Chess, Life continued – Zugzwang

Zugzwang (German for “compulsion to move”, is a situation found in chess and other games wherein one player is put at a disadvantage because they must make a move when they would prefer to pass and not to move. The fact that the player is compelled to move means that his position will become significantly weaker. A player is said to be “in zugzwang” when any possible move will worsen his position. –


Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea – damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Nasty when it happens in chess – and by definition all a player can do is take the knock. But what about the game of life – or it’s demented half sister the game of love?

In both chess and love Zugzwang is most likely to happen deep into the middle game or in the endgame. Usually because one’s commitment to a certain path is greater as is the cost of abandoning that path. In an earlier post

I looked at one component of Zugzwang when discussing ‘It’s your move.’ I was mainly concerned with the idiocy of moving more than once per turn – ie) not waiting for you partner’s response. But in life and love – if the chilly shadow of Zugzwang has fallen across one’s path, is one truly forced to move?

Because, again, no compulsion to move equals no Zugzwang.

In the endgame of love – not agape love where all games are transcended, but the more usual variety with all it’s undertones of codependency, madness and psychic violence – is there really ever a winner? If the end of love doesn’t hurt both parties, at least a little, I’m not sure it was love. Perhaps one of the partners was an angel or sociopath in disguise? Or someone just had their foot in the water, had never really left the shore.

Because – and therein lies both the rub and the solution – if the end of love has no winner then there’s no shame in losing. Even if I say ‘fuck you’ sooner, louder and more often, I am, to the extent that I’m human, still going to hurt..

In the words of crooning guru of love Leonard Cohen – there ain’t no cure for love.

So if there is no winner perhaps I need to tweak my metaphor. Remember that not all games are zero-sum games.

And not all Non Zero-sum games are even competitive!

It’s only as we grow up that we come to equate games with winning. I still remember the mindset of WTF – I don’t want to learn rules I just want to play. Did the cowboys or the Indians win? The cops or the robbers? And what about playing cowboys and robbers? Quite frankly dear, young Dave, didn’t give a damn.

I thought I was in Zugzwang with ‘X’. Was only in fact in Zugzwang because I thought that I was, for three long years. But we weren’t playing chess. In fact I was just learning to swim. And didn’t need to drown when I became tired or had other lessons to learn. I just had to calmly head towards the shore. Get out, dry off, sit down on the deck chair on the beach and enjoy a long ice cold beer in the sun. I wasn’t washed up – I’d just finished swimming for now.

And now that I know it wasn’t a fight to the death I can picture her having, if not a beer, then perhaps a glass of dry white wine and ice. If not on the beach then perhaps on the rocky shore of a mountain lake. And feel happy – in the middle of the fear and the loss and the confusion – feel happy because we grew together then grew apart. But we both grew.

And can love you from a distance – without holding on to you or holding onto the pain of not being with you anymore.

And instead of “Fuck you” I can raise my beer to you and say, smiling childishly through the tears, “Cheers!”


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