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Chess and problem rambles by PW

27 Jan. 2013 – Two selections from ‘Problem Potpourri’

The ‘Problem Potpourri’ column in Australasian Chess continues to draw splendid works from around the world. It’s not easy to pick the highlights from so many fine originals, but here are two of the best that appeared in the year 2012.

Leonid Makaronez
Australasian Chess 2012
Mate in 3

The three-mover is by regular contributor Leonid Makaronez, an IM of composition from Israel. The subtle key 1.Bf7! contains a quiet threat, 2.Rf3 followed by 3.Bb2 (which answers 2…Ke5 too). Black’s thematic defences are distant self-blocks: 1…Sb3 2.Re4+ Kc3 3.Rc4, and 1…Rxf6 2.Rd3+ Ke5 3.Rd5. There’s lovely by-play with 1…Sc6 (which stops the threat in view of 2.Rf3? Ke5!) allowing 2.Bd2 and 3.Re4, because 2…c1(Q) no longer checks. Also note that 1.Bg8? is refuted by 1…Rg6!

Christer Jonsson
Australasian Chess 2012
Helpmate in 3
2 solutions

The helpmate is by another IM, Christer Jonsson of Sweden. The black pieces seem already well-placed to facilitate a knight mate on c2 or b3, but if White plans 1…b5 2…Sb4 3…Sc2 or 1…d3 2…Sd2 3…Sb3, Black is unable to maintain the set-up while using up three moves. Instead, Black helps to clear a path for each white knight by capturing on b4 or d2. White then has a spare move with which to sacrifice a knight to a black pawn, thereby supplying Black with a tempo move. 1.Sxb4 Sg3 2.Sa2 Sb4 3.hxg3! Sc2, and 1.Sxd2 Sf4 2.Sb1 Sd2 3.gxf4! Sb3. Since the two white knights take turns to be sacrificed and to give mate, the Zilahi theme is realised as well, besides the unusual black tempo play provision.

28 Feb. 2013 – A “Holy Grail” of proof games attained

In a so-called “massacre” proof game, just a handful of pieces remain in the diagram position, and the preceding play largely consists of captures by both sides. The nature of such games, where virtually no clues of what transpired are left in the final position, means they require computer assistance to be constructed (or solved). There’s a sort of “Holy Grail” for problemists to find a massacre game with a unique solution that leaves only the two kings on the board. Earlier research by programmers had proved that no such games exist in 16½ or 17 moves (except those with additional problem conditions). However, by extending the length of the games to be analysed and limiting the search based on how far the kings will travel, Francois Labelle of Canada has discovered the first two-king SPG that is completely orthodox.

Francois Labelle
StrateGems 2012
SPG in 19½

This astounding achievement took a staggering amount of computer time. As Labelle reports in an article published in StrateGems last year, ten months were spent on the searching parameters that yielded the successful game in 19½ moves. The problem position, shown above, is quite nice to boot – a symmetrical set-up with both kings on their original file. The solution is 1.c4 e5 2.Qb3 Qh4 3.Qxb7 Qxh2 4.Qxb8 Qxg1 5.Rxh7 Rxb8 6.Rxg7 Rxb2 7.Rxf7 Rxa2 8.Rxd7 Rxd2 9.Rxa7 Kxd7 10.Rxc7+ Kd6 11.Rxc8 Qxg2 12.Rxf8 Kc5 13.Rxg8 Rxg8 14.Bxg2 Rxg2 15.Sc3 Rxf2 16.Kxf2 Kxc4 17.Kf3 Kxc3 18.Bxd2+ Kxd2 19.Ke4 Kxe2 20.Kxe5.

Francois Labelle
StrateGems 2012
SPG in 18

Labelle’s method also generated 349 sound SPGs with three pieces left, some confirming previously known results, but plenty of which are new works. Here’s an interesting one that shows the black king trekking to the farthest possible square. 1.d4 h6 2.Bxh6 c5 3.Bxg7 Rxh2 4.Bxf8 Rxh1 5.Bxe7 Kxe7 6.Sc3 Kd6 7.dxc5+ Kxc5 8.Qxd7 Rxg1 9.Qxb7 Rxg2 10.Qxa7+ Kb4 11.Qxf7 Rxf2 12.Qxg8 Rxe2+ 13.Bxe2 Rxa2 14.Bd3 Qxd3 15.Qxc8 Rxb2 16.Qxb8+ Kxc3 17.Qxb2+ Kxb2 18.cxd3 Kxa1. While it doesn’t sound very likely, I wonder could any of these three-unit problems be “twinned” with one another!?

Are there more two-king SPGs to be discovered? It’s possible, according to Labelle, whose analysis isn’t exhaustive (though he has conducted a full search of 18-move games and determined that the task cannot be accomplished at that length). Out of more than 3500 possible two-king positions, he has verified the SPGs for about half, from which one sound setting emerged. Based on this and the data from the three-unit problems, Labelle estimates the chance of another two-king position having a unique solution to be about 1/1000. “Finding it,” he writes, “will not be easy and I fear it will require more computing power, a better pruning method, or plain luck.”

23 Apr. 2013 – ‘Minimalkunst im Schach’ edited by Ebert, Reich, and Kuhlmann

Economy of force is one of the basic principles in chess composition – it means that a problem should use the minimum amount of material to bring about a given idea. An interesting way to express this type of economy is to limit a player (usually White) to employing just one piece besides the king. Problems that meet this criterion are called minimals.

A comprehensive anthology of the “best” minimal problems, Minimalkunst im Schach, was published in 2006, though I acquired a copy only recently. This impeccably produced hardback contains more than a thousand problems, arranged in these genres: studies, directmates, helpmates, and fairies. Each section is subdivided according to the type of piece owned by the minimal side, next to the king. Brief comments in German accompany the solutions, but you don’t need to understand the text to enjoy these well-selected compositions.

The process of compiling this album was a mammoth task that began in 1980, as co-author Hilmar Ebert relates in the Introduction (also in English). He worked through a preliminary selection of some 30,000 problems and picked 10,000 of them to present to his fellow editors, Hans-Peter Reich and Jorg Kuhlmann. Over the years the trio meticulously analysed and assessed these minimals for their quality, originality and correctness, and eventually chose 1032 for inclusion in this book.

Laszlo Lindner
Magyar Sakkvilag 1943
Helpmate in 6

Here I quote two representative problems from the collection, both marvellous works. The first features an unusual helpmate idea in which White’s initial play is motivated by the need to stop an imminent black mate. Due to zugzwang, Black is about to give mate in three moves at the latest, e.g. 1.h1(S) Sc6 2.h2 Sb4 and now 3.Sg3/e2 mate cuts short White’s plan to play 3…Sd3. To avoid such a hazard, Black must promote carefully: 1.h1(B) Se6 2.h2 Sf4 3.Bg2+ Sxg2. Now 4.h1(S) fails because after 4…Sxe1/Sf4, Black is again forced to mate with any legal move. So instead 4.h1(B) Sxe1 (self-pin) 5.e2+ Kxf2 (unpin) 6.Bg2 (tempo move) Sd3.

Ian Shanahan
Ideal-Mate Review 1993
Hon. Mention
Helpstalemate in 8

A helpstalemate problem is similar to a helpmate except that the players cooperate to put Black in stalemate. In Aussie composer Ian Shanahan’s example, we see an elegant delivery of the Allumwandlung theme. 1.f1(S) Kc6 2.Sg3 hxg3 3.c1(B) g4 4.Bh6 g5 5.h2 gxh6 6.h1(R) hxg7 7.Rh8 gxh8(Q) 8.Ka4 Qc3. The four types of promotions occur in ascending order; moreover, this miniature incorporates an Excelsior and an ideal stalemate.

3 Jun. 2013 – A tribute to Dan Meinking (1960–2012)

In November last year came the sad news that the American problemist Dan Meinking had passed away, aged only fifty-two. He was one of the most prominent composers from the U.S., gaining the FIDE Master of Chess Composition title in 2009. He was also a well-liked and respected figure in problem circles, judging by (for instance) the messages commemorating him on the Mat Plus Forum. Though proficient in fairy problems and proof games, Dan was best-known for his orthodox helpmates. I’ve always been a fan of his style in this genre, particularly his knack of finding the letztform (ideal setting) of an idea, and his tendency to pack four strategically interesting phases into one problem.

Dan Meinking
Chess Life and Review 1985
1st-2nd Prize
Helpmate in 3
2 set play
2 solutions

Both of these characteristics are illustrated in the first selection here. White’s rook and bishop collaborate to produce four battery mates – all models, naturally. Set: 1…Bc1 2.R5c6 Bd2 3.Be5 Bb4, 1…Rb1 2.Be5 Rb4 3.R5c6 Rd4; actual: 1.Re7 Bc1 2.Rc6 Bd2 3.Bc5 Bf4, 1.Bd7 Rb1 2.Be5 Rb4 3.Rd5 Rb6. This was an early success of Dan’s, scoring 11 out of the maximum 12 points in the FIDE Album. For another example of his perfectly constructed helpmates, see No.40 on the Grimshaw page of this site.

