June 18th, 2013


Tuesday Word: zugzwang

Zugzwang is a German word meaning “compulsion to move.” If you’re playing chess and it’s your turn but the only moves you can make would result in a positional disadvantage or the loss of a piece and you really, really wish you could just pass, then you’re in zugzwang. It may cause you to go from a win to a draw or a draw to a loss, or you may be forced to sacrifice a piece whose absence eventually contributes to your losing the game.

There are different types of zugzwang, such as opposition and trébuchet. Opposition occurs when two kings face off, whether from a distance (distance opposition) or only one square apart (direct opposition). The player who isn’t obligated to move and thus potentially back away from a key square is said to have the opposition. Trébuchet is an extreme form of mutual (or reciprocal) zugzwang, where whoever moves first will lose the game. Zugzwang that proves inescapable may result in a draw, unless of course you and your opponent are both incredibly stubborn, in which case it is more likely to result in board-flipping and bitter exclamations of "I'm DONE" and "Are you happy now?"