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Chess and problem rambles by PW

7 Feb. 2016 – Whyatt Medal winner: Ian Shanahan

Congratulations to Ian Shanahan, who has been announced as the 2016 winner of the Whyatt Medal. This four-yearly award is bestowed by the Australian Chess Federation for outstanding success in problem composing and in promoting the art of chess composition. Ian is certainly a well-deserved recipient who has achieved a great deal in the field. His consistently high-quality problems have gained numerous prizes in prestigious international tourneys, and his finest works have appeared in the FIDE Albums, anthologies of the world’s best chess compositions. Ian’s expertise is also attested by the articles he has written for top problem journals such as The Problemist and Ideal-Mate Review. On the home front, from 2003 to 2007 he edited the “Problem Billabong” column in Australian Chess, where he nourished local talents.

Ian Shanahan
The Problemist 1993
4th Hon. Mention
Mate in 2

Here are two of Ian’s problems that are representative of his skill. The two-mover (Ian’s debut in the FIDE Albums) shows one of his favourite themes, combinative separation. Although multiple threats and dual mates are generally frowned upon in problems, some directmates purposely employ them as a theme by presenting such multiple mates in an orderly manner. Consider the try 1.Se3? which threatens 2.Sf5, 2.S3c4, and 2.Rd5. By labelling these three moves as A, B, and C respectively, we see how various black defences induce or separate these mates in different combinations. 1…f1(S) 2.Sf5[A], 2.S3c4[B], 2.Rd5[C]; 1…Sd8 2.Sf5[A], 2.S3c4[B]; 1…f1(B) 2.Sf5[A], 2.Rd5[C]; 1…f1(R) 2.S3c4[B], 2.Rd5[C]; 1…Sa5 2.Sf5[A]; 1…f1(Q) 2.Rd5[C]; but 1…Sc5! defeats the try. That 2.S3c4[B] is not individually forced here is a flaw, but in the actual play, the same idea is exhibited perfectly. The key 1.Sb4! threatens 2.Rd5[C], 2.Sf7[D], and 2.Sc4[E]. 1…f1(S) 2.Rd5[C], 2.Sf7[D], 2.Sc4[E]; 1…f1(B) 2.Rd5[C], 2.Sf7[D]; 1…f1(R) 2.Rd5[C], 2.Sc4[E]; 1…Sc5 2.Sf7[D], 2.Sc4[E]; 1…f1(Q) 2.Rd5[C]; 1…Sa5 2.Sf7[D]; 1…Sd8 2.Sc4[E]. The problem hence doubles the combinative separation theme, and in doing so renders many changed mates between the try and post-key phases – all in a very light position. Furthermore, note how the four promotion moves of the f2-pawn (in each phase) provoke different white mating responses, so the Allumwandlung theme is effected as well!

Ian Shanahan
The Problemist 2010
Helpmate in 8

In the helpmate, Allumwandlung features again but here as the main theme and it’s achieved in a very different way. To assist White in queening the a2-pawn as quickly as possible, Black must promote to two minor pieces and sacrifice them in succession: 1.c1(S) Kg4 2.Sb3 axb3 3.g1(B) b4 4.Bc5 bxc5. A black rook promotion is then required for blocking a flight-square, in preparation for the queen mate: 5.a2 cxb6 6.a1(R) b7 7.Ra7 bxa8(Q) 8.Re7 Qc6. The four promotions occur in ascending order. The composer writes, “A white minimal Meredith, ending in an ideal mate after a white Excelsior with mixed Allumwandlung – a rare blend indeed, one which I had been wanting to conquer for many years!”

21 Feb. 2016 – What’s New

A complete run of the ‘Problem Potpourri’ columns from Australasian Chess is now available for download. This terrific feature of the national magazine was edited by Geoff Foster over a six-year period, from 2008 to 2013. In Geoff’s capable hands, it attracted high-quality originals in a variety of genres from around the world. Frequent contributors include, from abroad, Christopher Jones, Leonid Makaronez, Christer Jonsson, and Chris Feather, and local representatives Molham Hassan, Linden Lyons, and Ian Shanahan. A band of regular solvers, consisting of Andy Sag, Bob Meadley, Nigel Nettheim, Dennis Hale, and others, share their perspectives on the problems and liven up the proceedings. To view or download the full set of ‘Problem Potpourri’ in the PDF-format, use the link above or go to the Magazines and Columns page of this site.