Dan Meinking
diagrammes 1998
1st Prize
Helpmate in 3
(b) Kd5 to e5

The second selection features lovely matching strategy on two diagonal lines. In part (a) of this twin, the black king will get mated on e5, but the f5-pawn precludes Bh2xQg3 mate. So the white bishop and the black queen reorganise themselves on the other side of the same diagonal: 1.Qc1 Bb8 2.Qc7 Bxb7+ 3.Ke5 Bxc7. In part (b) the black king starts on e5, but paradoxically it must return to d5 to be mated. Now Ba8xRb7 mate cannot be arranged because of the a7-rook. Hence the bishop and rook pair must likewise manoeuvre to the other end of the long diagonal: 1.Rg7 Bh1 2.Rg2 Bxf4+ 3.Kd5 Bxg2.

7 Jul. 2013 – Australian Junior Chess Problem-Solving Championship

In 2013 the Australian Junior Chess Championships took place at the Bond University in the city of Gold Coast. For the seventh consecutive year, the Championships included a chess problem solving competition, and this time it attracted 76 entrants (62 boys and 14 girls). Once again the main organiser was Nigel Nettheim, whose interesting report on the event is available for download.

The participants had two hours to tackle fifteen tasks, which were selected by Geoff Foster with input from Nigel. The problems set – mostly directmates and studies – vary considerably in difficulty; the easier ones cater for the less experienced solvers, while the harder ones were designed to sort out the best competitors.

Norman Macleod
British Chess Federation
1978-79, 3rd prize
Mate in 2

Frank Healey
The Illustrated
London News 1864
Mate in 3

Here are two sample problems from the Championship. The first caught my eye because its theme (white safety play and pinning defences) resembles that found in one of my own two-movers. Incidentally, this work of mine has been recently added to my profile page on this site, to replace a three-mover that was anticipated. The second position is a toughie with a delightful, mysterious key. You can check their solutions, as well as the remaining problems used for the competition, in the above-mentioned report.

10 Aug. 2013 – Two awarded compositions from ‘The Problemist’

The current issue of The Problemist contains two of its informal tourney awards, for helpmates in two (2011) and retros (2011-12). Among the honoured works are two unusual compositions that I especially enjoyed. While their contents are very different, the two problems both catch your attention with their striking diagrams, which happen to bear a slight resemblance to each other!

The helpmate by Ken Cameron is a curious shape problem where the white and black pieces form two perfect squares. The thematic twinning preserves the square shapes by rotating each block of pieces in turn, to generate two new helpmates. An ingenious idea, even if the actual play is straightforward. (a) 1.d2 Rg2 2.Kd3 Rxd2, (b) 1.Qc5 Rg1 2.Kd4 Rd1, and (c) 1.Qc5 Bf5 2.Rc4 Rxd3. Based on the judges’ comments, what clinched the prize was that all three solutions finish with model mates. Note also the chameleon echo mates of parts (a) and (c).

Ken Cameron
The Problemist 2011
Special Prize
Helpmate in 2
(b) Rotate black cluster 90° clockwise
(c) Same for white cluster

Problem positions comprising only the two kings represent a sort of ultimate in economy, and Ian Shanahan’s retro is a rare example. In the genre known as illegal cluster, the solver has to construct a position by adding a few specified pieces to the diagram. The aim is to arrange a position that is illegal (in the sense that it could not have been reached via a legal game of chess), but which would become legal upon the removal of any one piece (other than a king). So here you place three black pieces – a pawn, a knight, and a rook – on the board along with the kings to create such an illegal position. The problem has three additional parts obtained by changing the black king’s initial square.

Ian Shanahan
The Problemist 2011-12
3rd Commendation
Add BP, BS, BR to create an illegal cluster
(b) Ka2 to b5
(c) Ka2 to e4
(d) Ka2 to e1

The four parts’ solutions use the same basic scheme: the black pieces are arranged to put the white king in an “impossible check” situation, but which could be relieved when any one of the three pieces is removed. Consider part (a), solved by adding BPb2, BSa1, and BRb3. The position is illegal because the knight could not possibly have executed the check; but if the rook is gone, then …Sb3-a1+ is viable as the last move, and if the pawn disappears, then Black could have just checked with the promotion …b2xa1(S)+ (the position also becomes legal if the knight is removed, of course). Have a go at solving the remaining parts of what the judge described as a “charming” and “refreshing” work!

