28 Jan. 2018 – New digital subscription for ‘The Problemist’
The Problemist is undoubtedly one of the best chess problem magazines in the world. Produced by the British Chess Problem Society, each issue contains topquality articles, news reports, original compositions (in six sections), selected problems (typically prizewinners), and tourney awards. Further, each instalment is bundled with The Problemist Supplement – also with originals and articles – which caters for newcomers to problems and is expertly edited by our own Geoff Foster. Starting from this year, you can subscribe to the electronic version of the publication at a greatly reduced rate. The annual membership cost is £5 (about AU$8.60) and it obtains six issues of the magazine in the PDF format. This is excellent value when you consider that the normal subscription is £25 for the hard copies (which is still available). Go to the British Chess Problem Society site for details on how to become a member.
Here are two selections from the November 2017 issue of the publication. The first features in the inaugural C. J. Morse Award for twomove tasks and records, named in honour of the late Sir Jeremy Morse. Twomovers from any sources (not just The Problemist) that demonstrate a maximum effect of some sort were eligible for this tourney, which covers the 20122016 period. Instead of the award winner, I will quote one of the top eleven entries mentioned, by a young composer who was a successful entrant in our Guided Chess Problem Composing Competition. This delightful work by Ilija brings about a terrific number of knight promotions. The key is thematic, naturally – 1.g8(S)! with the threat of 2.Bg3. Two defences by the a8rook allow White to deliver knight promotion mates: 1…Ra4 2.c8(S) and 1…Re8 fxe8(S). Black can also defend by promoting various pawns to knights, and these moves result in different queen mates: 1…f1(S) 2.Qd4, 1…gxh1(S) 2.Qg6, and 1…d1(S)+ 2.Qxd1. (Also, 1…Re7 2.Bxe7.) The total of six knight promotions (three white and three black) constitute a new record for singlephase twomovers.
All originals published in The Problemist automatically take part in its (mostly) annual informal tourneys. Given the quality of the problems that such a prestigious journal attracts, the prizewinners in these tourneys invariably impress. The helpmate above won the 2015 twomove section by achieving what could be a first: a doubling of the cyclic Zilahi theme without the use of twins. In the first three solutions, the white officers rotate their roles in getting captured by the black queen and giving mate: 1.Qxe4 Rf6 2.d5 Sc6, 1.Qxd4 Bf5 2.Qf4 Rd5, and 1.Qxd6 Sc6+ 2.Ke6 Bf5. In each phase, the white piece that’s not part of the Zilahi scheme (i.e. it is not captured and doesn’t mate) always moves to guard flights. Hence there’s a formally perfect 3x3 cyclic change of functions (sacrificed/guard/mate) for the three white pieces. Such a theme rendered would be sufficient to make a very good helpmate, but here the composer has managed to produce another 3x3 cycle of function change that again incorporates a Zilahi. In this second triplet of solutions, it’s the black king that commences the cyclic play by making the thematic captures: 1.Kxe4 Re6+ 2.Kf4 Se2, 1.Kxd4 Bd3 2.Re3 Rxd5, and 1.Kxd6 Sb5+ 2.Kc6 Bxd5.
Ilija Serafimović Youth Chess Composing Challenge 2016 2nd Place, 1st Hon. Mention 

Mate in 2 
Here are two selections from the November 2017 issue of the publication. The first features in the inaugural C. J. Morse Award for twomove tasks and records, named in honour of the late Sir Jeremy Morse. Twomovers from any sources (not just The Problemist) that demonstrate a maximum effect of some sort were eligible for this tourney, which covers the 20122016 period. Instead of the award winner, I will quote one of the top eleven entries mentioned, by a young composer who was a successful entrant in our Guided Chess Problem Composing Competition. This delightful work by Ilija brings about a terrific number of knight promotions. The key is thematic, naturally – 1.g8(S)! with the threat of 2.Bg3. Two defences by the a8rook allow White to deliver knight promotion mates: 1…Ra4 2.c8(S) and 1…Re8 fxe8(S). Black can also defend by promoting various pawns to knights, and these moves result in different queen mates: 1…f1(S) 2.Qd4, 1…gxh1(S) 2.Qg6, and 1…d1(S)+ 2.Qxd1. (Also, 1…Re7 2.Bxe7.) The total of six knight promotions (three white and three black) constitute a new record for singlephase twomovers.
