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Pleasing chess riddle April 1, 2008

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, internet, personal.

This evening I played a few blitz games on the internet chess club. Here is the position I reached with the black pieces in one of these:

As you can see, black is a pawn up, and has a clearly superior position. Here black is to move (square “a1” is on the lower left: white pawns move up). White (a 1900-player) probably had reached this position in the hope to save the game thanks to the drawing power of opposite-coloured bishops on the board, but I think he underestimated the fact that opposite-coloured bishops actually increase the attacking power of the offender! They become a drawing weapon only when kings do not risk falling into a mating net…

Anybody willing to test their chess vision here ? What would you play with black here, and what sequence would you envision following your move ? I will post the solution here tomorrow morning.

UPDATE: the full answer is in the first comment below, courtesy of a reader.



1. phenomenologist - April 1, 2008

The first thing i saw was Rxh3 gh Rh1 mate. However, white can play Kxh3. So let us first play g4, and now if …hg then Rh3! works this time.

So after 1 … g4 white can try Bg1 to block the back rank. But now another mate pattern appears: Rxh3 gh g3 mate!

are there other moves I missed? Really nice position!

2. snark1100 - April 2, 2008

but after kh3, rh1 is still mate….

3. Fred - April 2, 2008

What if you wanted to punish and inflict suffering upon your opponent with a protracted pitch? Would Kc4 do the job? Does blitz chess improve your game for playing in traditionally time-based tournaments or is there not a connection between the two?

4. dorigo - April 2, 2008

Hi Phenomenologist, the solution you give is exact. Of course black can play other delaying moves (such as Rxb3+), but the variations remain the same.

Snark, if 1… Rxh3?? 2.Kxh3 Rh1 3.Kg4 and white wins.


5. dorigo - April 2, 2008

Hello Fred,

you can of course protract the game, but in a blitz game it is never a good idea – especially over the internet, when you can occasionally lose because of a disconnection. Anyway, almost anything in the position given wins. Eventually, black can win by exchanging both rooks on the second rank and force up the b3 pawn…

I think blitz is a good training, but not a substitute for regular time control games. Actually, it may end up harming your objectivity.


6. Ed - April 2, 2008

I’ve given up chess. The best I ever did was a draw fom a master.
However I ranked around 1800 (old system) before I found that my best talent was finding a loss in an overwhelmingly won position.

7. carlbrannen - April 2, 2008

My instinct was Rc1 in preparation for Rxg2+ to eventually promote the b pawn.

8. Victor Reppert - April 2, 2008

I recently discovered that my opponent, Joe Polchinski, appears to now be about the world’s leading authority on string theory. I’m pretty sure he’s the same guy; he went through high school in 3 years on his way to a scholarship at Cal Tech. I wish him the blessings of Mr. Nobel.


9. Jorge Barón - April 3, 2008

An interesting end for a blitz game! 1…g4 seems to be very strong, as phenomenologist says, menacing Rxh3+. Fantastic too the line 2.Bg1 Rxh3+! (Phenomenologist).

I can’t see any defense for white so… I think black wins! Congratulations!

I’m rated about 2400 in rated blitz games (www.buho21.com, not ICC) and about 2300 in FIDE lists, but i can’t remember any position like these in my experience. I’m a chess teacher (not playing tournaments now) and this position could be the next exercise… 🙂

10. dorigo - April 3, 2008

Ed, that is a talent one masters with time…

Carl, your instinct is more strategic than tactic. Tactic is what one needs to apply in the given position…

Victor, do you mean to say you played Polchinski at a tournament ? Or where ?

Jorge, yes… g4 hg Rh3 was how the game ended. Glad if you will use the position.

Cheers all,

11. phenomenologist - April 3, 2008

Tomasso, do you manage to play chess much or do you not have enough time? I used to play quite a lot when I was an undergraduate. I’m a phd student now and play a lot less. I expect in the future I will have even less time. ICC is good to keep a finger in the chess pie, but it’s not as satisfying as a proper game.

anyway, great blog – keep it up. I’ve learnt plenty of stuff here about experimental particle phys.

12. Santo D'Agostino - April 4, 2008


Tremendous first move (g4), reminiscent of chess problems, to take away the White King’s escape square in one of the lines.


All the best,

13. dorigo - April 5, 2008

Hi phenomenologist,

no, I basically only play online by now. Too bad, since I love chess. But it is really too time expensive for me at this time in my life. I hope I will retire one day and have more time for that.


14. Victor Reppert - June 14, 2008

I have no clue as to how a link to my comment about Polchinski ended up here. But to answer your question, Joe and I actually played four or five tournament games, since we were two of the four best high school players in Arizona at the time. Though both of us were in the dust of the strongest player and Polchinski teammate, Keith Nelson, who is now an MIT chemist.

I think our other tournament games were drawn. This one, which started as a highly theoretical game and ended up being a comedy of errors, (the errors, except my last one, were given as correct in the Dragon books around that time!), was played in the 1970 state championship semi-finals.


15. dorigo - June 15, 2008

Hi Victor,

thank you for the information…

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