Molham Hassan &
Geoff Foster
Australasian Chess 2008
Mate in 2

Let’s consider two problems that first appeared in the column. The joint two-mover has an excellent key, 1.Sc5! (threat: 2.Sb3), which by closing two white lines gives the black king access to e5 and c4. 1…Ke5 allows a battery mate, 2.Sxe6, while 1…Kxc4 leads to 2.Ra4. The white queen mates twice with 1…Rg3 2.Qe4 and 1…Bd5 2.Qxd5. A couple of knight mates round off the play – 1…Bxc4 2.Sf3 and 1…Rb8 2.Sxe6. In this well-constructed problem, every white piece (besides the king) is economically utilised to perform both mating and guarding duties.

Christopher Jones
Australasian Chess 2011
Helpmate in 5

The helpmate by the British Grandmaster presents an appealing geometric idea. 1.Be4 Bf3 2.Bh7 Bh5 3.Ke4 Ke2 4.Kf5+ Kf3 5.Bg6 Bg4. A sort of “dance” occurs as each black move is imitated by White using an equivalent piece.

3 Apr. 2016 – Guided Chess Problem Composing Competition 2016 – results

The second Guided Chess Problem Composing Competition, announced in the Walkabout column of 25/11/2015, has been completed. The results of this open event, aimed at introducing contestants to the practice of problem construction, were again very close. The top prize-winners are:

  1st Prize: Ralf Krätschmer (Germany)
  2nd Prize: Ilija Serafimović (Serbia)
  3rd Prize (equal): Dušan Mijatović (Serbia) and Andy Sag (Australia)

Ralf and Ilija were also the two top-scoring contestants last year but they have swapped their positions. Third place is shared by Andy and a new participant, Dušan. While Ralf and Andy are established problemists, Ilija and Dušan are both juniors who attend the Chess Academy run by the world-renowned composer, Marjan Kovačević. Congratulations to the winners!

Marko Lozajic of Serbia (another student of Marjan Kovačević) and Stefan Felber of Germany also deserve our compliments; both achieved scores very close to the above group. Special mentions go to two young entrants who have not attempted composing before: Danila Pavlov of Russia – a world junior champion in problem solving – who gave consistently good answers, and Erin Dullaway of Australia who is remarkably only seven years of age.

A document that provides the Tasks, Answers, and Results of the competition is now available for download. Although the set questions are generally simpler this time, two of them allow the entrants a lot of leeway in creating correct versions of existing problems. Consequently, a good variety of answers were received for these tasks, and they proved very interesting to compare. Indeed, the outstanding entry for Task 3, submitted by Ralf, is better than my own attempt at repairing the original problem!

The diagram below shows what I consider the best way to correct the unsound two-mover of Task 2 (which was quoted in the earlier column mentioned above). Like a few other entries, this position is economical in using a white knight and a black pawn to confine the black king. However, by rotating the board and placing these units on the d-file (so that the pawn does not prevent either knight mate), Ralf has produced the only setting with an attractive quasi-symmetrical feature.

Felix Seidemann
Teplitz-Schönauer Anzeiger 1931
Version by Ralf Krätschmer
Mate in 2

Nigel Nettheim has prepared an informative account of this event: GCPCC 2016 – Report, in which he shares his insights on the running of such an innovative competition. Note that all documents relating to the guided composing contests (for this year and the previous one) are available from the Events section of this site.

