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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies



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Got a job. Went on vacation. 06/06/2018

I’m traveling to the North Pole, or at least the northernmost city in the world.

I didn’t want to go on this once-in-a-lifetime voyage, or even talk about it, unless I had a clear conscience that might come with a job. What was I supposed to say to the landlady: “June is another month in which I will give you no money, and rather than search for a job next week, I’m going to Norway”?

The Berkeley Chess School, which has contracted me as a teacher since 1990, saved my butt by giving me a media gig, though I had to risk accepting their offer while saying: “For my first week, I’ll take vacation.”

The trip became real when I bought shoes named after a mountain range, which must be better suited for the Arctic than Chuck Taylors.

There’s a local sporting goods chain that seems to acquire every overstocked pair of athletic and outdoors shoes in the country, and make them a loss leader, because consumers have to walk through the expensive stuff to get to the shoes.

I survived my first month as a freelance writer in 1997 by reselling shoes from this place. I bought two pairs of first-generation Air Jordans in red and blue, and they sat in the closet because they were uncomfortable. Years pass, some company appears to make offers for old American sneakers, then flip them to Japanese kids. They were pleased to buy my Air Jordans. I envisioned some Japanese kid buying used Air Jordans for hundreds of American dollars, picturing himself flying like Michael, then hobbling around the court in those ugly, clunky Nikes. He’d keep wearing them, though, like they were Steve Martin’s “cruel shoes”.

In that story, a shoe salesman makes a bundle by telling ladies they can’t have these ‘cruel shoes’, not at any price, no way, no how, until they demand that he fleece them. But the cruel shoes are impossible to wear, returned at a depreciated rate, and so on.

Thanks for making the original Air Jordans uncomfortable, Nike, because I really needed that money in 1997.

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Categories: arctic

I don’t think it’s possible for “The Incredibles 2” to be as good as the first, and that worries me 05/12/2018

Tickets went on sale for “The Incredibles 2” today.

I don’t think it’s possible for I2 to be as good as I1. I think “The Incredibles” is one of the greatest movies ever made, and I’m not limiting that to animated movies. I’m saying “The Incredibles” is up there with “The Shawshank Redemption” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

“The Incredibles 2” is set up for failure, though “failure” has a different tone in Pixar’s world. People said “Brave” was a failure, but the reviewer’s line I remember best was: “You can’t punish Pixar like you can’t punish an A student for doing B- work.” (“Brave” was better than B-, we should agree.)

“The Incredibles” already used the best themes. Superheroes curtailed by government interference (a theme that worked for “Powers” comic books, and “Captain America: Civil War”), the celebration of mediocrity while simultaneously subduing the truly remarkable, toxic fandom, kid supers growing into their powers, kid siblings fighting each other before fighting together, insurance companies favoring shareholders over policyholders. Many folks think Edna Mode stole that movie, but what’s she doing in “The Incredibles 2”? Surely not designing new suits.

Oh, the wonderful detail. Bob and Helen arguing about freeway exits, that fabulously overdone island hideout where the mooks wear uniforms though there’s no one else around and spend their time after work… where? Out-of-shape Bob stuck in the chute. Bob rescuing a cat in a tree. The trials of Jack-Jack’s babysitter. (Three things that made me laugh until it hurt: “Jack-Jack Attack”, the DVD short that showed what was going on at home while the Parrs were on Syndrome’s island; the fight between Mark Wahlberg and his stuffed bear in “Ted”, and the brilliant professional comedy in “The Aristrocrats”.)

That movie was perfect. What can they possibly do as an encore?

All three of the “Toy Story” movies are on my list of favorites, but initially, I didn’t care much for “Toy Story 2” because I didn’t think the real world should intrude, with its abandonment issues, its unscrupulous collectibles dealers, and the purchase of ttoys for display cases instead of play. I thought “Toy Story 2” sort of spoiled the sense of wonder brought on by “Toy Story”, but when “Toy Story 3” completed the circle of Woody’s existence, I embraced 2 as strongly as I did 1.

