Play chess like hockey players!

At first glance, chess and ice hockey have nothing in common – unless we are talking about it bouncing chess hockey game. Unfortunately, this entertaining game has nothing to do with chess or hockey. And yet, we can learn some useful chess tricks by watching ice hockey. Notice how hockey players push each other while trying to get the puck. This completely legal technique is called “shoulder checking”.

Here is Wikipedia shoulder check definition: “A player puts his shoulder into his opponent to muscle him out of position.” Now imagine that when your opponent is about to checkmate your king, you push him off the board with all your might! Well, that would be illegal and I don’t recommend it.

Instead, in some endgame stances, you can use what’s known as “shouldering.” Here’s an endgame that happened in a recent game of my student.

The endgame looked very simple, so when I asked my student what she thought of it, she replied, “Black wins.” Indeed, what could be more basic than a king and pawn endgame where both kings rush to the same side of the board? Well, surprisingly, this kind of endgame is very tricky and even the strongest players have made mistakes in these positions!

The tricky part of these endgames comes from some amazing chess geometry that we discussed in this article from last year. Here is the very last example from this article:

Did you notice that to win, the white king must not go directly to the puck (the a7 pawn), but instead he must support the opposing king with 2. Kd5!! Watch how ice hockey pros do it:

I understood? That’s how you have to “shoulder” in the finals! If you want to practice this technique right away, you don’t need to look for the nearest hockey rink. Use drill In place!

I don’t know much about ice hockey, but I’m sure there is a defensive technique against the shoulder. We certainly have one in chess! Try to solve the following very tricky puzzle. How can White draw?

If you solved this riddle, then it will be very easy to find how my student’s opponent could save his game:

As I mentioned above, sometimes even very strong players forget about shouldering. Here is a remarkable example. The endgame feels very lame. Can you find a very tricky way for white to actually win?

Years ago I wrote a series of articles about king and pawn endgames called “The Simplest Thing in Chess”. The sarcastic title was meant to highlight just how tricky these simple endgames can be. “Shouldering” is one of the standout ideas that makes this kind of endgame so tricky!

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