5 May 2016 – What’s New

The recent winner of the Whyatt Medal, Ian Shanahan, has gathered his compositions in a free e-book: Chess Problems by Dr. Ian Shanahan. As may be expected from one of Australia’s best problem composers, this is a very fine collection of his works and it’s highly recommended. The book consists of about 200 problems divided into seven groups – two-movers, three-movers, more-movers, helpmates/helpstalemates, series-movers, other fairies, and retros – indicative of the author’s versatility. The problems are nicely presented one to a page, with full solutions given below the diagrams. Ian also provides the thematic content of each problem in detail, and in many cases instructive comments on its construction.

Ian Shanahan
Springaren 2013
1st Commendation
Ded. to David Shire
Mate in 2

Here’s a sample two-mover featuring an unusual theme: “Masked battery-formation with total change involving pin-mates between try- and actual phases.” Note the set play: 1…Sb~ 2.Bxc6, 1…c5 2.Bxb7, 1…B~ 2.Qxf5, and 1…f4 2.Qxg5. The try 1.Sxf5? disrupts the set variations on the fifth rank and forms a Q + S battery that’s masked by the g5-bishop. The threat is the pin-mate, 2.Sxe3, and it induces 1…d1(S) 2.Qxd1 and 1…c5 2.Bxb7, but 1…Be7! subtly refutes the try. The analogous key 1.Rxc6! removes the set variations on the long diagonal and forms a B + R battery that’s masked by the b7-knight. The threat is another pin-mate, 2.Rd6, which provokes 1…Ra6 2.Rc5, 1…fxe4 2.Qxg5, 1…Be7 2.Qxf5, 1…Bf4 2.Sf6, and 1…Sf7 2.Qxf7. The play following the try and the key differ in both Black’s defences and White’s mates, hence the “total change” effected.

In May last year, Bob Meadley published the comprehensive e-book, Australian Chess Problem History (see the Walkabout column of 17/5/2015). An interesting article by Bob, titled ‘Some Memories of John Kellner’, has been added to Part 2 of this document. John Kellner (1931-1987) was a strong player who edited the chess columns of the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Telegraph. He was also a problem enthusiast and Bob recounts the wonderful ways in which John promoted both the game and problems.

The M.V. Anderson Chess Collection in the State Library of Victoria holds one of the largest collections of chess books in the world. It also contains many manuscripts of significant individuals and clubs, a list of which has been prepared by Bob Meadley. This useful reference guide, which highlights chess-problem related material, can be downloaded from the Problemists and History section of this site or here: Manuscripts in the M.V. Anderson Chess Collection.

13 Jun. 2016 – What’s New

Bob Meadley continues his excellent work on problem history with the publication of Australian Chess Problems and News in Overseas Journals. This document is a compilation of Australian problem items in overseas publications, primarily the British Chess Magazine, from the late 19th century to 1920. Tourney results and award-winning problems are quoted aplenty, along with other news items. You will find representative works by eminent Australian composers such as A. Charlick, J.J. O’Keefe, and A. Mosely, as well as overseas greats who gained prizes in Australian tourneys. Many compositions are accompanied by perceptive comments from B.G. Laws, the problem editor of BCM. In some instances, Bob even reproduces the full articles, e.g. ‘Problem Tourneys in Victoria’ by Andrew Burns, and ‘Some Australian Novelties’ by Henry Tate. Bob’s interesting annotations are also interspersed through the text, providing explanatory notes and his editorial views. You can download the free document in the PDF-format using the above link.

Arthur Charlick
British Chess Magazine 1911
Frank Healey Memorial Tourney
2nd Prize
Mate in 2

Here is a classy two-mover cited in Overseas Journals. The key and threat are long-range queen moves: 1.Qg1! (2.Qg7). No less than five black defences occur on the same square, yielding a variety of mates: 1…Seg2 2.Qxa1, 1…Bg2 2.Qxh2, 1…Rg2 2.Qe3, 1…Shg2 2.f6, and 1…Qg2/Qxg1 2.Bf4. The good by-play makes further use of the white queen – 1…Qg3 2.Qxg3, 1…Bd4 2.Qxd4, and the R + P battery – 1…Sg6+ 2.fxg6.