Even so, I don’t think they ever intended a “Toy Story 2”, and when they got around to it 18 or 20 years later, they did it with “Toy Story 3” already in mind.

“The Incredibles”, like “Toy Story”, doesn’t give a hint of sequel. Even though John Ratzenberger emerges from the ground at the end like he would in the last panel of a comic book, I just don’t see where they could go from there that wouldn’t be a disappointment following the incredible greatness of the first movie. (While we’re on that subject, I never thought “Star Wars” needed the Empire to strike back or the Jedi to return, though I won’t complain about where the Star Wars universe has gone in the past couple years.)

I mentioned “Ted” parenthetically, but “Ted 2” illustrated exactly what I’m talking about. “Ted” was great partly because Ted was just another schlub working in a grocery store, and no one gave a shit that he was a teddy bear come to life. There followed the unnecessary sequel in which Ted’s state of being a teddy bear is the crux of the matter. That movie sucked. I so very much hope Brad Bird had ideas in reserve when he made “The Incredibles”, anticipating the demand for a sequel.

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Categories: media

Dark Mage Craig: Overlooked, defiant, scalable

layer-81Red is known for its insanely-tough character cards: Paladin Butters confers invincibility to multiple allies, Princess Kenny reduces his killer’s attack to 0 for 10 seconds (so long that the killer might as well be dead, which means Princess is roughly the same as Inuit Kenny for half the cost), Stan the Great cuts enemy attacks by more than half across the field, and if you haven’t seen the Canadian Knight Ike/Robin Tweek combination, watch a video, because Robin Tweek transforms little Ike into Godzilla.

With all that fantastic red ability around, Dark Mage Craig has been much overlooked. Dark Mage Craig also loses the comparison to another Craig (the blue Craig can be as good as Lightning Bolt with a body).

I’ve always been intrigued by Dark Mage Craig. One, because no one’s playing with him; and two, because Craig is one of my favorite characters on the show.

Craig has attitude, which is well reflected in the Dark Mage card art. I loved that two-parter in which the big four persuade Craig to contribute his birthday money to their latest scheme, resulting in Craig being kidnapped and flown to Peru with the rest of them. Which gives him a good chunk of two episodes to curse himself and the big four for allowing himself to be sucked into the trouble that these assholes (who never liked him until he had $100) attract like magnets. Like Chekov’s gun, Craig has to get involved, no matter how reluctantly.

So I want to use a Craig card, but Marine Craig is just another boring way to fling poison (I have 349 unused Marine Craig duplicates, so if I ever want to upgrade, I’m ready). If there is an unfashionable Craig to use, it has to be Dark Mage Craig.

The fantasy event this weekend afforded a good opportunity. There were too few event points to score if you weren’t playing red, so why not?

I spent all of my coins and tickets raising unused red cards to levels 3 and 4, and the event has been fun. I’ve tried six different combinations of cards, teaming red with all three other colors, and Dark Mage Craig in every case.

At first glance, Dark Mage Craig appears useless, with the same kind of pipsqueak area damage that Mephesto Terrance does from the air. Still, if you keep him alive long enough, DMCraig’s bits of area damage add up at the end.

It’s his warcry that counts, reducing NK’s power by half (for 6 seconds at level 4). This also doesn’t sound like much, but consider this: Dark Mage Craig’s enemy nerfing is the only one in the game that scales with the enemy. The stronger the enemy NK, the more helpful DM Craig is in assisting his allies draw blood. The great beauty of this is that if you time it right, if Dark Mage Craig’s nerf is still in effect when the enemy NK loses a bar and shockwaves, the shockwave is also halved, and your attackers fight on.

Dark Mage Craig is the headhunter’s best friend. My first go with DM Craig and Starvin’ Marvin was a success; Craig kept Marvin aloft for an additional second or two, and that’s a lot of time for Marvin. I imagine a skillful player could coordinate Mimsy’s arrival with Paladin’s deathwish and Dark Mage’s warcry. No Hyperdrive necessary.

I think DM Craig’s other partner is Pigeon Gang. Rats move fast, so they don’t need the help, but pigeons flying toward NK usually get picked off by NK zaps before they’re damaging. Dark Mage Craig changes that.

