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Chess and problem rambles by PW

31 Jan. 2015 – Guided Chess Problem Composing Competition

The inaugural problem composing tourney linked to the 2015 Australian Junior Chess Championships has been completed. This event (announced in a previous column) aimed to encourage players and solvers to try their hand at constructing chess problems; some harder tasks, which were more suited to experienced composers, were also set. The final results were very close, and here are the prize winners:

  1st Prize: Ilija Serafimović (Serbia)
  2nd Prize: Ralf Krätschmer (Germany)
  3rd Prize: Marko Lozajic (Serbia)

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all those who participated. At just ten years of age, the obviously talented Ilija managed to achieve a near-perfect score! Ralf is an established problemist, best-known for his more-movers. Marko is another junior who did very well. Both he and Ilija are students of the renowned Grandmaster of chess composition, Marjan Kovačević.

A document comprising the Tasks, Answers, and Results of the competition is now available for download. There you will find not only the "official" answers to the composing tasks, but also some of the contestants' alternative problem settings. Often I was surprised by these submitted positions – they illustrate the varied ways in which composers deal with the hurdles of construction.

Below I give the answer to the mate-in-three task that was reproduced in the October column. Only one contestant, Ilija, found this setting which is the most economical way of removing the 2.Kg6/Kg7 dual. After 1.Qg4! Ke5, only 2.Sc8+ works, leading to 2…Kd5 3.Se7 and 2…Kf6 3.Qg6, both model mates.

James Joseph Glynn
The Leader 1905, Version
Mate in 3

Nigel Nettheim will provide a Report on this composing event in due course, covering its organisational aspects.

22 Feb. 2015 – What’s New

We have a mixed bag of updates and new materials this month.

Bob Meadley continues his invaluable historical research on Australian chess problemists. He has put together two informative papers about some of our best-known composers, and also sent a third prepared by Ken Fraser:

Frank Ravenscroft and Frederick T. Hawes' Chess Problems
C.G.M. Watson: Chess Master, Insurance Officer and Problemist
Chess Problems by Henry Tate

The fecund partnership of Ravenscroft and Hawes had produced consistently high-quality works, and Bob has gathered these joint compositions in one accessible place. The current Problem of the Week (No.222) by the pair was picked from this album, which contains plenty of works that could have been lost otherwise. Watson's paper incorporates his biographical information, OTB chess activities, and a selection of his compositions. Below I quote a joke problem he published a century ago. Tate's problem collection was transcribed from his original notebooks by Ken Fraser, the late curator of the Anderson Chess Collection in the State Library of Victoria. Bob has added the diagrams and updated the solutions to algebraic notation. You can view or download these documents in the PDF format on the Problemists and History page of this site.

C.G.M. Watson
The Dux 1914
Mate in 1
‘A difficult problem, only to be solved by a solver
who is willing to put in a whole evening at the task.’

As promised in the previous column, Nigel Nettheim has completed his Report on the 2015 Guided Composing tourney. This is a very readable account that covers the conception and running of the new event. Check it out here: Guided Chess Problem Composing Competition Report.

Over the past few months I have been polishing the look of this website, primarily for users of hand-held devices. Previously the site's layout was quite messy when viewed on mobile phones with low screen resolutions; now it looks at least decent (though the site logo is still cut off and only half visible). One unexpected effect of fixing the more serious formatting issues is that, on small mobile screens, the chess diagrams have become variable in size depending on the amount of text next to them!

25 Mar. 2015 – Australian Junior Chess Problem-Solving Championship

This year the national Junior Chess Championships took place in the capital city of Canberra, and an accompanying Problem-Solving competition was held on January 20th. Now in its ninth year, the solving event was successfully run by Nigel Nettheim and attracted 75 entrants (52 boys, 17 girls, and 6 adults). Nigel has put together an engaging Report on the event which you can access from this site. The Report details what transpired on the day and contains the question sheets and solutions, as well as a supplement guide on how to run such a contest. There is also a note requesting a transition to new control of this annual competition.