31 Jul. 2016 – What’s New

The Chess Amateur was a major British magazine that ran during the early years of the 20th century. Bob Meadley has put together a two-part collection of extracts from this publication, named The Chess Amateur, P.H. Williams and Australia. P.H. Williams was the magazine’s problem editor and Bob regards him as a hero, someone who was a “phenomenon” and the “ultimate chess promoter”. Besides a focus on Williams, the document includes all Australian-related problem items, the coverage of which was extensive. You will find a great assortment of fascinating materials here, consisting of full articles, news, problems, and even some poems and photographs. For instance, it’s curious to read that during the First World War, there was some controversy regarding the use of ‘S’ for knight in problem notation because it stands for a German term, Springer.

Philip Hamilton Williams
777 Chess Miniatures in Three 1900
Mate in 3

You can download The Chess Amateur, P.H. Williams and Australia here: Part 1, Part 2, or from the Problemists and History page. Above is a selection from the document, a neat miniature in three moves by Williams. The give-and-take key 1.Qc4! involves a short threat, 2.Qxb3. Both of Black’s defences are answered by appealing white moves, which result in two pairs of queen and rook mates. 1…bxa2 2.Ra1 Kxa1 3.Qc1 or 2…Ka3 3.Rxa2; 1…Kxa2 2.Qd4 b2 3.Qa4 or 2…Ka3 3.Ra1.

J. T. Eaton
Australasian Chess Review 1942
Mate in 2

In the Magazines and Columns section of this site, the remaining Australasian Chess Review issues that were missing are now available. Thanks to Nigel Nettheim who kindly scanned his copies of the publication for the years 1934-37 and 1941-43. Consequently, the magazine section of the Oz Archives is actually complete! Here I quote a two-mover by Eaton from the ACR. You will soon notice the position is unusual in that Black is in stalemate. So how does White deal with it?

2 Oct. 2016 – What’s New

Alexander Goldstein (1911-1988) was one of the greatest Australian problem composers, best known for his three-movers. Bob Meadley has compiled all of Alex’s works in an e-book, titled Alexander Goldstein: His Life, His Chess Problems. (I helped with its editing process mainly by formatting the text and designing the layout.) This wonderful collection starts with ‘An Anecdotal Introduction’ by Ian Shanahan and ‘An Interview with Sophie Goldstein’, the latter a moving account of Alex’s life as conveyed by his widow. The next chapters feature more than two hundreds of Alex’s compositions – mostly directmates but also some helpmates and selfmates. These problems are accompanied by expert comments from Geoff Foster, Andy Sag, and Arthur Willmott. Alex’s chess writings are then presented, including a piece called ‘Miraculous Escape from a Siberian Mine’ which begins memorably with the lines, “Two chess problems saved my life. This is how it happened.” The book concludes with a large section of scans, comprising more of Alex’s articles and a variety of materials about him.

Alexander Goldstein
Chwila 1931
Mate in 3

To download this free e-book, use the link above or go to the Problemists and History page of this site. Here are two splendid examples of Alex’s works from the compilation. In the first, White must be mindful of Black’s bishop or rook giving check if either is unpinned, e.g. if 1.Sc1? aiming for 2.Sd3 and 3.Sf2, then 1…Bxb6+! refutes. The key 1.Sc3! waits for Black to self-obstruct with a pawn move. 1…cxb6 allows 2.Sd1 and 3.Sf2 since 2…Bxb6+ by the freed bishop is ruled out. Likewise 1…b2 means White can unpin the black rook with 2.Se4, and 3.Sf2 is unstoppable as 2…Ra2+ is blocked. One more variation involves a nice switchback, 1…h3 2.Se2 and 3.Sg3.