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Backward-going moves are hard to see 05/08/2018

I have difficulty seeing pieces moving backward. It’s a hole in my play that’s cost many games— I made a study plan by finding then guessing Capablanca games that included important backward moves, but finding the games made spoilers. I appreciated the book Invisible Chess Moves for its inclusion of backward-going moves as a problem for many players (that is, I’m not alone).

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Categories: chess

A Budapest/Tennison tactic 04/20/2018

When I talk about combinations in the opening, I start with the shortest example. For instance, Warren-Selman, correspondence 1930:

The Budapest Defense 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 is one of those openings that’s more promising as a black opening than a white opening, because 2. c4 means Black’s …Bf8-b4+ is a more serious nuisance. Since c2-c3 is unavailable, White would have to interpose with a piece, and then Black’s b4-bishop and e4-knight work in cooperation. Therefore, White played 3. a3, which isn’t bad, but isn’t as good as White wants from the opening. Then 6. g3? Nxf2! shows White’s king is overworked (7. Kxf2 Bg3+ wins the queen).

Tennison’s gambit 1. e4 d5 2. Nf3 is sort of a Budapest in reverse, where White has an extra move, but he can’t use it for the active Bf1-b5+ because …c7-c6 is a counterattacking interposition. So, whereas the Budapest Defense is good enough for grandmaster Short to play in a match with Karpov, the Tennison Gambit is best left to coffeehousers.


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Categories: chess

Cute and deadly! And now suitable for PvP play! 04/19/2018

layer-41I’m a veteran of Usenet, and America Online during Eternal September, but sometimes I think there’s been nothing as sour as the SPPD subreddit.

I wholly agree that there’s a lot to complain about: Wildly unpopular development decisions in the name of card balance, software that goes buggy at the worst possible times (speaking of which, today my Powerfist Dougie hit enemy NK with 2 health two times, and it didn’t die, while my NK did), an expensive and time-consuming upgrade path that locks you into one way of doing things (resulting in a lack of cultural diversity), opponents who cheat, opponents who don’t play.

I’ve written about all these things before; the suboptimal aspect of SPPD that I haven’t experienced yet is matchmaking among the legendary ranks because I haven’t reached that rank yet (but I’m getting there; I’m learning that SPPD is further from chess than I knew).

This week’s balance update favored two of my favorite cards, cards I was going to play with always, whether they were acceptable to top players or not.

Gizmo Ike is my favorite card. Ike the TV character has soul, intelligence, patriotism, humor. The Gizmo Ike card has the niftiest detail that you have to look for: a Mysterion comic book. (The Mysterion episodes were among the best, and if a Mysterion SPPD card is issued, I’ll play with it without regard to community opinion.)

The Gizmo card just wasn’t very good in the PvP game because the master Gizmo rarely lived long enough to split more than once. In PvE, on the other hand, Gizmo could usually hit the limit of 13, but the PvP excitement isn’t there.

The update slowed the master Gizmo, so it wouldn’t rush to its doom, instead having time to split. And then split again. And again. “ANOTHER! ANOTHER!” is a Gizmo Ike battle cry.

It’s amusing as hell. One of my opponents’ Zen Cartmans reached my NK without support, and attracted an entire fleet of Gizmos. The Gizmo copies don’t hit very hard (roughly equal to the other fast, tiny, annoying swarmers like rats and gnomes), and Zen takes thousands of hits, so it was a spectacle.

More than that, the updated Gizmo helps win matches in the way you’d want it to. With four or eight Gizmos running around, your enemy’s units can’t fight them all, so a few of them can sneak into to pop NK, and the little pops add up.

I laughed more today while playing SPPD today than I have before, and that is a complete reversal from the typical bored, weary, frustrated feeling afterafter losing again (or winning) to the monotonous “meta” decks.

Score one for RedLynx!

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I finished Black Widow: Forever Red and Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 on the same day 04/13/2018

screenshot-from-2018-04-13-02-20-30By coincidence, I finished reading the collected Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 a few hours before competing the audiobook Black Widow: Forever Red.

