“To be forced to make a decision.”

In a Bind: Understanding “Zugzwang”

You use this word during a time when you feel immense stress or pressure and have to make a strategic decision. Zugzwang originally described the feeling chess players felt when trying to make a move, but the word is now used whenever it’s your turn to make a decision.

The German word “Zugzwang” has found its way into chess strategies and everyday conversations alike. Let’s delve into its meaning by dissecting its components:

  • Zug (noun) translates to “move” in the context of a game or action.
  • Zwang (noun) means “compulsion” or “force.”

So, literally, “Zugzwang” translates to “compulsion to move.”


  • The article for “Zugzwang” is masculine (“der”).
  • The plural form is “die Zugzwänge.”

English Translation:

In chess, “Zugzwang” refers to a specific situation where a player is forced to make a move that weakens their position. There’s no option to pass the turn, and any legal move will worsen their situation. More generally, “Zugzwang” can be translated as “a tight spot” or “being under pressure to act, even if it’s disadvantageous.”

Examples of Usage:

  • Im Schach befand sich Schwarz in Zugzwang und musste einen Zug spielen, der die Dame verlieren würde. (In chess, Black was in Zugzwang and had to make a move that would lose the queen.)
  • Während der Gehaltsverhandlungen geriet sie in Zugzwang und akzeptierte das Angebot, obwohl sie es für unfair hielt. (During the salary negotiation, she found herself in Zugzwang and accepted the offer, even though she thought it was unfair.)
  • Der Politiker stand in Zugzwang und musste schnell eine Entscheidung treffen, um den Skandal einzudämmen. (The politician was in a Zugzwang and had to make a quick decision to contain the scandal.)

By understanding “Zugzwang,” you can effectively express situations where someone is forced to act, even if the outcome is unfavorable.