Arnoldo Ellerman
Olympic Tourney 1964
3rd Hon. Mention
Mate in 2

Leonardo Mano
(source unknown) 1999
Proof game in 4

The contestants were given two hours to tackle fifteen problems. The directmates were set by Geoff Foster, while Nigel proposed the endgame studies. These well-selected tasks range from the easy to some that are quite tough, so as to give any newcomers a chance while sorting out the best solvers. Here I quote two of the trickier problems from the paper – have a go at them! Check the Report to see if you have solved them correctly. To find out who were the prize-winners this year, go to the Problem Solving Results page of the official Championships site.

Incidentally, I have added a page called Solving and Composing Competitions to the Oz Archives section of this site. Here you can view the Reports of all the earlier junior solving events (previously accessible from the Links page), and also the documents relating to the recent Guided Composing competition.

17 May 2015 – What’s New

Bob Meadley’s important historical research has culminated in the publication of Australian Chess Problem History. This splendid document is now available for download in two parts. Bob has assembled a massive amount of interesting materials, sorted into the pre- and post-1962 eras. Part 1 contains, for example, mini-biographies of eminent composers since the late 19th century accompanied by their sample problems, and a detailed account of Fred Hawes’ work as “Australia’s greatest problem editor” over a 42-year period. Part 2 includes a “Chronological History of Australian Problems from 1962”, covering modern composers and more recent problem magazines and columns. There’s also a large “Photos and Scans” section, which helps you to associate the familiar names next to chess diagrams with human faces!

Below is a charming more-mover that Bob cited in the section on Fred Hawes. The white rook could threaten mate on the first rank in many ways, but what is the only move that will overcome Black’s stalemate-aiming defences? You can download Australian Chess Problem History using the links above or on the Problemists and History page of this site.

Frederick Hawes
The Australasian Chess Review 1941
Mate in 4

Another contribution to the Oz Archives comes from Nigel Nettheim, who again fills in a gap in our collection of chess problem columns. He has scanned all of the Australasian Chess Review columns for the year 1932, on problems as well as endgame studies. This material is spread over four PDF-files, reflecting the substantial coverage given to problems during that time. Check them out on the Magazines and Columns page.

Recently Nigel and I were discussing the issue of how to introduce players to the art of composing problems. Very few guides have been written on the subject, but Nigel has discovered a free e-book that deals with it in a clear and succinct manner. It’s Thomas Taverner’s Chess Problems Made Easy: How to Solve, How to Compose (1924), an electronic edition of which was published by Anders Thulin. Besides updating the text to algebraic notation, Anders has computer-tested all of the problems, so that unsound ones are noted as such.

Nigel has some reservations about the book that I share, regarding its textual and diagram errors (mostly originating from the printed edition) and how it’s dated in some respect, e.g. the invalid claim that castling is barred in problems. Nevertheless, the book is recommended for providing good and still pertinent advice to novice composers (see Chapter 4), and step-by-step instructions on how to construct a problem. That some of the resulting compositions turned out to be unsound does not reduce the value of the instructions. Indeed, Nigel points out that it would be a good exercise for readers to correct these faulty works. I offer a prize of my book, Parallel Strategy: 156 Chess Compositions, to any new (unpublished) composer who succeeds in producing such a correction. A good example of a cooked position that’s amenable to repairs is the two-mover that ends Chapter 5. Thanks to Anders who has given permission for this e-book to be placed on OzProblems.

22 Jun. 2015 – Corrections to ‘Chess Problems Made Easy’

In the previous column I reviewed the free e-book, Chess Problems Made Easy: How to Solve, How to Compose by Thomas Taverner. This book was originally published well before the advent of computer-testing, so understandably it includes some unsound compositions. A proposal to repair these problems has been answered by Stefan Felber of Germany, who remarkably sends in sixteen corrections. He writes, “Being in the teaching profession, it seems natural to me to deal with and, if possible, improve somebody else's creative work. And correcting Taverner's faulty problems proved to be a very rewarding intellectual challenge. The new versions have all been tested by Fritz.” Great job, Stefan! Nigel Nettheim and Ralf Krätschmer also contributed a few additional or alternative versions, and the result is that only one problem in the book (No.114) remains uncorrected. You can download a list of all amended positions here: Errata for unsound problems.