15 Oct. 2013 – Task and record problems – Part 1

If chess problems have an “extreme” aspect, it’s in the area of tasks and records, where they push the limit of what is possible within the rules of the game. Such task and record problems focus on demonstrating a maximum effect of some sort. For instance, the knight-wheel theme conveys a task in which a knight makes its full eight moves in turn. Record problems are a sub-category of tasks. They typically involve achieving the highest number of a thematic element, e.g. the most number of self-block variations in a two-mover. Another type of record relates to the length of play, such as the longest directmate with a dual-free solution.

Perhaps the world’s foremost expert on the subject is Sir Jeremy Morse, whose collection, Chess Problems: Tasks and Records, comprehensively surveys the field. A second edition of the book containing over 850 problems appeared in 2001. Since then the author has published annual updates in The Problemist, presenting new tasks and inspiring composers to break existing records. According to the most recent update, a third edition of the book that incorporates his latest research will be released soon, and it’s sure to become a standard work.

Alberto Batori
Good Companions 1918
Version by Brian Tomson
Mate in 2

Let’s look at two examples of maximum play, the first of which features the most number of black queen checks in a two-mover. The overall record for the number of checking defences that yield different mates is 15, but it was set in a problem involving multiple threats that clutter the solution somewhat. Here Batori’s problem (reconstructed by the late Australian composer to save six pieces) has the normal single threat, and it lucidly shows 11 black queen checks leading to distinct white mates – the record for a sole checking piece. The key 1.Sxd7! threatens 2.Rf4. 1…Qxb6+ 2.Sxb6, 1…Qc5+ 2.Qxc5, 1…Qd4+ 2.Qxd4, 1…Qa3+ 2.Sxa3, 1…Qd2+ 2.Sxd2, 1…Qd3+ 2.exd3, 1…Qxe7+ 2.Rxe7, 1…Qe6+ 2.Qxe6, 1…Qe5+ 2.Sxe5, 1…Qg3+ 2.Rf3, and 1…Qf4+/Qh6+ is answered by the threat 2.Rf4. With the exception of an unimportant dual, 1…Qf6 2.Rxf6/Qc5, the play is remarkably precise.

Vojko Bartolovic
Shakhmaty v SSSR 1970
1st Prize
Mate in 2

The second problem is described as a modern masterpiece by Sir Jeremy, and it beautifully combines a white pawn task with the star-flights theme. A white pawn on its initial rank has the potential to make four different moves – the maximum possible – and if every one occurs during the course of play, the Albino theme results. Here the d2-pawn makes these four moves as possible keys. They all serve to remove or immobilise the black pawns on c3 and e3, so as to compel the black king to move. The king has four flights that form a star-pattern, and each has a set mate provided: 1…Ka4 2.Sxc3, 1…Kxa6 2.Bd3, 1…Kc6 2.Sd4, and 1…Kc4 2.Sxe3. Now the wrong key by the white pawn will disrupt a set variation and permit the king to escape: 1.dxc3? Ka4!, 1.d3? Kxa6! and 1.dxe3? Kc4! These tries fail for a similar reason, namely the self-obstruction of a square needed by White to give mate. Unexpectedly, the key 1.d4! (waiting) also commits this kind of error so that after 1…Kc6, 2.Sd4?? no longer works; instead White plays 2.b5, a changed mate made possible by the key’s attack on c5. The remaining variations are as set: 1…Ka4 2.Sxc3, 1…Kxa6 2.Bd3, and 1…Kc4 2.Sxe3. So the four pawn moves of the Albino task are further unified by sharing the strategic element of square-obstruction.

3 Nov. 2013 – Task and record problems – Part 2

The artistic quality of chess compositions is generally considered primary in importance. In the field of tasks and records, however, the goal of achieving a maximum effect sometimes overrides artistic concerns. Hence it’s possible to find task problems with constructional weaknesses or defects that in most circumstances would not be tolerated. For example, some record two-movers entail a checking key or even, in exceptional cases, a first move that captures a piece (not merely a pawn).

