In Chess, Zugzwang is a position in which for the player who’s move it is, any move they make would make the position worse. The player that has to move would be better off not making a move at all. But of course in the game of Chess, there is not option to pass or skip your turn to move. You are forced to move a piece.
Previously, we learned about the German word term Zwischenzug, the word Zugzwang also originates from Germany and means “forced to move”. Which is appropriate since you are forced to make a move, ragardless of whether or not making any move would inevitably result in a loss simply because of the position.
How Zugzwang Occurs
Most of the time, it is an advantage that it is your turn to move, but sometimes it’s a game-threatening disadvantage. This is Zugzwang.
Zugzwang isn’t something that happens to you. The concept can also be used by making a move which puts your opponent in zugzwang.
Getting the opposition is in fact a way to get your opponent in zugzwang. Another famous technique is triangulation in which you reach the same position, but with your opponent to move.
In addition to this other kind of Zugzwang, there is another case of a reciprocal zugzwang or mutual zugzwang, an extreme type called trébuchet. A famous example of a reciprocal zugzwang, called trébuchet, is shown below in example one. The side that has to make a move loses the game.
In some positions, the player who is to move is in zugzwang whether they want to be or not. This kind of position is referred to as a mutual zugzwang or reciprocal zugzwang and are often very interesting positions to study as they are a kind of balanced position.
Examples of Zugzwang From Real Games
Tseshkovsky vs. Flear, 1988
Fischer vs. Taimanov, 1971, Game 2
This is from the 2nd round of the Taimanov Candidates tournament in 1971 between Bobby Fischer and Mark Taimanov.
Fischer vs. Taimanov, 1971, Game 4
This is the same tournament, round 4 of Bobby Fischer against Mark Taimanov.
This is an example of a trébuchet.
The pawn must be abandoned and the opposing player will capture the pawn while also occupying a key square.
It’s White’s move, therefore White will win.
If it were Black’s move, the same would apply and Black would win. Which you can see in the example below of Black with the move.
Here you can see an example of an endgame position a few moves before the Zugzwang occurs.
In all of the previous examples, Black is able to win the game, because he is able to force his opponent in this famous Zugzwang.
Let’s have a look at the last example and replay some of the moves.
42… Kb3 43.Kxh6 Kxc3 44.Kg6 Kd3! Triangulation
( 44… Kd4?? would be a serious mistake 45.Kf5 The Trébuchet with Black to move )
45.Kf5 Kd4 The Trébuchet with White to move 46.Ke6
( A move like 46.Kg4 won’t help either 46…Kxe4 47.Kg3 Ke3 reaching a key square )
46… Kxe4 47.Kf6
( 47.Kd6 Kd4 48.Ke6 e4 )
47… Kf4 48.Ke6 e4 and nothing can stop the pawn 0-1
I hope this guide on the Zugzwang Tactic helped you. We have seen some examples of zugzwang in other posts, including: