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Molham Hassan

I was born in Sohag, Upper Egypt, in 1938. I learned chess when I was 13. After qualifying as a doctor in Cairo 1961, I was trained to be a surgeon. In 1968, I worked in Wexford, Ireland as a Gynaecologist and Obstetrician Registrar, and in 1970 as a Surgical and Orthopaedic registrar in Waterford City.

It was the 1972 World Chess Championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky that re-ignited my interest in chess, after a departure of sixteen years, when I enrolled in University Medicine Cairo. In that year of the Championship I joined a chess club in Waterford City. However, I was often distracted by the accident and emergency department while in the middle of a game! I turned my attention to solving chess problems instead. The late C. H. O’D. Alexander was the publisher of chess problems and endgames in the British Sunday Times magazine. I participated in his solving competitions, winning a 5-pound prize after unravelling an endgame in 1973. I also solved the orthodox problems posed by Leonard Barden in the London Evening Standard. It was during this time that I began composing standard mate-in-two problems, and in this regard I was advised by J. J. Walsh of the Irish Times. In 1974 I became interested in the composition of figure problems (where the positions form a shape or have a historic theme, with mottos such as “The Irish Shamrock,” “The Celtic Cross,” “The Great Pyramid of Giza,” “Waterford Rats,” and “Berlin Wall”).

In 1990 my family and I decided to move to Australia and we now live in Canberra, the national capital. In 2002 I produced a book collection of my works, titled Unique Chess Problems. A few months after its release, the book introduced me to chess enthusiasts in Canberra including Paul Dunn, Sean Press and Dr. Ahmad Bahgat. It was Denis Saunders, Ian Shanahan and Geoff Foster who assisted me in publishing my compositions in various periodicals. In 2003, two of my problems appeared in the Australian Chess column edited by Ian Shanahan and one in the British Problemist Supplement edited by John Rice. In 2008 Geoff Foster replaced Ian Shanahan as problem editor of the national magazine, now called Australasian Chess. He helped me to publish my works on a regular basis. While composing my problems I would send each new version to Geoff Foster who would provide advice and encouragement. I learned a lot from him, especially on how to avoid duals. Thanks, Geoff! Recently, I was advised to contact Peter Wong about presenting my works on, which I am sure is one of the best chess problem sites on the internet!

1. Molham Hassan
Australasian Chess 2008
Mate in 2

In 1, moves by the black pawns and the black knight permit the white queen to mate on four different squares, and if the black king plays to the flight-square d4 there would be a rook mate on c4. The difficulty is that there is no provided mate after 1…Kf5. A good key 1.Bd1! (waiting) places the bishop behind the white pawn to prepare for 1...Kf5 2.e4 (pin-mate), an indirect battery opening that allows the bishop to cover g4. 1…Kd4 2.Rc4 (double pin-mate), 1…d4 2.Qe7, 1…g4 2.Qf4, 1…f5 2.Qe5, and 1…S~ 2.Qxd5. Pin-mates after the black king’s flight moves are the main feature of this problem.

2. Molham Hassan
Australasian Chess 2013
Mate in 2

In 2, a queen mate on d4 is prepared in response to any unguarding move by the b6-bishop. If f5 was doubly attacked by White, Black would be mated by a rook move to e4. Hence the key 1.Sxd4! (threat: 2.Re4), which grants a flight-capture on e5 and also sacrifices the key-piece. A pair of self-blocking defences on e5 sets off dual avoidance, when White must choose carefully between two apparent mating moves: 1…dxe5 2.Sh5 (not 2.Sxd5?) and 1…Sxe5 2.Sxd5 (not 2.Sh5?). So each black move, by opening a defensive line for the d7-rook or the e8-queen, subtly disables one of the two knight mates. A third capture of the white rook gives 1…Kxe5 2.Qe3, while taking the key-piece brings about the set queen mate, 1…Bxd4 2.Qxd4. Also, 1…g2 2.Qh2, 1…Sxf6 2.Qe3, and 1…g4/Bf5/Bg2 2.Rf5.

3. Molham Hassan
Australasian Chess 2013
Mate in 2

In the initial position of 3, the d5-pawn is unguarded and if 1…Kxd5 White has the set mate 2.Bc6. But after the key 1.Rf5! (threat: 2.Qd3), the same defence 1…Kxd5 is answered by 2.Qc4 – a changed mate. The key also sacrifices the rook and creates a second flight, resulting in 1…Kxf5 2.Bg6. Three other defences self-block on different squares: 1…Qxd5 2.Rf4, 1…Sxf5 2.Sf6, and 1…Bd4 2.Qf3. Lastly 1…dxe5 enables 2.Rxe5 (not 2.Qxe5? as the black king escapes to d3).

4. Molham Hassan
Australasian Chess 2009
Mate in 2

If Black were to play in 4, most available moves would be met by mate except for 1…cxd6 and 1…Sxe5, so the position is nearly a complete block. White can attempt to complete the block by moving the d6-bishop. 1.Be7? Sxe7 2.Sxe7 but 1…Sg~!, or 1.Bb4? Sxb4 2.Sxb4 but 1…Sa~!, or 1.Bf8? to avoid the self-obstructions, but 1…Sxe5! The key is just one small step: 1.Bc5! (waiting), which surprisingly gives the black king a flight-capture – 1…Kxd5 2.Bg2. In two variations, 1…Sg~ 2.Se7 and 1…Sa~ 2.Sb4, the sacrificial lamb (d4-knight) becomes a wolf! And if 1…exd5 then 2.Bd7. There’s another tempting try 1.Bg2? (threat: 2.Sd~) which leads to some changed play: 1…exd5 2.Bxd5 and 1…cxd6 2.Rb6, but it is again defeated by 1…Sxe5! Note how the a3-knight is utilised – besides guarding b5 and c4, it also prevents a cook (1.Ba3).

5. Molham Hassan
Australasian Chess 2012
Ded. to Iris May Sharky
Mate in 2

This two-mover is dedicated to my first granddaughter Iris who was born in Canberra on 4th August 2012. There is a nice provided check 1…Rc8+ allowing 2.bxc8(S), when the a4-bishop is able to guard the white knight on d7. A tempting way to deal with the black king’s capture of the d7-knight is 1.Bd8?, a clearance move which threatens 2.Qe7, but the try is foiled by 1…Sf5! In fact White cannot make headway with any threatening move, and cracking the problem requires a waiting key, 1.Qe1! Now White can answer the flight-capture 1…Kxd7 with the triple pin-mate 2.Qxe6. Two more pin-mates follow with 1…S~ 2.Qxe6 and 1…R~ 2.Qe5, while 1…Rc8+ 2.bxc8(S) is as set. The remaining variations show four different mates on the d-file: 1…Qxd2 2.Qxd2, 1…Qd3 2.Rxd3, 1…Qd4 2.Rxd4, and 1…e5 2.Rxd5.

6. Molham Hassan
The Problemist Supplement 2009
Mate in 2

In 6, the black king has two flights and a white mate is provided for each move: 1…Kc5 2.Sc2 and 1…Ka4 2.Rxc4. Set mates are also prepared for moves by the two black knights, so the position is a complete block. The solver may hesitate to make the key 1.Sf2! (waiting), since it cuts off the g1-bishop. Now in response to 1…Kc5, the set battery mate 2.Sc2 is changed to an indirect battery opening, 2.Sd3, when the g1-bishop is used to guard d4. This is also a pin-mate. The other variations are as in the set play: 1…Ka4 2.Rxc4 (a double pin-mate), 1…S5~ 2.Qa3, and 1…S7~ 2.Qxb5. The changed play combined with the complete block positions before and after the key make this problem a good example of a mutate.

7. Molham Hassan
The Problemist Supplement 2013
Mate in 2

In 7, the potential mating move Se7 is unplayable because it interferes with the e8-rook’s guard of e6. So White looks for a way to additionally protect the e6-piece. The try 1.Qh6? thus threatens 2.Se7, but is refuted by 1…Sxf5! Another try 1.Qh4? threatens 2.Qd4 and handles the strong defence 1…Sxf5 with 2.Qe4, but is defeated by 1…Bf4! The key goes back to the plan of guarding e6, but does so more subtly with masked play: 1.Qh3! threatens 2.Se7 as an indirect battery mate. 1…Sxf5 2.Qxf3 shows a change from the try play. Other variations are 1…Be5+ 2.Rxe5, 1…Bd6 2.Rxd6, 1…Sc6 2.Bxc6, and 1…c3 2.Bb3.

8. Molham Hassan &
Denis Saunders

The Problemist Supplement 2003
Mate in 3

The eye-catching position 8 shows a configuration of the black king surrounded by its eight pawns, and is known as a skittles problem. There are some good tries here: 1.Qh2? (threat: 2.Sb4 and 3.Sc6), 1…e3 2.Sd3+ Ke4 3.Qxf4, 1…fxg5 2.Qh8, but is defeated by 1…d3!; and 1.Qh1? (waiting), 1…d3 2.Qa1+ d4 3.Qxd4, 1…e3 2.Sd3, 1…fxg5 2.Qh8, but 1…f3! has no reply. The key 1.Qg1! threatens 2.Sd3+ exd3 3.Qxd4. 1…e3 opens a line from d4 to f4, so that after 2.Qa1, 2…f3 will not stop 3.Qxd4. And after 1…fxg5 2.Qxg5, White has two threats that are separated by 2…e3 3.Qg7 and 2…f3 3.Sg4.

History and collaborative adventure of Problem 8:

While in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in the late 1980s I composed this problem after the execution of Romania’s dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Unfortunately, he and his wife Elena were executed at dusk on Christmas Day 1989 by a three-man firing squad without blindfolds, before a barracks wall at the Boteni army camp outside Bucharest. Ceausescu used to be tightly surrounded by his national guards during his iron-fisted reign of 24 years. As I composed a problem with the motto “Berlin Wall” when it fell, I produced this one and called it “When tyrants fall.” Since I am fond of two-movers, I originally set the idea in this genre (8A). At that time I didn’t realize that the position is illegal.

8A. Molham Hassan
(Illegal position)
Mate in 2

The solution 1.Sd4+ exd4 2.Qe1 is easy to find, however! So I reconstructed it as a three-mover (8B), though the position is still illegal.

8B. Molham Hassan
(Illegal position)
Mate in 3

It is solved by 1.Qg2!, with the threat of 2.Sd4+ exd4 3.Qxd5/Qe2. 1…fxg6 2.Qxg6, 2…f4 3.Sg5, 2…e4 3.Qg8; 1…e4 2.Qd2 and 3.Qxd5.

Before composing 8A and 8B, I have never heard of the term “skittles problem,” examples of which date to the early 1900’s and is given its name by Karl Fabel in his anthology, Kurioses Schach. I just created them based on an event in history and according to my imagination of Nicolae Ceauscu and his bodyguards (represented by the eight black pawns). The queen, bishop and knight represent the “three-man firing squad.” Then I gave the works the name of “When tyrants fall.” However, the issue of illegality remains until I collaborated with Denis Saunders. Together we proceeded to legalise the three-move position, and Problem 8 is the result. We moved the black king and pawns one rank downwards and changed the “three-man firing squad” to a “four-man firing squad”!