When I began playing chess, the loss of a pawn didn’t seem like that big a deal. After all, it’s just a lousy pawn. Was I wrong! The loss of a single pawn often means the loss of the game. More importantly for our purposes, it turns out that pawns are deceptively powerful. True, they only move one square per move (possibly two on the first move), but given enough time, pawns can turn into queens, rooks, knights or bishops. If you can push your pawn to the other side of the board, it can become any piece you choose (other than a pawn or king, of course). That reminds of the small, monthly investments we can make. Given enough time, they turn into something truly remarkable. We’ll come back to that, but first let’s take a closer look at the beauty and power of the lowly pawn.
There are many famous chess games that demonstrate the power of the pawn. One such game is H. Bird v. W. Steinitz played in New Orleans in 1866. Here is the key position, with White to move:
So what did White do? At first glance, it looks likes pushing the e pawn up one to attack the Queen and the Rook is a good move. The problem is, Black can simply capture the pawn with its Bishop, White recaptures the Bishop with its pawn, and then Black claims the pawn with its Queen. So much for the power of a pawn. But Bird had something else in mind. Here’s how he ended the game against Steinitz, the first World Chess Champion:
First, Bird captures blacks pawn putting the king in check:
Black took the the pawn with his Rook, and White in turn moved his Rook over one square putting Black in check again:
Black brought his Bishop back to e7 in response to the check, and White moved his queen to g8 for check yet a third time:
Black’s only move was to bring his Rook back to deal with the check, and White’s lowly pawn delivered the final blow:
Now if chess isn’t your thing, I understand that all the moves can get a bit overwhelming. But take a good look at the final position. Black’s Queen has played no role in the game. Black’s rook is pinned by the White Queen so it can’t take the pawn, and there the Black king sits completely overwhelmed by this single pawn.
When it comes to finances, I hope you remember that pawn. Marching one step at a time across the board, it took out an entire army. Small, incremental steps in finances can do the same thing. Even $100 per month invested in a well diversified portfolio will grow into a substantial sum given enough time. Likewise, spending just a little more than you make, left on credit cards each month, will “snowball” into a mountain of debt. The point is, the little things matter! Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves. Well, not really. You have to take care of the big things, too. But you get the idea.
With that, I’ll leave you with your puzzle for the day, and it’s real “easy.” In fact, this position only has 8 pieces on the board. It’s White’s turn to move. Can you figure out how White can get one of his pawns past the three black ones for a Queen that will lead to victory for White?
Published or updated February 14, 2013.