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Chess and problem rambles by PW

26 Jan. 2012 – Whyatt Medal winner: Geoff Foster

The Australian Chess Federation has announced the winner of the Whyatt Medal, presented once every few years for outstanding achievements in the chess problem field. The well-deserved recipient is Geoff Foster. His compositions – a diverse range of orthodox and fairy problems – have garnered plenty of awards from around the world. One highlight is a two-mover that won the Brian Harley Award, the first time in over thirty years that an Australian has gained this major prize. Geoff is also the expert editor of the ‘Problem Potpourri’ column in Australasian Chess. And recently he took over the reins of The Problemist Supplement, a periodical that accompanies the world’s leading chess problem journal, The Problemist. Well done, Geoff!

Geoff Foster
The Problemist 2003
2nd Prize
Mate in 2

Here are two of Geoff’s prize-winning problems. The two-mover demonstrates cyclic refutation, a theme that’s very difficult to achieve when it involves the maximum amount of changed play. Tries (all waiting moves): 1.Qa8? 1…exd5 2.Qxd5, 1…d3 2.Qa4, but 1…exf4! 1.Qc8? 1…exf4 2.Qxe6, 1…exd5 2.Qxf5, but 1…d3! 1.Qh4? 1…d3 2.Re3, 1…exf4 2.Qxf4, but 1…exd5! In these try phases, the three thematic pawn moves rotate their functions as the refutation and as defences that induce changed mates. After the flight-giving key, 1.Sb5! (waiting), the three pawn moves yield further new mates, to bring about the maximum nine different mating moves in total: 1…exd5 2.Sxd6, 1…d3 2.Sc3, 1…exf4 2.Qxd4, and 1…Kxd5 2.Qa8.

Geoff Foster
Die Schwalbe 1996
4th Prize
Series-helpstalemate in 21
2 solutions

In the series-mover, Black plays 21 moves consecutively to reach a position where White can give stalemate. To incorporate more than one solution in a problem of this length is rare, and the two precise sequences are pleasingly varied. 1. Rh1 2.g1(S) 3.Bg2 4.Sf3 5.Rhg1 6.h1(B) 7.h2 8.Bh3 9.Rg2 10.Kg1 11.Rgf2 12.B1g2 13.h1(R) 14.Kh2 15.Rfg1 16.Bf1 17.Bhg2 18.Kh3 19.Rh2 20.Bh1 21.g2 Rxg5. 1.h1(R) 2.Rh2 3.Rgh1 4.g1(S) 5.Rg2 6.h2 7.Sh3 8.Rhg1 9.h1(B) 10.Rh2 11.Bhg2 12.Rgh1 13.Kg1 14.Rf2 15.Bf1 16.Rhg2 17.Kh2 18.Sg1 19.Kh3 20.Rgh2 21.g2 Kxg5. The two parts see Black promoting to the same triplet of R, B, and S, but in a shifted order. Black’s final configurations also display a change of the pinned piece on f3, which in turn forces a different white stalemating move.

27 Feb. 2012 – Two helpmates from ‘Problem Potpourri’

As a new year begins, it seems appropriate to look back at some of the best problems of 2011 that appeared in ‘Problem Potpourri’, the Australasian Chess column. Since this source attracts original works from some of the world’s top helpmate composers, it’s perhaps not surprising that my selections favour that genre. What is curious is how these helpmate contributors – the two cited here plus Chris Feather – all seem to have similar names!

Christer Jonsson
Australasian Chess 2011
Helpmate in 2½
3 solutions

In Christer’s helpmate in 2½, White starts and mates on the third move. The three solutions feature a cyclic change of functions among White’s rook, bishop, and knight: 1…Rxb5 2.Kxb5 Bd5 3.Ka6 Bc4, 1…Sxc5 2.Kxc5 Rc7+ 3.Kb6 Rc6, and 1…Bd5+ 2.Kxd5 Rd7+ 3.Ke6 Sxc5. So each white piece in turn (1) sacrifices itself to give the black king access to a square, (2) controls the king’s flights in the mate, and (3) executes the mate. The cyclic Zilahi theme is rendered, in an elegant setting.