I began reading Daredevil comics off the drugstore spinner rack with #113, late in 1974. By 1977, I had worked for two different comic book dealerships, and completed a Daredevil collection #1 to the mid-140’s.

That done, I sold ’em to buy a tennis racket’and a bicycle. That’s what Daredevil was worth in those days, because Frank Miller hadn’t come along yet (that happened in 1979) to turn the character into something great.

In the mid-’70s, Daredevil was such a C-list Marvel Universe character— with a gallery of enemies like Stilt-Man, Man-Bull, and Leapfrog— that they paired him with the Black Widow for a few years, putting her in the masthead: “Daredevil and the Black Widow”, though teaming them up didn’t do anything to help either hero. Look at the cover of #106: They tried guest appearances by the great Jim Starlin character Captain Mar-Vell, but nothing helped that book. On most of those covers, Natasha is a hostage. Not Joss Whedon’s Natasha, you bet.

It wasn’t until Frank Miller found the recipe for success by setting Daredevil against the Kingpin in a Batman-Joker kind of relationship that’s been in place for almost 30 years. The Black Widow didn’t come into her own until Joss Whedon plus Scarlett Johansson made Natasha an absolute badass in “Marvel’s The Avengers”.

Now they’re both A-list characters. The first season of the Netflix Daredevil series met with my approval. I have not watched season 2, for I felt like quitting while I was ahead. (I never watched the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie, and never will.)

Daredevil as a good broadcast series, and the Black Widow has two novels (there were two Daredevil novels, one of which was a Choose Your Own Adventure story, and the other — Assassin’s Smile by Christopher Golden — was forgettable).

The first of the Widow novels, “Forever Red” by Margaret Stohl, is aimed at the “young adult” market. As ever, the Disney machine follows the money; the young adult market produced the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” series, which I can’t complain about, since the “Twilight” movies kept the lights on for my future wife Anna Kendrick.

Because Forever Red is designed to appeal to teenaged girls, it did one thing that absolutely smack of cosmic-level reboot: It introduced Ava Orlova, whom Natasha Romanoff describes as her “Mini-Me”. Orlova is such a Black Widow Mini-Me that she has Natasha’s mind inside her head, and a code name “Red Widow”.

I think this says: When Scarlett Johansson is nearly done playing superheros, they’ll introduce the Red Widow in The Avengers’ timeline, and they’re set for the 2030’s.

Forever Red does another thing, one that had me asking: “Is this canon? Is this canon? Really? This has Marvel’s OK on it as canon?”. They gave Natasha a young brother.

I borrowed Black Widow: Forever Red hoping for the Widow to kick lots of ass, but it’s mostly an origin story for the Red Widow with a romantic teenage angle. Natasha spends 1/3 of the book being grilled by the feds, an an expository device.

When I figured out what was going on, I lowered my expectations, so Black Widow: Forever Red was OK. The sequel sends Natasha and Ava out as a team. Maybe Natasha dies. I’m just speculating, but you can see they’re planning for this inevitability.

For a while, I didn’t want to read the comics that comprise Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18. They moved Daredevil to San Francisco, which was an incredibly lame move that also happened in the ’70s. Was it Gerry Conway who wrote those? Matt Murdock belongs in New York, beating up bad guys in Hell’s Kitchen, and running into Spiderman on the rooftops.

The way Mark Waid tells the story, though, it makes sense for Daredevil to move. His secret identity has been completely blown in an arc that took years to develop and unfold, and in celebrity-obsessed California, Matt puts that to commercial use.

Mark Waid’s initial Daredevil stories made him my favorite Daredevil writer, ever. That’s saying a lot, right? I’ve been reading this comic since I was a kid, and this writer has emerged from 500 (or is it 600?) issues as the best of them, in my view.

Before Waid came along, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker wrote some of the darkest Daredevil stories imaginable. Waid said he felt like crying after reading some of those, and he set out to restore the fun to Daredevil. Not only did he make Daredevil fun again, he told good adventure stories, to boot (Waid’s Legion of Super-Heroes stories were also outstanding; that guy writes really good comic book stories).