Vasil Krizhanivsky The Problemist 2015 1st Prize 

Helpmate in 2 6 solutions 
All originals published in The Problemist automatically take part in its (mostly) annual informal tourneys. Given the quality of the problems that such a prestigious journal attracts, the prizewinners in these tourneys invariably impress. The helpmate above won the 2015 twomove section by achieving what could be a first: a doubling of the cyclic Zilahi theme without the use of twins. In the first three solutions, the white officers rotate their roles in getting captured by the black queen and giving mate: 1.Qxe4 Rf6 2.d5 Sc6, 1.Qxd4 Bf5 2.Qf4 Rd5, and 1.Qxd6 Sc6+ 2.Ke6 Bf5. In each phase, the white piece that’s not part of the Zilahi scheme (i.e. it is not captured and doesn’t mate) always moves to guard flights. Hence there’s a formally perfect 3x3 cyclic change of functions (sacrificed/guard/mate) for the three white pieces. Such a theme rendered would be sufficient to make a very good helpmate, but here the composer has managed to produce another 3x3 cycle of function change that again incorporates a Zilahi. In this second triplet of solutions, it’s the black king that commences the cyclic play by making the thematic captures: 1.Kxe4 Re6+ 2.Kf4 Se2, 1.Kxd4 Bd3 2.Re3 Rxd5, and 1.Kxd6 Sb5+ 2.Kc6 Bxd5.
12 Mar. 2018 – Stockfish and a modern classic moremover
The rise of chess engines in the last decade or so is an interesting topic from which I’ve been somewhat insulated, because of my focus on problem chess. Frequenting the Chess.com site has helped me to catch up with the advances of these incredible programs, which perform at superhuman levels on modest hardware. Thus I learnt that Stockfish, one of the strongest engines with an Elo rating of around 3500, is open source software that is accessible for free. And you don’t even have to install it on your computer; you can play against Stockfish directly on Chess.com, or set up a position on the site for the engine to analyse.
As a problemist, I was naturally curious to see how efficiently Stockfish deals with long directmate problems. And the answer seems to be “very.” It solved the great majority of moremovers of up to about 12 moves that I tested in mere seconds, and even cooked a few. (Note that when you run Stockfish on Chess.com, its speed still depends on your own computer’s processing power.) Although this is impressive, Stockfish is of course no substitute for a specialised problem solver like Popeye, which uncovers all of the variations in a problem and provides certainty to its soundness. Stockfish is designed to keep looking for the best move indefinitely, or it stops analysing according to a timelimit, so you can’t tell if any forced mating sequence it has found is in fact the shortest possible. Furthermore, Stockfish can be inconsistent in being unable to crack some notverylong directmates in a reasonable time. Here is an excellent 9move problem that stumped the engine, but was solved by Popeye in less than eight minutes.
White’s plan is to mate on e7 with the bishop, while avoiding stalemate from capturing the knight. Black is almost in zugzwang, since most knight moves allow the bishop mate and 1…Sd5/Sc6 is answered by the waiting move 2.Bc5, after which the knight must unguard the mating square. However, White has to move the king first to fend off 1…Sc2+. 1.Kb2? fails to 1…Sxd3!+ 2.Kany Sc5 3.Bb4 Sxe4!, creating an escape square on f5 for the black king. White therefore plays 1.Kb1!, but after 1…Sd5, 2.Bc5? is premature because of 2…Sc3+!, again winning the vital e4pawn. If 2.Kc2? instead, Black counters with the resourceful 2…Se3+! 3.Kany Sf5!, which simultaneously protects e7 and attacks g7, thus dislodging the white rook. So where should the white king go? No progress is made if it stays on the queenside, because the black knight can continue to switch between b4 to block the bishop and d5/c6, where the knight either checks directly or (if White plays Bc5) executes a fork that will give the piece access to e4 or f5, as previously seen. Correct is 2.Kc1! forcing 2…Sb4, and then 3.Kd1! Sd5.
At this point, you might guess that the theme of the problem is that the white king marches all the way from a1 to h1 without leaving the first rank. Hence not 4.Bc5? or 4.Ke2? because of 4…Sc3+ again, but 4.Ke1! Sb4 5.Kf1! Sd5 6.Kg1! Sb4 7.Kh1! Sd5, and finally the king is safe from checks by the pesky knight – 8.Bc5 Sany 9.Bxe7. The solution exploits a curious geometric feature: h1 is the only white square on the board that cannot be attacked in one move by a knight on either d5 or c6. The maximumlength orthogonal trip by the white king is superbly engineered in this firstrate composition.