Christopher Jones
Australasian Chess 2011
Helpmate in 3
(b) Pd3 to b3

By coincidence, Christopher’s three-mover employs a similar motif of a white piece capturing a pawn to clear that square for the opposing king. Further effects shown in each twin include the creation of a white battery, and an active black sacrifice that helps to set up the battery. 1.Sg5 Bxd5 2.Ke5 Kxg5 3.Kxd5 Kf6, and (b) 1.Sf3 Rxd5 2.Ke4 exf3+ 3.Kxd5 f4. We see echoed play along orthogonal and diagonal lines in the two phases, and a standard (reciprocal) Zilahi – White’s rook and bishop take turns to be captured and to give mate.

6 Apr. 2012 – A marvellous more-mover from the Eighties

The six-move directmate shown below is a modern classic. And while it achieved a perfect score when selected for the FIDE Album, the problem is perhaps not as famous as it ought to be. That seems like a good reason for showcasing it here, besides the fact that it’s one of my all-time favourites!

Andrej Lobusov &
Andrej Spirin
E. Zepler Memorial Tourney 1985
Special Prize
Mate in 6

In the initial position, Black is in zugzwang as any knight move would allow White to mate immediately: 1…Se~ 2.Sxd5, and 1…Sf~ 2.Bxd4. No waiting move exists, however, so White proceeds with a remarkable plan to create one. The key 1.Se8! threatens 2.Sf6 followed by 3.Sg4, and the best defence is 1…Sg8. White attacks d5 again with 2.S6c7 and forces 2…Sfe7 (since the g8-knight is still tied to guarding f6). Next 3.Sg7 threatens 4.Sf5+ Sxf5 5.Sxd5, or 4.Sxd5+ Sxd5 5.Sf5, and Black answers with 3…Sxh6. White then plays 4.Sge6, aiming for 5.Bxd4, which compels 4…Shf5. Now we are back to the diagram position, but incredibly both pairs of knights have swapped places! What White has achieved is the removal of the h6-pawn, after manipulating Black to capture it, and this one difference enables 5.h6! to be played as a tempo move; 5…Se~ 6.Sxd5, and 5…Sf~ 6.Bxd4. White and Black perform matching platzwechsels (exchange of squares between two pieces) – a beautiful idea accomplished with crystal clear logic.

21 May 2012 – ‘Exploration in Chess Beauty’ by Andras Toth

IM Andras Toth, originally from Hungary but now an Australian resident, has published his first book, Exploration in Chess Beauty. This volume examines the feature of the game that perhaps draws us most to it, that of artistic and beautiful play. All important facets of the game where beauty can arise are expertly covered, from practical play to endgame studies and composed problems. Andras introduces these various fields in an accessible way, without recourse to jargon and excessive analysis. There are eight chapters, each dealing with a broad theme, such as “The tricky knight” and “Fortress”, or a genre, such as “The beauty of compositions – the joy of solving” which focuses on directmates, and “Games of the century – Our own masterpieces”, a selection of the author's most attractive games.

Andras has put together a very entertaining anthology, with a nice balance of material from the different types of chess art. From the problemist's perspective, I particularly enjoyed the chapter on helpmates from Hungary, a country that boasts some of the greatest composers of that genre. Another fun chapter, “Secrets of the starting position”, features puzzles in which you construct a game to fulfil certain conditions (e.g. find the game that begins with 1.e4 and ends with 5…Sxh1 mate – this is quite challenging!). In selecting works for this book, Andras aims mostly for those that are unlikely to be familiar to the reader, and I recognised just a few famous problems that are cited. My only quibble is that a few gremlins have crept in, but they are minor errors. Overall this is an engagingly written book, filled with examples of eye-catching play.

A. Herbstman &
L. Kubbel
Troitzky Tourney 1937
1st Prize
White to play and draw

Here are two such compositions from the collection. The study has a wonderful number of thematic variations. After 1.Sg1!, Black avoids promoting to a queen as it would allow a fork. 1…Se3+ (1…Sf4+ 2.Kh1 e1(S) 3.Sf3+ Sxf3=) 2.Kh3 Sf4+ (2…e1(S) 3.Sf3+ Sxf3=) 3.Kh2 Sg4+ 4.Kh1 Sf2+ (4…e1(Q)=, or 4…e1(S) 5.Sf3+ Sxf3=) 5.Kh2 e1(S). Three knights vs one knight is normally a win, but 6.Sf3+! Sxf3+ 7.Kg3 Ke3=. Five stalemating positions appear in different lines, and the best one is saved for last!

H. Wittwer
Olympic Tourney 1936
1st Prize
Mate in 3

The three-mover begins with a startling key, 1.c8(S)! (threat: 2.Sg5 mate). The choice of a knight promotion has an original motivation, revealed after 1...Ke4, when only 2.Sa7! works. The sole purpose of this move is to clear the c8-square and so threaten the battery mate 3.Rc8 – any other promotee on c8 would have been trapped. 2…Kf3 or Sd4 3.Sg5, 2…Se3 3.f3, and 1…Bh6 2.Sg5+ Bxg5 3.Rg6.

Exploration in Chess Beauty is available both as an e-book from iTunes and as a hard copy. The e-book version (see the e+books.com review) enables you to play through the positions without the need of a chess set. The print edition can be purchased for AU$33.00 from Andras Toth (atothfadd{at}yahoo.com), or from info{at}sydneyacademyofchess.com.au (the latter is more convenient for NSW customers).

1 Jul. 2012 – Upgrading a PC and chess problem solving softwares - Part 1

My seven-year-old computer was feeling its age, so recently I replaced it with a new Dell PC running the 64-bit version of Windows 7. One hazard of an upgrade is trying to get your favourite applications to work on the new computer. Normally it’s not an issue – you’d simply update to the latest version of the program, or find alternatives that do the same task. But in the specialised area of chess problem solvers, it’s not so straightforward.

On my old PC – a 32-bit Windows XP-based machine – I used three testing programs: Kalulu, Popeye, and Natch. Kalulu solves orthodox problems and some series-movers, and because of its well-designed and attractive interface, it was my program of choice. The versatile Popeye is especially adept in dealing with countless types of fairy problems. However, it lacks a proper GUI and requires text input for setting up solving positions. There is an application called APwin which (in its recent release) works as a graphical front for Popeye, but I have yet to try it out. Lastly, Natch specialises in testing shortest proof games.

Of the three programs, only Popeye still works on my new computer, because neither of the other two has a 64-bit version available. There are workarounds for using the older softwares, but they are not that practical for me. For example, the Professional Edition of Windows 7 has built-in support for running your PC in ‘Windows XP Mode’, but I only have the Home Premium Edition. It’s also possible to install ‘Windows Virtual PC’ to enable ‘Windows XP Mode’ to work on the new PC, but that sounds rather technical and would be a last resort for me. I also considered buying the commercial program, Alybadix, which has a hefty price tag and is presumably very fast. However, this well-known software also turns out to be incompatible with the 64-bit version of Windows!

So for now Popeye is my only option, and its ability to solve all kinds of problems is especially welcome under the circumstances! Its method for setting up a solving position by entering a few lines of codes seems archaic, but with the right set-up it’s actually quite fast. Still, I think now is a good time to check out APwin, the Popeye ‘shell’ program…

15 Aug. 2012 – Upgrading a PC and chess problem solving softwares – Part 2

Windows 7 was well-received when it was released, and indeed it seems to improve greatly on its predecessors in terms of features and stability. However, the new OS has a curious drawback that I have noticed (or imagined), that when certain software problems do occur, they tend to be harder to resolve. When I was using Windows XP, googling any issue or error message that arises would typically lead to a tech forum where the remedy is posted. Doing the same now with Windows 7-related issues, I’ve found that quite often the forum suggestions simply don’t work (for me or the original enquirer). Perhaps the many different versions of the newer OS out there means there’s less chance of a one-size-fits-all solution.

I mentioned the above as a sort of background to my difficulties in installing APwin, the graphical interface for the solving program Popeye. A pop-up message about a certain missing file cut off the set-up process. Fortunately the creator of APwin, Paul Wiereyn, answered my request for help. Paul, who put in a massive effort over the last year to make his application compatible with Popeye, diagnosed the problem and advised on possible fixes. He also indicated, by the way, that his program had been tested on more than five computers running a variety of Windows versions, all without such an initial problem! In the end Paul kindly sent me another set-up file, which successfully installed APwin on my system.

Here is a screenshot of APwin acting as a front for Popeye (click it for actual size). The myriad of problem options available in Popeye are easily accessible; thus on the left side of the window you select the orthodox or fairy pieces to be placed on the board, and on the right you choose the stipulations, fairy conditions, and any special solving preferences. A particularly nice feature is that when you click on any of the option headings (in light blue), a help window appears and explains what the available choices mean in a glossary.

Given that my previous computer was purchased seven years ago, it’s not surprising that the new one (with an Intel Core i5 processor running at 3GHz) shows a big advance in solving speed. For instance, a 10-move directmate of mine which took too long to test with Kalulu before is now confirmed as sound by Popeye in less than 5 minutes. More direct comparisons are possible because Popeye’s solving times are included in its solution files, which I have kept. Take the fairy helpmate seen in the APwin screenshot – it was solved in 5 minutes on my old PC, and only 22 seconds on the current one.

Popeye has a weakness though in that while it does handle shortest proof games, it is much slower compared with a dedicated SPG program like Natch. A SPG in 10 moves that Natch solved in 6 seconds on my old PC took Popeye 25 minutes to do on the new one. Or consider this 12-move SPG which was verified in 1 minute by Natch. When I used Popeye, the problem was still unsolved after 4 hours at which point I interrupted the process! There is another program besides Natch that specialises in testing SPGs, named Euclide. Since Euclide is far from new – like Natch it has been around for more than a decade – I was not optimistic about its chances of being compatible with the 64-bit version of Windows 7. However, when I downloaded the application it installed without a hitch on my new system. And how fast is it? It verified the just-mentioned SPG-10 in 1.8 second, and the SPG-12 in 1.3 second!

13 Sep. 2012 – Australian Junior Chess Problem-Solving Championship

The national Junior Chess Championships was held in Melbourne earlier this year, and an official chess problem solving competition took place as part of the event. Eighty-one juniors (67 boys and 14 girls) entered this Solving Championship, a slight increase from last year. The competition was expertly organised by Nigel Nettheim, with help from Andrew Ballam and Ian Rogers. Geoff Foster did another fine job of setting the problems and preparing the papers.

Valentin Rudenko
Presledovanie Temy 1983
Mate in 2

Victor Chepizhny
64 1970
Special Prize
Mate in 7

Two of the set directmates are shown above – I’ve found them enjoyable to solve, and so should you! You can see their solutions, along with all of the problems used in the event, in Nigel’s detailed Report of the Championship. For a list of the prize winners, go to the 2012 Australian Junior Chess Championships site (open the “final bulletin” on the Results page).

14 Oct. 2012 – A serendipitous joint composition

In constructing a problem, the composer strives to make one thematic solution work – the “intention” – while eliminating all other viable lines or potential cooks. There are rare cases where an unintended solution is discovered and it proves sufficiently interesting to be incorporated as part of the problem. The directmate below illustrates a similar sort of fortuitous situation, in which a twinning device enables the problem’s content to be effectively doubled.

The diagram position was originally published in 2003 by the late Denis Saunders, to show an unusual idea, viz. an en passant key in a three-mover. It’s legal for White to start with 1.dxe6 e.p.!, because Black’s last move could only have been …e7-e5 (see Two problem conventions for an explanation of this type of retro-analysis). Black is released from stalemate and allowed two checks: 1…dxe6+ 2.Kxe4 e5 3.Qc8, and 1…fxe6+ 2.Kg6 e5 3.Rg8.

Denis Saunders &
Geoff Foster
The Problemist Supplement 2004
Mate in 3
(b) Kf5 to e8

Fellow Aussie composer Geoff Foster then detected a hidden possibility in the position. By shifting the white king to e8, he creates another mate-in-three problem with a unique key and accurate play throughout. The sacrificial 1.Rg6! now leads to 1…fxg6 2.Qxd7 g5 3.Qg7, and 1…Kxh7 2.Kxf7 Kh8 3.Rxh6. We see two brand new variations, and in keeping with the first solution, White’s queen and rook execute one mate each.

12 Dec. 2012 – ‘Philosophy Looks At Chess’ and Raymond Smullyan

As a casual but keen reader on the subject of philosophy, I was curious to come across the title, Philosophy Looks At Chess, edited by Benjamin Hale. It is an anthology of articles that explores various aspects of chess from a philosophical point of view. Many topics in which chess and philosophy intersect are examined by twelve professionals of either field. For instance: Do chess-playing computers really understand chess? Is choosing the right chess strategy analogous to how to deal with ethical problems? This essay collection proves to be a mixed bag in terms of quality and accessibility, so I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly. However, it does have some intriguing pieces, and here I will focus on one of its more readable chapters.

That chapter, ‘To Know the Past One Must First Know the Future: Raymond Smullyan and the Mysteries of Retrograde Analysis’, is by Bernd Graefrath. The author is a well-known figure in chess problem circles – he’s the subeditor of a retro section in The Problemist, for example – but I wasn’t aware that he’s also a professor and PhD in philosophy. (On a personal note, some years ago Bernd took the trouble of sending me a nice letter with the news that he, as the judge of a problem tourney that I participated in, had awarded a First Prize to my work!) His subject is Raymond Smullyan, the famous logician and philosopher who published two popular collections of retro chess problems, The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, and The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights.

Graefrath discusses some problems by Smullyan and others to introduce readers to the area of retrograde analysis, in which the solver delves into the past of a chess position. He points out interesting parallels between the ideas displayed in these retros and some philosophical concepts, such as “cognitive optimism” and “antiverificationism”. Thus we see how some of Smullyan’s philosophical viewpoints are evoked by his chess compositions! Take Smullyan’s stance against logical positivism, which holds that any statement is meaningless if it’s incapable of verification or refutation. Such a strict verificationism is incorrect, according to Smullyan, and Graefrath quotes a retro problem that is illustrative of this view.

Raymond Smullyan
The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes
Indemonstrable mate in 2 moves

Can White mate in two moves in the diagram position? The answer seems to be ‘yes’, but it’s not possible to demonstrate the key move that would solve it. If Black’s last move was …e7-e5, then 1.dxe6 e.p.! (threat: 2.g8(Q)) would work, and 1…0-0-0 allows 2.Bb7. However, Black’s last move was not necessarily …e7-e5, and so the en passant capture is only a potential key. Alternatively, Black could have made the last move with the king or the rook, in which case it’s illegal to castle now, and 1.Ke6! would solve, followed by 2.g8(Q). But this white king move cannot be confirmed as the key, because Black could indeed have played …e7-e5 last, implying that 1…0-0-0! is still legal as an escape move. Therefore, regardless of Black’s previous move, a white mate-in-two exists in the diagram – yet this “truth” of the position cannot be verified with a particular key move.

The article touches on Smullyan’s fascination with Eastern mysticism, a subject seemingly at odds with the strict logic of his profession. Graefrath writes, “In the final chapter of The Tao Is Silent, Smullyan presents a dialogue in which a metaphysician and a mystic develop a view that may be most attractive for someone with a high regard for logic, mathematics and the sciences, but still thinks that the area of meaningful discourse is not restricted to this area. They may not even cover the most important questions!” Such an attitude happens to coincide with my own, and I share Smullyan’s enthusiasm for mysticism as a sophisticated form of spirituality. I’d recommend The Tao Is Silent as well as another of his books, Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness, as excellent introductions to mystical thoughts (or non-thoughts!?). Smullyan is a wonderful writer, and for a taste of his style, check out the allegory ‘Planet Without Laughter’, in which a sense of humour, or “getting a joke”, is brilliantly used as a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment.

‘To Know the Past One Must First Know the Future: Raymond Smullyan and the Mysteries of Retrograde Analysis’ is available online as a preview of Philosophy Looks At Chess on Google Books.

31 Dec. 2012 – Improving a century-old problem and some composing resources

While searching for a suitable Weekly Problem for this site, I found an interesting two-mover by Henry Tate (the Australian problemist who coined the term “fairy chess”), diagrammed below. Although the problem has a fine key 1.Sd4! (threat: 2.Ke5) that sets off good battery play, the ensuing number of thematic variations was disappointing. Black’s knight on e4 is enabled by the unpinning key to give various discovered checks, and its random placement creates a dual: 1…S~+ (e.g. 1…Sf2+) 2.Kd6/Kd7. The correction move 1…Sxf6+ prompts 2.Kxf6, and while 1…Sxc5+/Sd6+ induces one of the dual mates, 2.Kd6, the other one, 2.Kd7, is never uniquely forced. There’s a nice secondary line, 1…Kxd4 2.Sb3.

Henry Tate
Good Companions 1917
4th Hon. Mention
Mate in 2

I wondered if the position was amenable to show more accurate battery variations, and was pleasantly surprised by what could be accomplished. First I added a white pawn on d6 to ensure that the random defence, 1…S~+, is answered by just one mate, 2.Kd7. This means that only after Black has played the correction move, 1…Sxd6+, is White allowed to play 2.Kxd6, making this a distinct variation. However, blocking d6 also makes the problem unsolvable, as 1…Sxc5+! (attacking d7) would refute the intended key. What if we remove the black pawn on g6 as well, so that 1…Sxc5+ leads to 2.Kf5 mate? Without the g6-pawn, the position again involves a dual after the random 1…S~+, viz. 2.Kd7/Kf5. But such a dual is not a serious weakness when these mates also appear individually in other variations, and we find – by good fortune – that the line 1…Sg3+ forcing 2.Kd7 is already in place without further adjustment, to complement 1…Sxc5+ 2.Kf5.

This new version of the two-mover contains four dual-free, royal battery variations – two more than that in the original – and it was used as the Problem of the Week, No.109. (The a7-pawn was also removed as computer-testing confirmed that it was superfluous.) The process of improving this directmate that I’ve described gives an inkling of what constructing a problem involves. If you have been solving problems from this site but have yet to try your hand at composing your own works, I encourage you to do so. Some excellent resources that deal with the techniques of making a chess problem are available online. Composing the Twomover by the Slovakian IM Juraj Lörinc takes you through the course of producing a sample problem step-by-step, starting with a basic theme.

The only book-length treatment of the subject, Adventures in Composition (1944), is by one of the greatest practitioners of the art, the late GM Comins Mansfield. This classic work reveals the thought processes behind the creation of many famous two-movers, and is invaluable to any new composers. You can download a PDF-copy of Adventures in Composition from Vaclav Kotesovec’s site (scroll down to “A. C. White – The Overbrook Series”). Another great resource is the periodical, The Problemist Supplement, which sometimes covers the topic of problem construction directly and is, in any case, a fine problem publication that caters for newcomers. A complete archive of The Problemist Supplement, currently edited by Geoff Foster, is accessible from the site of the British Chess Problem Society.