Zugzwang. (n) [TZOOG-tsvang] German for “compulsion to move.” A situation found usually in chess … where one player is put at a disadvantage because he has to make a move  … that will significantly weaken his position.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’m a fan of the TV show Criminal Minds. Good acting, excellent scripts and story lines, well-developed characters. Two of my favourites, Spencer Reid and Penelope Garcia, appear to be Aspies, or some variant thereof, and that is also a huge draw for me.

In a recent episode, one of the characters used the term Zugzwang, and before you could say “…and now Dr Reid will explain that,” I had Googled it on my ever-present iPad.

"Zugzwang" is a term meaning... oh, never mind, you've got it.

“Zugzwang” is a term meaning… oh, never mind, you’ve got it.

(iPads, by the way, are an excellent way for Aspies to learn to follow plots. I have enormous trouble with this [difficulty seeing big picture] so I often record/PVR shows so that I can pause them and look up plot twists or obscure characters or terms. Aspie advice, there — you’re welcome.)

Anyway, this quickly led me down the Google rabbit-hole into the subject of chess, a game at which I am complete rubbish and always have been. (Again, a big-picture/Aspie problem, I think.) Paradoxically, my little brother, who had a learning disability, was (inexplicably) given a plastic chess set for his seventh birthday and turned out to be an absolute bloody genius at it. Time after time he beat me — supposedly the Poindexter Mega-Mind of the family — and quickly moved on to beating kids much older than himself. He was also really good at strategy games like Risk, and spent hours happily arranging little plastic men and tanks into complicated battles on his bedroom floor.

Over the years I have tried with no success at all to learn chess. I’ve read books on it, watched movies and documentaries about chess geniuses, and am still complete rubbish.

However, knowledge is power — even (or especially!) knowledge of the areas in which you’re complete rubbish — and during my Great Sudoku Addiction of 2010, I discovered to my delight that the game was helping me to learn strategy and “thinking several moves ahead.”

Friend or foe? Remains to be seen....

Friend or foe? Remains to be seen….

The recent Zugzwang episode, and the run of really lousy weather we’re having lately, which has led me to be more or less under house arrest, is all the impetus I need to tackle the game of chess once again.

I’ve downloaded an app, called simply Learn Chess, that leads newbies through the names and functions of the pieces, the basic tactics, and the terminology. Aside from failing miserably at the little demo on “boxing in the king,” I’m finding it intriguing.

With any luck, in a year or so I should be able to stroll into any local daycare centre and win a game against one of the kids there.

Stay tuned.


Just let me finish with this truck, and then I'll come and teach you how to get to Checkmate.

Just let me finish with this truck, and then I’ll come and teach you how to get to Checkmate.


2 thoughts on “Zugzwang

  1. Love Reid, I cried at the end of that episode. I tried to learn to play chess a few years back, after a chess memory test in a psychology lecture made me feel I might be good at it. My partner even bought me a little chess set. I was not good, abstract rules confuse me and now the game sits on a shelf in my spare bedroom.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s