Chess and the Deadly Trap of Debt

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Is debt good or bad? There seems to be some debate about this topic. Some, like Dave Ramsey, believe that all debt is bad. Others take a more moderate approach. But the fact is that too much debt or debt with high interest rates can wreck your financial future. Chess has its own form of debt–it’s called a pin. Let’s take a look at pinning in chess, and then we’ll return to the question of debt.

A pin in chess occurs when a defending piece cannot move without exposing a more valuable defending piece on its other side to capture by an attacking piece. This is where a picture is worth a thousand words:

In this position, black cannot move the Knight at c6 because it is pinned by White’s bishop. That is, if the black knight moved, white would capture black’s king and win the game. Thus, black’s knight is said to be pinned.

Now, just like not all debt is bad (in my opinion), not all pins are bad either. In the above diagram, Black could move its white-squared bishop to d7 on the next move, breaking the pin. The position would look like this:

Too much debt or high-interest rate debt, however, at best reduces you options in the future, and at worst, can create a financial crisis. To avoid being pinned by debt, I try to follow these basic rules:

  1. No Consumer Debt: This is a tough one for many, and at times we’ve had consumer debt from cars, furniture and the like. Now we eschew any consumer debt. We paid cash for our last car, and if we can’t afford something, we don’t buy it. This is a sacrifice to be sure, but the financial freedom it brings is well worth it.
  2. Pay More Than The Minimum: For existing debt, we try to pay more than the minimum required payment each month. Even if it’s just a few dollars a month, over time, it will make a big difference.
  3. Keep Mortgage Debt Below 25%: We keep our monthly mortgage payment below 25% of our gross income. Currently we stand at about 20%, and as my income goes up (hopefully), the percent goes down. I find that a mortgage of 15% or lower really starts to lighten the load. In some very expensive areas, it’s tough to find a home at that price, but over time with a fixed rate mortgage, you can reach these goals.

Our chess puzzle today will show you just how bad a pin (or debt) can be. In the diagram below, it is white to move and gain a winning advantage. Can you find the right moves?

Good luck, and here are some good resources for managing your debt:

Published or Updated: April 21, 2014
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. Let’s take a stab at this…

    Bishop to C5
    Bishop to C7
    Bishop takes Queen
    Bishop takes Bishop
    King to F1

    At this point, White has its Queen, while White King is safe from Black Bishop.

    Is that a winning advantage?

  2. Ilya says:

    White bishop to c5 – pinning the queen against the king.

  3. kris says:

    White Queen to c8
    forces Black Queen to d8 to protect King
    now move white bishop to c5 (check)

  4. DR says:

    These are all good thoughts on the position. Let me ask a few questions, though:

    Loonies and Sense & Ilya, after Bishop to c5, what would be your response if Black played its Bishop to b6?

    Kris, in response to Queen to c8, what would be your response if Black played its King to f7 instead of Queen to d8?

  5. Kris says:

    If Black moved King to f7
    white could move Queen to f8 (check)

    ..and the chase is on

  6. Ilya says:

    Take the Queen!

  7. Ilya, taking the Queen would expose the King.

    I’m stumped as to what to do.

  8. Joe says:

    W Bishop C5

    This pins the black queen to protect the queen, under threat of protected bishop

    B Bishop B6

    This pins the white bishop to protect the king, thus stopping the ability of the bishop to take the queen

    W Queen F4

    This forks the king and pinned queen with a check, forcing the king to move, and nullifying the pin counter, enabling white to have a crucial queen advantage.

    There’s nothing black can really do to counter this move, the bishop on b6, only stalls the advantage, though a novice white may miss the queen fork.

    I suppose the most that can be done is for black to take the bishop in exchange for the queen

    • Rob Berger says:

      Joe, we have a winner! Nicely done.

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