Let’s consider a pleasing example of how a cooked problem is cleverly restored by Stefan. In the two-mover below (No.98 in the book), the black king has access to four diagonal flights, two of which are given set mates: 1…Kf5 2.Sexd4 and 1…Kd3 2.Rxd4. It seems that any move of the c6-knight could solve by guarding c6 and opening the long diagonal, and thus provide for the other two flights: 1…Kd5 2.Sf4 and 1…Kf3 2.Qb7. However, a random knight move would also allow the black king to escape to e5. This determines the fine withdrawal key: 1.Sd8! (waiting), which controls e6 in order to answer 1…Kxe5 with 2.Qxe6. (The try 1.Scxd4? also guards e6 but is defeated by 1…Kd3!) The problem hence shows the star-flights theme, unusually augmented by a fifth orthogonal flight.

Thomas Taverner
Chess Problems Made Easy 1924
Original source?
Mate in 2

Unfortunately, the position is spoiled by two cooks. 1.Sb4! attacks two flights and threatens 2.Sxd4, which remains effective after 1…Kf5 or 1…Kxe5, while 1…Kf3 2.Qb7 works as before. And 1.Qxe6! (waiting) leaves Black with only two defences: 1…Kd3 2.Rxd4 and 1…Kf3 2.Qd5. The first cook is prevented by placing the a4-rook on b4, a shift that carries no disadvantage. The second cook is much harder to deal with, since Qxe6 also occurs as a thematic mate and so it cannot be crudely disabled. To foil the cook by disrupting the ensuing variations also seems unlikely to work here, because they are too similar to the intended play. Stefan gets around these difficulties by adding a black pawn on b7 and a white one on b6. Now 1.Qxe6? fails to 1…bxc6!, while the key 1.Sd8! and subsequent play are unaffected.

Thomas Taverner
Chess Problems Made Easy 1924
Original source?
Corrected by Stefan Felber
Mate in 2

4 Aug. 2015 – What’s new... elsewhere

In the 15/8/2012 Walkabout column I discussed APwin, a graphical interface for the solving programs Popeye and Alybadix. This nifty piece of software has been updated by its creator, Paul Wiereyn, and you can download it for free on this page: APwin v2015. The new version contains many changes and fixes, including:

Additional fairy pieces and conditions to reflect the latest Popeye updates.
Descriptions of all pieces and conditions (some were missing in the earlier version).
A method to “fast input” multiple positions for solving, with an “add problem to file” button that allows such positions to be saved in a single file.
Problems are automatically saved when you exit a screen or when a position is solved.

The automatic saving function generates more solution files than I would like (new files are created instead of the old files being overwritten, which was the default behaviour in the previous version). However, at the time of writing, Paul is exploring alternative methods of saving problems, so this feature may change in the near future.

My chess graphics site, Virtual Pieces, doesn’t get updated often these days, but I have recently uploaded new versions of the two Diagramkits. These collections of image files for creating chess diagrams now include rotated figurines to represent unorthodox pieces, useful for displaying fairy problems and chess variants. Some improved board backgrounds are added as well.

If you like my artworks on Virtual Pieces, note that you can purchase merchandise featuring them on the Redbubble site. A range of products, from T-shirts to mugs, are available. You can even customise the image to show, for example, your favourite chess problem! Just drop me a line if you’re interested.

I’ve always been a fan of the X-Men film franchise, and viewers who are into chess would have noticed how frequently the game appears in these movies. After the release of the fifth film in the series, X-Men: Days of Future Past, I decided to create a video compilation of all of these chess-related scenes, just for fun. The result is “Chess Scenes in the X-Men Films” – check it out below or on YouTube!