B. J. da C. Andrade
London Evening News 1930
Mate in 2

Another kind of flaw affects the first selection shown above. This two-mover demonstrates a record number of tries that are defeated by pinning defences. One group of tries involve guarding f6 so as to threaten 2.e6, but in each case Black counters by pinning the e5-pawn: 1.Sg4? Rh5!, 1.Qf4? Rg5!, and 1.Bxd4? Qg5! Another quartet of tries aim to use the c4-rook to mate on the seventh rank, but the piece gets pinned on four diagonals: 1.Kb5? Bxd3!, 1.Kd5? Ba2!, 1.Rxb4? Ba3!, and 1.Rxd4? Qxe3! Thus we see a total of seven pinning refutations. After the key 1.Kb6! (threat: 2.Rc7), Black has only a couple of defences that enable the same mate, 1…Sg8/Sf5 2.Bg8. The intensive and strategically interesting tries are therefore accomplished at the cost of the perfunctory post-key play.

Nikolai Kosolapov
Svearmiyski konkurs 1967-68
1st Prize
Mate in 2

The next problem renders an extraordinary amount of changed play without any serious drawbacks. It illustrates the Zagoruiko theme, which in two-movers requires – as a minimum – that two black defences each induces changed white mates across three phases of play. Here no less than four thematic defences occur in the three phases, the latter set off by two tries and the key. The first try 1.Bc1? (waiting) leads to 1…g4 2.Qd2, 1…dxc5 2.Rcd2, 1…d5 2.Bb2, and 1…dxe5 2.Red2, but it is defeated by 1…Kd5! The second try 1.Sc3? (waiting) removes one flight on d5 but grants another on c5. Now the four pawn defences are answered by new mates: 1…g4 2.Qe3, 1…dxc5 2.Re4, 1…d5 2.Sb5, and 1…dxe5 2.Be3; but 1…Kxc5! refutes. The key 1.Se3! (waiting) replaces the d5-flight with one on e5, and it produces four more changes: 1…g4 2.Qf4, 1…dxc5 2.Bc3, 1…d5 2.Sf5, and 1…dxe5 2.Rc4 (also 1…Kxe5 2.Qf6, 1…c6 2.Qxd6). Only a handful of problems have realised a 3x4 Zagoruiko, and this one is unique in showing the full complement of twelve different mates.

26 Dec. 2013 – A list of task and record problems, and a comic strip

After discussing tasks and records in the last two columns, I think it’d be useful to make a list of further examples found on this site. Most of these selected problems are exceptional works, so they are well worth another look!

Weekly Problems. No.73: Mate in 2 by McQueen – twelve rook defences. No.90: Mate in 2 by Hawes & Ravenscroft – four Schiffmann defences. No.138: Mate in 2 by Ravenscroft – knight-wheel. No.152: Mate in 2 by Mosely – eight sacrifices of key-piece.

Australian Problemists. No.5: Mate in 2 by Foster – seventeen mates after black king moves. No.7: Series-helpmate in 20 by Foster – fourteen unpins. No.5: Series-selfmate in 20 by Shanahan – Allumwandlung. No.6: Series-selfmate in 10 by Shanahan – Valladao task. No.3: Mate in 2 by Willmott – five unpinning defences with line-openings. No.3: Helpmate in 2 by Wong – seven tempo moves. No.6: Shortest proof game in 21½ by Wong – five tempo moves.

Problem World. No.2: Mate in 2 by Shinkman – knight-wheel. No.3: Mate in 2 by Quellet – Albino theme. No.5: Mate in 2 by Heathcote – key self-pins four pieces. No.28: Helpmate in 2 by Milovanovic & Sorokin – Allumwandlung. No.37: Mate in 2 by Loshinsky – three Grimshaws. No.38: Mate in 2 by Manolescu – Zagoruiko with Grimshaw defences. No.49-54: Six examples of Allumwandlung. No.57: Mate in 2 by Hesselgren – three complete half-pins. No.79-84: Six examples of knight-wheel. No.85: Mate in 2 by Bettmann – six promotion mates by one pawn. No.87: Mate in 2 by Stocchi – Zagoruiko with promotion defences. No.95: Helpmate in 6 by Hernadi – four queen promotions. No.115: Mate in 2 by Fink & Ua Tane – eight self-blocking defences. No.125: Mate in 2 by van Dijk – four Novotnys and two white Grimshaws.

It has been
a long while
since I last
quoted an
xkcd comic,
and here’s
good one,