“You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t”

‘Like the classic movie scene where the villain gets hold of the victim and tries to extract some information, intending to kill the victim whether or not he confides the secret. This is a classic example of Zugzwang.

In Chess and Life, you cannot skip a turn if you can’t find a good move. If every choice is a mistake, you’re at a grave disadvantage. For instance ask a kid what to do if the only options in a class are either cheating or failing. Or another example might be having to break bad news to your boss, or getting pregnant as a teen. Time freezes in such situations – you’re in Zugzwang and the only move you have is a losing option.

He’s an example from Chess:

Zugzwang - white to move - 1. Rh6 and black is caught in Zugzwang

This is a famous composition by the American genius Paul Morphy. In this position white plays 1. Rh6 and now black is caught up in a Zugzwang! Now, Black plays 1.… gh6 for which White replies with 2.g7#

He’s another Zugzwang puzzle for you to try:

Zugzwang - white to move - 1. Kh3 and black is caught in Zugwang

1. White to play and win?    Answer at the end of this article…

Although the origin of the term “Zugzwang” is still debated, its meaning is clear. It is the situation where you are obliged to make a move that puts you at a disadvantage, leaving you no other choices.

In the history of Chess, this method was famously brought from sea to dry land through the game between Friedrich Sämisch and Aron Nimzowitsch played in Copenhagen, 1923. It is regarded as the Immortal Zugzwang Game (found here) because of the way Nimzowitsch forced his opponent to resign by putting him in a Zugzwang in the middle game itself.

In business, tough situations like deciding between foreclosure and turnaround strategy can resemble Zugzwang. It is the same feeling that a captain has when his ship is about to sink; his dilemma is whether to try to save the ship, or abandon it and start saving lives.

“There are two classes of men; those who are content to yield to circumstances and who play whist; those who aim to control circumstances, and who play chess.” – Mortimer Collins

When a position is doomed, salvaging the resources you still have may the best you can do. But failure in life is a belief set, and you are only doomed if you give up. Maybe a situation does require an action where any action is negative, but there is always something that can be salvaged, even if it is only the virtue of wisdom gained.

Regardless of past failure, nothing can take the skills and wisdom you gain from it. The forces that you play against are always in a flux of strength and skill level, and a trifle success today can lead to greatness tomorrow. Never, ever, give up in Life. As long as you have breath to breathe, you are only defeated if you believe you are.

“From triumph to downfall there is but one step. I have noted that, in the most momentous occasions, mere nothings have always decided the outcome of the greatest events.” – Napoleon

[The answer to the problem is 1. Kh3. Black has no saving moves now! Zugzwang!]

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