10 Sep. 2015 – The Grasshopper and the Nightrider

Chess problems that involve fairy pieces with unconventional moves are rarely featured on this site. Since such pieces enable interesting effects and themes not seen in orthodox problems, I’d like to give them a short introduction here. We will look at the two most popular fairy pieces, the grasshopper and the nightrider, both invented by T. R. Dawson a century ago.

The grasshopper moves along queen-lines but only by hopping over one piece (of either colour) and landing on the square immediately beyond. In the first diagram, the grasshopper on a7 has three legal moves: it can go to a3 by hopping over the black king, and similarly it can access d7 and d4 by using the pieces on c7 and c5 as hurdles. If there are no pieces standing on the same line as a grasshopper, it would be immobile. The nightrider is an enhanced knight; it’s able to make any number of knight steps in a straight line as one move. The nightrider on c7 can thus move to d5 or further along the same line to e3 or f1, for instance. Analogous to the rook and the bishop, the nightrider is blockable along the line it travels, so if a piece were on e6 it would stop the c7-nightrider from going to g5.

Peter Kniest
Viele Bunte Steine 1984
Mate in 2
Grasshoppers a7, a1, a8
Nightrider c7

In this miniature, Black’s king is confined by the three white pieces on the c-file. The remaining white grasshopper is hence a good candidate to be the mating piece, and it makes the key 1.Gd7! to prepare an attack on the diagonal. Now if another white piece were to move to b5, it would enable the grasshopper to check (an “anti-battery” effect), though neither 2.Nb5 nor 2.Rb5 is threatened because these moves would cause an interference between the two line-pieces and create a flight for the black king. Because of zugzwang, however, Black is forced to self-block with the grasshoppers, thereby allowing these white moves to work: 1…Ga5 2.Nb5 and 1…Ga3 2.Rb5. The mutual interference between the two white pieces – a white Grimshaw – thus occurs in the two mating moves, an idea that can’t be shown so neatly, if at all, in an orthodox directmate.

The next example illustrates a convention relating to pawn promotion in fairy problems. The rule is that it is legal to promote to a fairy piece of any type that exists in the problem diagram. Therefore in the following position, the players may choose to promote to a grasshopper or a nightrider, in addition to the regular pieces.

Nikita Nagnibida
Die Schwalbe 1993
Helpmate in 2
Twin (b) Rd2 to b3
Grasshoppers c4, h6, h2, b6, a8
Nightrider g4

In this helpmate, the black king has one accessible flight on a2, while a1 and c2 are guarded by the g4-nightrider and c1 by the h6-grasshopper. White aims to promote the g7-pawn to a grasshopper and use it to mate on b3 – a placement that activates the c4-grasshopper’s control of a2. But initially a promotion on g8 would be an illegal self-check due to the a8-grasshopper; furthermore, the b6-grasshopper is protecting the mating square b3. To deal with these obstacles in just two moves, Black uses the queen to cut off each grasshopper in turn: 1.Qe8+ g8(G) 2.Qb5+ Gb3. The first queen check helps to legalise the promotion move, but the promoted grasshopper is left pinned. Next the queen not only unpins the grasshopper but also opens the rank again for the a8-grasshopper to give a discovered check, and White answers the check by vacating g8 – a curious form of cross-check. For part (b), the black rook starts on b3, meaning a2 is already guarded by the grasshopper on c4 while c1 is no longer controlled by the one on h6. To compensate, White plans to promote to a nightrider and mate with it on d2, where it would reactivate the h6-grasshopper. Paralleling the first solution, the black queen helps the white pawn to promote, and then interferes with the h2-grasshopper which is defending d2: 1.Qf8+ g8(N) 2.Qf2+ Nd2.