*And* Mark Waid remembers who Matt Murdock’s real love is: Karen Page.

Frank Miller turned Daredevil from C-list to A-list, but he had to retcon Elektra into Matt’s history, as his college girlfriend— *before* Karen. It’s canon, and I accept it as canon, but I have never believed that the retconned Elektra was a greater love for Matt than Karen.

In Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18, Matt’s got a new girlfriend, a deputy district attorney who’s a badass. It’s critically important for Matt’s girlfriends to be badasses, because otherwise they just die or go insane. That’s a big part of the narrative, Matt worried about having this relationship because his girlfriends always have unhappy endings.

Also, Foggy Nelson has terminal cancer. In Daredevil #1 back in 1964, there was Matt and Foggy and Karen. In the late ’60s or early ’70s, Karen was “put on the bus”, written out of the book. Then Frank Miller and Kevin Smith retconned her move to California as her turning to acting in porn films and turning to heroin. And Kevin Smith killed her. THANKS A LOT, WRITERS. (Clearly, the Netflix Karen is NOTHING like the retconned comic book Karen.)

So it’s only Foggy who survives since #1, and he’s dying. I didn’t want to read those issues, but I did, and they’re pretty good. I wish Waid hadn’t moved on to other projects.

Listening to Black Widow: Forever Red and reading Daredevil vol. 5 #11-18 on the same days reminded me of how far the characters have come: None of the writers want to remember that Matt and Natasha were ever together. It’s like those lame comics — from a time when both characters were almost extinct — have been retconned out of existence.

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Categories: media

Sandbagging: The capitalist way to compete 04/10/2018

In the late ’70s, while the US Chess Federation was sufferinscreenshot-from-2018-04-10-20-17-34g a sort of Fischer Boom hangover, the ratings system fell far behind, as much as six months. That meant if your performance was very good or very bad at the time, your rating wasn’t going to reflect that for a while.

The Fischer Boom also meant greater interest in chess, and a greater demand for larger-than-ever cash prizes.

It was an ideal situation for sandbaggers, who dropped games and rating points in cheap, small neighborhood events before taking that false rating to big cash tournaments (whose organizers hadn’t yet implemented anti-sandbagging measures that are still in place).

Here in the Bay Area, there was a string of strong Filipino players who got off the boat and won money in the unrated sections of chess tournaments. One of my favorite stories is about the pair of Filipino masters who allegedly showed up as unrated players at a big tournament, and noticed that the unrated section already had its share of sandbaggers. So they flipped a coin, and one entered the Under 1400 section as an unrated, while the other joined the Under 1600 section. They won.

One of my best friends in the Filipino-American Bay Area chess community told me that some of us didn’t have another way off the islands than playing chess, then treating open Swiss tournaments as seed money to start a life.

Sandbagging is a serious problem among South Park Phone Destroyer players.

I understand where they’re coming from: No matter where you are ranked, to climb more run on the ladder will be easier if your cards get stronger. Rather than grinding away with opponents who are equal or better, these SPPD players drop matches and ranks, then more easily win cards against a series of weaker opponents.

This happens at every level, because there are players at every level who witness this simpler way to better their cards, and adopt it themselves.

The sandbaggers don’t see the problem. Enjoy your free wins, they say.

Competitors don’t want free wins, they want to compete, against opponents who are virtually sitting therend for the minute it takes to lose a match — there’s a method that enables one to throw lots of matches in a jiffy.

This isn’t fun for the other players, who want to compete, but instead go through the motions until the other new kid goes down for the third time. This is tedium.

Then you have to play against them while they’re moving back up. Their losing on purpose in order to win more easily later results in two mismatches for the other players, and it is not fun.

The adventure-themed event last weekend encouraged sandbagging.

If you’re earning special event awards by earning some number of points per match won, you begin performing arithmetic in the last 12 hours. I had 55 event points left to earn the next award, and I had to ask myself if I wanted to try to win 11 matches at five points each, or 14 at four points each.

