Behold, the Power of the Pawn

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Welcome to the Dough Roller, a blogsite about everything money. You can get free Dough Roller updates from my RSS feed or via e-mail. Thanks for stopping by!

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
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. Ilya says:

    Move the g pawn up.
    Black will take it with either h or f. – Let’s assume f.
    Move h pawn up.
    Black will take it with g
    Move f pawn up, get queen and kill all the other pawns.
    If black didn’t take the h pawn with g and did something else instead, take g pawn with h.

    or…

    Move the g pawn up.
    Black will take it with either h or f. – Let’s assume h.
    Move f pawn up.
    Black will take it with g
    Move h pawn up, get queen and kill all the other pawns.
    If black didn’t take the f pawn with g and did something else instead, take g pawn with f.

  2. Millionster says:

    It’s chess week at DR.net! ^_^

  3. Pinyo says:

    Wow, those were incredible moves…that’s why I am not a world champion. Good analogy to finance to. Great!

  4. Pawn Boy says:
  5. LoLo says:

    Amazing game !

  6. B says:

    My chess is a little rusty so forgive me if this is stupid. Why did black take that pawn with his rook instead of with his king?

    • DR says:

      King takes pawn wouldn’t have helped him. There are several responses, but one would be pawn takes pawn, exposing the king to check by the rook. From there, white either plays pawn takes rook check or pawn to g8 queen, with discovered check, all depending on what Black did.

  7. Z says:

    Unless Steinitz and Bird were playing bughouse, I think black has one too many bishops in a couple of those diagrams…

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