When Stockfish tackled this position, it took a few minutes to find a forced mate in 13, starting with 1.Rxh7. After a couple of hours, it picked the right first move, 1.Kb1!, but based that on a wrong continuation, 1…Sd5 2.exd5?, which lets the black king escape to f5, and this leads to mate only on move 12. Are there directmates even shorter than this 9mover that cannot be solved – within an hour, say – by Stockfish? With few clues on what would give the engine trouble, I threw some random 7 and 8move problems at it, but most were handled quickly. Then it occurred to me that I could try using the current problem by Siers but with the first few moves of its solution shaved off; at which point of the shortened variation will Stockfish get it right? As it turns out, the engine found the solution only at the matein5 stage. That means the shortest forcedmate sequence I know of that cannot be solved by Stockfish is a matein6, with the white king starting on d1 and the black knight on d5. Can anyone unearth a matein5 position that is too difficult for Stockfish!?
As a problemist, I was naturally curious to see how efficiently Stockfish deals with long directmate problems. And the answer seems to be “very.” It solved the great majority of moremovers of up to about 12 moves that I tested in mere seconds, and even cooked a few. (Note that when you run Stockfish on Chess.com, its speed still depends on your own computer’s processing power.) Although this is impressive, Stockfish is of course no substitute for a specialised problem solver like Popeye, which uncovers all of the variations in a problem and provides certainty to its soundness. Stockfish is designed to keep looking for the best move indefinitely, or it stops analysing according to a timelimit, so you can’t tell if any forced mating sequence it has found is in fact the shortest possible. Furthermore, Stockfish can be inconsistent in being unable to crack some notverylong directmates in a reasonable time. Here is an excellent 9move problem that stumped the engine, but was solved by Popeye in less than eight minutes.
Theodor Siers Die Schwalbe 1935 

Mate in 9 
White’s plan is to mate on e7 with the bishop, while avoiding stalemate from capturing the knight. Black is almost in zugzwang, since most knight moves allow the bishop mate and 1…Sd5/Sc6 is answered by the waiting move 2.Bc5, after which the knight must unguard the mating square. However, White has to move the king first to fend off 1…Sc2+. 1.Kb2? fails to 1…Sxd3!+ 2.Kany Sc5 3.Bb4 Sxe4!, creating an escape square on f5 for the black king. White therefore plays 1.Kb1!, but after 1…Sd5, 2.Bc5? is premature because of 2…Sc3+!, again winning the vital e4pawn. If 2.Kc2? instead, Black counters with the resourceful 2…Se3+! 3.Kany Sf5!, which simultaneously protects e7 and attacks g7, thus dislodging the white rook. So where should the white king go? No progress is made if it stays on the queenside, because the black knight can continue to switch between b4 to block the bishop and d5/c6, where the knight either checks directly or (if White plays Bc5) executes a fork that will give the piece access to e4 or f5, as previously seen. Correct is 2.Kc1! forcing 2…Sb4, and then 3.Kd1! Sd5.
At this point, you might guess that the theme of the problem is that the white king marches all the way from a1 to h1 without leaving the first rank. Hence not 4.Bc5? or 4.Ke2? because of 4…Sc3+ again, but 4.Ke1! Sb4 5.Kf1! Sd5 6.Kg1! Sb4 7.Kh1! Sd5, and finally the king is safe from checks by the pesky knight – 8.Bc5 Sany 9.Bxe7. The solution exploits a curious geometric feature: h1 is the only white square on the board that cannot be attacked in one move by a knight on either d5 or c6. The maximumlength orthogonal trip by the white king is superbly engineered in this firstrate composition.
When Stockfish tackled this position, it took a few minutes to find a forced mate in 13, starting with 1.Rxh7. After a couple of hours, it picked the right first move, 1.Kb1!, but based that on a wrong continuation, 1…Sd5 2.exd5?, which lets the black king escape to f5, and this leads to mate only on move 12. Are there directmates even shorter than this 9mover that cannot be solved – within an hour, say – by Stockfish? With few clues on what would give the engine trouble, I threw some random 7 and 8move problems at it, but most were handled quickly. Then it occurred to me that I could try using the current problem by Siers but with the first few moves of its solution shaved off; at which point of the shortened variation will Stockfish get it right? As it turns out, the engine found the solution only at the matein5 stage. That means the shortest forcedmate sequence I know of that cannot be solved by Stockfish is a matein6, with the white king starting on d1 and the black knight on d5. Can anyone unearth a matein5 position that is too difficult for Stockfish!?