It didn’t matter. I reached that event threshold with hours to spare because every fourth opponent was losing on purpose. They performed the same calculation, and figured it was easier to win X number of matches against much weaker opponents than Y against equals or better.

There’s a slight variation for some. Considering that the player who wins the first bar wins 7 of 8 matches (in my experience), they went all out for the first bar by spamming everything they could in the first 10 or 15 seconds. If that succeeded in taking the first bar, they were well positioned to play to win event points. If that immediate rush didn’t succeed, they stopped playing and moved on.

South Park Phone Destroyer is in trouble. Some social media users are already talking about it in past tense.

They’ve made at least world-altering decision the worst possible time: ruining the green theme *days after* promoting the new green Cupid Cartman card, which prompted many players to make a bigger investment in the theme.

The upgrade system is horrible. It costs so much— with no method to recoup your bad investments if you’re wrong— to improve and acquire uncommon cards that we’re stuck playing with and against the same common cards in every match.

Imagine beginning this game at rank 0 with the starter set of blue cards, and your first matches are against assholes who sandbagged down from 10 or 15, who’ve acquired Mecha Timmys and Moon Stans along the way.

I’d say that if South Park Phone Destroyer fails, I’ll never play another Ubisoft/RedLynx game again, but the fact is I’ll never player another mobile game of the type again. I’m here for the South Park theme.

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Richmond 5, Trenton 2 04/06/2018


Richmond beat host Trenton 5-2 Friday to tie the series.

The Flying Squirrels scored four runs in the 5th, including an RBI triple by top prospect C Aramis Garcia (when Posey retires, will Garcia still be in the system, or will they trade him for a suspect veteran?) and a bases-loaded walk (“Sacks are full of squirrels” was my favorite call by original Squirrels broadcaster Jon Laaser).

Squirrels 1B Jerry Sands made two nice 3-1 assists to different pitchers. That is my favorite “routine putout” because I don’t think it’s routine — the pitcher sometimes has to make the putout while racing the runner to the bag, and the 1B often has to turn back toward the bag before judging his short throw (which is perilous like a short putt).

It was Brandon Belt’s work on 3-1 fielding plays that helped cement my opinion that he would be a good major leaguer, besides hitting California League pitching for .450 at the time.

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Categories: baseball

Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #7: Guardian

screenshot-from-2018-04-05-11-28-46King plus one pawn vs. king is essential chess knowledge, else one can’t win or draw games with the smallest  possible material imbalance remaining.

The serious student becomes familiar with the rook-pawn-plus-wrong-colored-bishop endgame early, because while one is learning K+P vs. K, teachers like to mention the unusual exception where an extra bishop won’t help:


White can’t gain control of the queening square, and the game is drawn. Its most famous occurrence was from the Fischer-Taimanov candidates match in 1971:


Black could draw by 1…Nd3 plus 2…Nf4 to stop the pawn, and if the white king moves to f5 to kick the knight, Black abandons it with …Kd6! then reaching h8.

The unusual nature of the wrong-bishop-plus-rook-pawn endgame makes Guardian interesting. A practical application in the first diagram: White wins by playing Guardian, combining a2-a3 plus Ba1-a2, changing the bishop to the correct-colored square. Then Ba2-d5 and a3-a4-a5-a6-a7-a8Q.

A more likely situation for Guardian is in an ending with bishops on opposite-colored squares. Most of those are draws, even when the strong side is ahead by several pawns. For example:


If White plays 1. a7, Black’s white-square blockade is bulletproof, and if 1. b7, then 1…Bxb7 draws. Guardian turns the game into a win for White because 1. a7 is accompanied by Ba5-a6!

Opposite-colored bishop endgames are common. I played this yesterday:


If my opponent playing Black held the Guardian card, he could play …Bg4-e6-d5, then Guardian to enable his bishop to counter mine, and win. I’m glad that didn’t happen.

Card text: Move one of your pawns forward (you may move two squares if the pawn is on the second rank). Your piece which was just behind the pawn may follow, so it remains directly behind. Your pawn is thus protected from en passant capture.

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Categories: Knightmare Chess