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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Zugzwang!!

     Zugzwang (German for compulsion to move) is a situation found in chess and other games wherein one player is put at a disadvantage because they must make a move when they would prefer to pass and not move. The fact that the player is compelled to move means that their position will become significantly weaker. A player is said to be "in Zugzwang" when any possible move will worsen their position. 
     Although the term is used less precisely in chess, it is used specifically in combinatorial game theory to denote a move that directly changes the outcome of the game from a win to a loss. Putting the opponent in Zugzwang is a common way to help the superior side win a game, and in some cases, it is necessary in order to make the win possible. 
     The term was used in German chess literature in 1858 or earlier and the first known use of the term in English was by World Champion Emanuel Lasker in 1905. The concept of Zugzwang was known for centuries before the term was coined, appearing in an endgame study published in 1604 by Salvio, one of the first writers on the game. 
     Positions with Zugzwang occur fairly often in endings, especially K and P endgames. Zugzwang in the middlegame is an anomaly. The most famous examples in the middlegame are probably Alekhine-Nimzovich, San Remo 1930 and the Immortal Zugzwang Game, Saemisch-Nimzovich, Copenhagen 1923. How odd is it that Nimovich was a victim twice? 
     In the following game which appeared in Chernev’s The Chess Companion he wrote, “Even the great Houdini could not have wriggled out of this paralyzing Zugzwang.” The game was played in the Kautsky Memorial, Prague 1927. 
     I was unable to unearth much information about the tournament or the players except that it was held in memory of the Czech player Vaclav Kautsky (1880-1924). 
     The participants were Karel Hromadka, Ladislv Prokes, Carlos Skalicka, Joseph Rejfir, Bedrich Thelen, Frantisek Prokop, Jan Schulz Sr. and Frantisek Treybel, but I am not sure that is the order of finish. 
     Nor was I able to find anything about the players, Jan Schulz, Sr. (May 1899 – May 1953) and Bedrich Thelen (May 1905 – July 1972). Black’s play was pretty weak, but it’s still amusing to watch him get himself all tangled up to the point that he doesn’t have a single reasonable move. 

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