Alexander Goldstein
Parallèle 50 1949
1st Prize
Mate in 3

The second problem shows even more impressive strategy. First note that if White tries to unpin the d6-knight, then Sxb7 (a pin-mate) becomes a threat, but 1.Qf6? is defeated by 1…Bxd5! The key 1.Qf5! instead threatens 2.Qc8 and 3.Qa8. Black has three defences but they err by preventing …Bxd5, after which White’s unpinning plan becomes viable. If 1…Bh3, then White plays 2.Qe6 and 3.Sxb7 – not 2.Qf6?/Qg6? Bc8! After 1…e4, White chooses 2.Qf6 and 3.Sxb7 – not 2.Qe6?/Qg6? Bg7+! And 1…Rf3 must be followed by 2.Qg6 and 3.Sxb7 – not 2.Qe6?/Qf6? Rf6+! So three white queen moves with a similar motive are subtly differentiated. The by-play makes further use of the queen: 1…Sd7 2.Qxd7 and 3.Qxb5 – another pin-mate.

The two-mover by J.T. Eaton in the previous Walkabout column is solved by 1.Rb2! (releasing both black knights). However, Geoff Foster advises that this problem is exactly anticipated by Gerardus Drese, Elk Wat Wils 1935.

5 Nov. 2016 – Improving a fairy helpstalemate – Part 1

The helpstalemate problem below by the Indian composer recently caught my eye. It employs a fairy piece in effecting three different promotions in a very light setting. The unorthodox piece is a royal knight, which moves normally but is subject to check and mate like a king. For instance, after 1.rSb8 d8(Q)+, the royal knight is checked by the queen and it must move to a6 or c6 but not d7 where it would still be in check. The helpstalemate task means that Black plays first and helps White to give stalemate in the specified two moves. The solutions are 1.rSe5 d8(Q) 2.rSg4 Qd6, 1.rSa5 d8(R) 2.rSb7 Rd5, and 1.rSe7 d8(B)+ 2.rSg8 Bg5. The three promoted pieces deliver a variety of model stalemates by trapping the knight. While this is an appealing idea, I wondered if the problem could be tweaked to include a knight promotion, thereby completing the Allumwandlung theme. Moreover, the only purpose of the h4-pawn is to prevent a dual in the queen-promotion solution, which could have also finished with 2…Qh8 if the h-file were clear. Would it be possible to dispense with this uneconomical pawn? Let’s investigate, bearing in mind that because of our clear-cut goals and the small number of units involved, we can make use of trial and error rather effectively – more so than usual in problem construction. And naturally we will be aided by the solving program Popeye, capable of instantly confirming if a proposed position is sound or not.

Ramaswamy Ganapathi
The Problemist Supplement 2016
Helpstalemate in 2
Royal knight c6
3 solutions

A simple way to look for additional play in such a problem is to consider what would occur if White has the move. Such set play does indeed exist in the diagram and it happens to be a unique line that entails a queen promotion: 1…d8(Q) rSa7 Qe8. Now if we adopt this set play in place of the full-length queen-promotion solution, we can actually remove the king and the h4-pawn, both of which are needed only in that one solution. The result is a two-unit problem – see diagram A – that still manages to show three different promotions. (In such a fairy problem with no black king, the "illegality" of a position lacking the white king is moot.) Admittedly, the original queen-promotion solution is more interesting in that the royal knight is stalemated not on an edge square, and the play utilises the board more fully as well. Still, I personally would have preferred the ultra-economy of having just the two thematic units. In any case, let’s continue with our attempt to incorporate a knight promotion.

Version A
Helpstalemate in 2
Royal knight c6
2 solutions and set play

As the knight is a relatively weak piece, it's usually not trivial to “force” a white knight promotion aimed at confining Black. A prospective scheme here is to stalemate the royal knight on a5, from which its access to b7 and c6 would be immediately covered by a knight promotion on d8. That would leave only two other flights on b3 and c4 to be guarded, most naturally by a white king on c3. Hence if the king were to be placed one step away from c3, we can envisage an additional set play, 1…Kc3 2.rSa5 d8(S). The best square for the king is c2, where it doesn’t affect the other set play and solutions, or create any cooks (diagram B). Unfortunately, this position is unsound because of the dual, 1...d8(S)+ 2.rSa5 Kc3. Clearly we have to ensure that the knight-promotion set line has only one move order. How we go about this will be examined in the next instalment.