12 Sep. 2015 – Changes to Problems of the Week

Since the start of this site, the Problems of the Week have been showcasing works by Australian composers only. After almost five years and 250 selections later, I feel it’s time to remove this restriction and consider works by international problemists as well. This will allow a greater variety of problem types and ideas to be presented. To maintain the Australian connection, however, I will choose only problems that originally appeared in Australian publications when overseas composers are quoted. International composers are also welcome to submit originals to this site for publication as a Problem of the Week.

25 Nov. 2015 – Guided Chess Problem Composing Competition 2016

The 2016 Australian Junior Chess Championships, to be held in January at the city of Adelaide, will include a problem composing event. This Guided Chess Problem Composing Competition, organised by Nigel Nettheim, is aimed at introducing chess players and problem solvers to the basics of constructing a problem. Similar to the previous year’s event, the contest is conducted online with a questions paper that entrants can download and work on at home. Everyone can take part in this open competition, regardless of age, locality, and experience, though it’s especially suitable for those who have not composed before. Book and other prizes will be awarded, and possibly divided according to the categories of contestants (depending on the entries).

I have set the paper’s four tasks, which require participants to complete or correct an existing mate-in-two problem. Plenty of clues are provided with the questions, hence the “guided” aspect of the competition. The tasks have been made considerably easier than those in the previous paper, in response to the feedback we have received. There is a slight increase in difficulty over the course of the paper, but solvers are encouraged to take part even if they don’t answer all of the questions. Further, the paper includes Nigel’s ‘A Quick Introduction to Chess Problem Composition’, an article containing great advice that will help readers to tackle the tasks.

Here’s a link to access the paper: GCPCC 2016. The closing date for entries is the 7th of February, 2016. More information is available on the Guided Problem Composing page on the Australian Junior Chess Championships site. Below is the second task from the paper, given here in an abbreviated form.

Mate in 2 (unsound)

In this mate-in-two problem, we seem to have these set variations if Black were to play: 1…S3~ 2.Sf5 and 1…S5~ 2.Sf3. When White begins, the intended key 1.Kd1 aims to preserve the set play while avoiding checks by the black knights. However, the problem actually has no solution because 1.Kd1 is defeated by a particular black move. What is this spoiling black defence? Modify the position so that the key 1.Kd1 does solve the problem and leads to the above knight variations. You can add or remove pieces as required, or shift existing pieces to other squares. Various sound settings are possible – try to find the most economical position.

30 Dec. 2015 – What’s New

The Problem Magazines and Columns section of this site has been revamped, thanks to the work of Nigel Nettheim. He has digitalised most of the PDF-files on that page with OCR software so that they are now text-searchable. While the search results may not be perfect – it depends on the print quality of the materials originally scanned – this is a very useful function, which you can test by opening any file with the built-in PDF-viewer and pressing ‘Ctrl+F’. Another advantage of the conversion process is that file sizes are reduced, with no noticeable difference in readability. This has allowed Nigel to combine some files to make them more convenient to access. For example, issues of the Australian Chess Problem Magazine, previously provided individually, are now grouped so that you can download a year’s run in a single file.

Paul Wiereyn advises that his program APWin, a graphical interface for the problem-solvers Popeye and Alybadix, has been updated. More features have been added to this excellent tool since it was last covered in the Walkabout column of 4/8/2015. The most notable changes, for me at least, are the addition of the default Popeye solving options and the way solution files are handled. The former means that you can have any solving options, such as “set play” and “try”, already in place when the program starts. The latter change relates to the creation of solution files when a problem is adjusted and solved again. Now the program overwrites the existing solution file instead of creating a new one; this is a return to the behaviour of earlier versions of APWin and one which I much prefer. There is a clever mechanism to avoid accidentally deleting a solution you want to keep – the file being overwritten is automatically copied to another place as a backup.

To download APWin and also see a full list of its features and recent changes, visit its site here. Sadly this will be the last version of APWin. Paul indicates that this project has taken much of his spare time over the last few years, so it’s understandable that he wishes to move on. I’d like to thank Paul for writing such a helpful program and making it available for free.

To finish
for the year,
here’s a “Puzzle”
from xkcd.