I’ve mentioned zugzwang many times, as it belongs to the set of crucial tactics that every strong player should master. Perhaps it’s time to write a bit more about it.
So, what does this word mean? Zugzwang refers to a condition observed in games like chess, where a player is compelled to make a move but is placed at a disadvantage as a result. When a player is “in zugzwang,” it means that any permissible move they make will further deteriorate their position. The term originates from German, with “zugzwang” meaning “compulsion to move” (pronounced [ˈtsuːktsvaŋ]).
Zugzwang plays a crucial role in winning elementary and common endgames, such as scenarios involving a king and pawn against a king. These situations often rely on compelling the opponent to make a move that leads them into a losing position. The article King and pawn vs king – the opposition provides numerous illustrations of such examples.
Another great zugzwang sample can be observed in a composition by Paul Morphy who created it at a very young age.
The diagram below illustrates an extreme form of reciprocal zugzwang known as trébuchet. This situation is also referred to as a full-point mutual zugzwang because it inevitably leads to a loss for the player in zugzwang, granting the opponent a full point. In this position, whoever has the move must sacrifice their own pawn, enabling the opponent to capture it and subsequently promote their own pawn, creating a highly favorable and easily winnable position.
Either player to move loses, as the pawns are immobile, and the king must move to a square from which it cannot protect the pawn anymore.
The previous position is closely related to the term mined squares. Zugzwang occurs when a player places their king on a particular square, allowing their opponent to move onto the corresponding square. In the diagram provided, if either king moves onto the square indicated by a dot (green for White and blue for Black), they will find themselves in zugzwang if the other king moves into the adjacent square, which is metaphorically represented as a “mined” square.
An example of a real game is, again, produced by the former World Champion Robert Fischer. Yes, it seems we take advantage of his game very often, which only confirms what a genius he actually was.
Zugzwang stands as a captivating concept in chess, embodying the strategic challenges and psychological dynamics of the game. It compels players to carefully weigh their moves, considering the consequences of each decision. Understanding zugzwang empowers chess enthusiasts to exploit opportunities, avoid pitfalls, and navigate complex endgames with finesse. As players delve deeper into the game, appreciating the intricacies of zugzwang becomes an essential aspect of their strategic repertoire.