". Click "OK" and the search begins.

I wasn't kidding when I said this would take just a few minutes. The whole process (including setting up the search) took about five minutes and ferreted out 91 examples in my database of over two million games (which was about five times as many "hits" as what I had expected to find).

The games are listed in the Search Results window; you can single-click on any game in the list and the chessboard will show the final mating position after the pawn has made its capture.

Here's a nice example of being between a rock and a hard place, from Littleton-Paulsen, Great Britain 1860:


Black has just played 25...Bf2+ (discovering a check from the f1-Rook). White has only one move: 26.Kh2, and Paulsen administers the coup de grace with 26...hxg3#.

This next one is particularly sweet, with Alekhine playing the Black pieces against Apollon Viakhirev in a correspondence game from 1907:


White is getting the life squeezed out of him: a Black Rook controls the e-file, two Bishops criss-cross in front of the White King, and now the Black Queen has strongly invaded. Black has just played 35...Qg2+!, sacrificing the Queen. White's reply is forced: 36.Rxg2, and now Black plays the severely-embittering 36...fxg2# -- first he sacrificed his Queen and then he mated with a lowly pawn. I have been unable to substantiate the rumor that Viakhirev burned his mailbox to the ground after receiving this last card in the post.

One more cool example from the Golden Age and then we'll wrap this up:


This is from the 1930 Men's Chess Olympiad, from a game pitting Tyroler against Vajda. Despite having castled at move 12, White now finds his King stranded in the middle of the board. Black seizes his chance and plays 37...Qf2+. White has no choice but to play 38.Ke4, after which Black brings down the curtain with 38...gxf5#.

So, as we've seen, maneuver searches can uncover a lot of fun stuff. But there's another use for these: they're a great source for self-created timed training questions. You can whip up a batch of these for your own use (make a pile of them, save them into a database, and drill yourself on them) or, if you're a chess teacher, create training databases for your students. For information on creating training questions in ChessBase 8, see my article for April 7th, 2002.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2003, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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