Version B
Helpstalemate in 2
Royal knight c6
2 solutions and 2 set play

20 Nov. 2016 – Improving a fairy helpstalemate – Part 2

In the previous column, we looked at a helpstalemate featuring a royal knight and some potential ways to enhance the problem. First, by utilising the set play inherent in the position which contains a queen promotion, we saved a couple of units while preserving the triple-promotion theme. Then we attempted to add a knight-promotion set play by reinserting the white king, but the resulting position was spoiled by a dual. So would it be possible to compel a single move order in this set play? One option is to replace the orthodox d7-pawn with a royal one, a unit that is susceptible to check like its black knight counterpart. Given that a royal pawn promotes to a royal piece, an immediate 1…d8(rS) in the set play would be illegal because d8 is attacked by the black knight. Hence the pawn promotes only on the second move, after the black piece has moved to a5.

Two issues arise from this scheme, however: (1) the white king can no longer be used because of a convention against a player having more than one royal unit, and (2) the queen-promotion set play, intended to start with 1…d8(rQ), is rendered illegal as well. On the first issue, a good replacement for the white king is a fairy piece known as the wazir; it's a close relative of the king that moves only one orthogonal step at a time. Such a wazir on c3 would (like the king) guard b3 and c4 and so help to trap the royal knight on a5 (though unlike the king, it wouldn’t control b4 or any diagonally-adjacent square). Now we can test various placements of the wazir that are one step away from c3, and see if any of them would also resolve the second issue, the lack of a queen-promotion phase. Adding the wazir on c2 (where we put the king in Version B) produces numerous cooks in which the royal knight is stalemated on a2, e.g. 1.rSb4 d8(rQ/rR/rB) 2.rSa2 rQb6/rRb8/rBe7 (these lines were ineffective with the king on c2 because then 1.rSb4 would check). If we place the wazir on d3, the resulting position (diagram C) comes very close to fulfilling our aims. The set play 1…Wc3 2.rSa5 d8(rS) and two original solutions (rook and bishop promotions) all work as intended, and the wazir’s placement has generated new play that is precise and involves a queen promotion. But two such solutions have been created – 1.rSa7 d8(rQ) 2.rSb5 rQe7 and 1.rSb4 d8(rQ) 2.rSc2 rQa5 – one too many for our purposes!

Version C
Helpstalemate in 2
Royal knight c6
Royal pawn d7, Wazir d3
4 solutions and set play

Besides deploying a royal pawn, is there another way to force the move order of the knight-promotion set play? Yes, if the white unit whose function is to control b3 and c4 happens to be attacking a5 initially, then this unit must move first before the pawn promotes, so as to allow the royal knight to access that square. A white king cannot handle this task, however, because the only square from which it could both attack a5 and move to c3 is b4, but this square is guarded by the black knight. So let's return to the idea of using a wazir, and note that it has an alternative square from which to control b3 and c4, namely b4 (where unlike the king it maintains the stalemate by not checking the royal knight on a5). Now by adding the wazir on b5 or a4, it does the job of attacking a5 while being able to move to b4. If placed on b5, the piece would cause many cooks, including even a one-move solution, 1.rSa7 Wb6/Wc5. But if the wazir starts on a4, the ensuing play seems accurate while meeting all of our requirements (see diagram below). The knight-promotion set play is dual-free: 1...Wb4 2.rSa5 d8(S). Since only a conventional pawn is needed, the queen-promotion set play becomes viable again: 1...d8(Q) 2.Sa7 Qe8. And the full-length solutions, 1.rSe7 d8(B)+ 2.rSg8 Bg5 and 1.rSb8 d8(R)+ 2.rSa6 Rc8, complete an economical Allumwandlung.

Ramaswamy Ganapathi
The Problemist Supplement 2016
Version by Peter Wong
Helpstalemate in 2
Royal knight c6, Wazir a4
2 solutions and 2 set play

There is something curious about the rook-promotion solution, though. It is different from the one in the original problem: 1.rSa5 d8(R) 2.rSb7 Rd5. The wazir has prevented this solution by attacking a5, but in a remarkable stroke of luck, by also guarding b4 the piece has enabled another precise solution that necessitates a rook promotion!