A New Perspective on Zugzwang

So I’m sure many of you are wondering what exactly Zugzwang is. Today I’m going to dispel some mysteries surrounding Zugzwang and I will show you some classic (as well as) new examples that can only be found on this site. These examples have been meticulously chosen by me, and the final Zugzwang position is one that I’m sure has never been seen before now (and it happens more often than you’d think).

Perhaps we should once again return to our “roots” of Zugzwang, what prompted me to call this blog “Life in Zugzwang” was an amusing moment I encountered with a friend as we were attempting to move a couch up a flight of stairs. We encountered fairly stiff resistance from the surrounding walls and eventually ended up in this familiar situation:

We've all been there guy.

We’ve all been there guy.

Eventually after about a half hour of jostling we managed to get the couch back down the stairs and into the garage, where it currently resides (and will likely remain for the foreseeable future).

Let’s take a minute and actually make some term definitions. Zugzwang is a German word meaning “Compulsion to move”. In chess you cannot “pass” on your move (like you can in other games) so when it is your turn you must make a move. This requirement leads to positions in which one side is required to move which will ultimately weaken his position. This is the root of Zugzwang, being forced to move when every move will ultimately weaken your position. Zugzwang is one of those metaphysical properties of chess that makes the game interesting. Let’s take a “simple” example:

A fairly trivial example by all accounts. In the vast majority of cases Zugzwang occurs in the endgame (or very late in the game). There are some rare gems where there is middlegame Zugzwang, and believe it or not I have discovered the rarest of all Zugzwangs, the opening Zugzwang. I was only able to find one example but it is quite striking. Here is another “Classic” example of middlegame Zugzwang (and one of my all-time favorites):

Many have argued that this is not a “true” Zugzwang because there were still some moves left for white to make, and that it is just merely a lost position. To me the power of this game comes from the fact that basically any reply by white does in fact weaken his position based on the aforementioned R5f3 idea, there is no escape. So although it is perhaps not the “purest” form, it is a Zugzwang none-the-less. Here is an example from one of my games that I played on ICC:

I believe an important distinction needs to be made between Zugzwang and completely winning positions. I would argue that the last example is a Zugzwang, and not a clearly won position because if white were to pass, and give black some moves, black would not be able to grab whites g-pawn without stalemating white (go ahead try and give white a few moves in a row, see if you can do it without stalemating). Here is another example from a game I drew, where I was unable to find the correct path to Zugzwang in time pressure, a real pity (especially because there were multiple roads to Zug):

Finally I would like to leave you (as promised) with the opening Zugzwang I was referring to. After these series of moves, black can only weaken the position. This occurs rather frequently too. I’ve even seen some of the best players in the world make this mistake:

In the future I will discuss more advanced Zugzwangs, such as Reciprocal Zugzwang and Trebuchet’s (which incidentally is the french word for corrugated cardboard).

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