18 Apr. 2018 – ‘Esling’s Memories Expanded’ and ‘Ken Fraser – A Quiet Achiever’
Bob Meadley has sent me two splendid ebooks that he published some years ago. Although their problem contents are somewhat peripheral, anyone keen on chess and especially its historical aspects will find much of interest in these wellresearched documents. The first is Esling’s Memories Expanded (2009), which Bob compiled with the late Ken Fraser. Frederick Karl Esling (18601955) was the first official Chess Champion of Australia. He was also a railway engineer in charge of many important projects in Melbourne, Victoria, including the rebuilding of the Flinders Street Railway Station. Both of his careers, chess and professional, are covered in this comprehensive biography. Esling also composed some good problems that are tough to solve, and a small (incomplete) selection of his works is included. Below I quote one of his easier but appealing threemovers. At a sizable 268 pages, this document is divided into four PDF files which you can download here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
The second ebook is Ken Fraser – A Quiet Achiever (2014). Ken Fraser was the curator of one of the greatest collections of chess books in the world, the M.V. Anderson Chess Collection in the State Library of Victoria. Under the main heading, “The Letters from Ken,” Bob chronicles Fraser’s work as a chess researcher and the invaluable assistance he gave to other chess writers and historians, including Bob himself. “Problems are mentioned quite a lot in the pages,” wrote Bob, who indicated that the State Library intends to add the document (in whole or part) to its website.
The diagram position contains a short set line, 1…f4 2.Rxf4, but most of the black rook’s moves – including some strong captures – are not prepared with white continuations. The keymove 1.Bf4! (waiting) removes the set variation but provides for 1…R~file by crossing over d6, so that 2.Rd6 (short mate) no longer interferes with the bishop’s control of e5. (An unimportant dual follows 1…Rc5 with both 2.Rd6+ and 2.Re6 working.) The main variations occur when the black rook stays on the 6th rank. After 1…Rxf6, 2.Sg7 puts Black in zugzwang as the rook cannot maintain its focus on the knight’s mating squares: 2…R~rank 3.Sxf5 and 2…R~file 3.Se6. If 1…Rb6, then 2.Sc7 brings about similar focal play: 2…R~rank 3.Sb5 and 2…R~file 3.Se6. Accurate byplay follows the remaining rook defences: 1…Re6 2.Rxf5 (threat: 3.Rd5) Re5/Rd6 3.Be5, and 1…Ra6 2.Bxa6 Kd5 3.Rd6.
The second ebook is Ken Fraser – A Quiet Achiever (2014). Ken Fraser was the curator of one of the greatest collections of chess books in the world, the M.V. Anderson Chess Collection in the State Library of Victoria. Under the main heading, “The Letters from Ken,” Bob chronicles Fraser’s work as a chess researcher and the invaluable assistance he gave to other chess writers and historians, including Bob himself. “Problems are mentioned quite a lot in the pages,” wrote Bob, who indicated that the State Library intends to add the document (in whole or part) to its website.
Frederick Esling Melbourne Leader 1941 

Mate in 3 
The diagram position contains a short set line, 1…f4 2.Rxf4, but most of the black rook’s moves – including some strong captures – are not prepared with white continuations. The keymove 1.Bf4! (waiting) removes the set variation but provides for 1…R~file by crossing over d6, so that 2.Rd6 (short mate) no longer interferes with the bishop’s control of e5. (An unimportant dual follows 1…Rc5 with both 2.Rd6+ and 2.Re6 working.) The main variations occur when the black rook stays on the 6th rank. After 1…Rxf6, 2.Sg7 puts Black in zugzwang as the rook cannot maintain its focus on the knight’s mating squares: 2…R~rank 3.Sxf5 and 2…R~file 3.Se6. If 1…Rb6, then 2.Sc7 brings about similar focal play: 2…R~rank 3.Sb5 and 2…R~file 3.Se6. Accurate byplay follows the remaining rook defences: 1…Re6 2.Rxf5 (threat: 3.Rd5) Re5/Rd6 3.Be5, and 1…Ra6 2.Bxa6 Kd5 3.Rd6.
27 May 2018 – The greatest masters of both the game and problems – Part 1
The world of composed problems and endgame studies, though derived from competitive chess, has developed into a sophisticated art form that is quite distinct from the practical game. The specialised skills required in each of these two disciplines of chess means that it’s rare for individuals to truly excel in both. In this twopart Walkabout, I will consider such exceptional talents and present the greatest masters who have attained prominence in both areas. The first part here lists my topfive grandmasters of the overtheboard game who are also accomplished problemists. The second instalment will proffer the topfive elite problem composers who also play the game at the international level.
Such “greatest” lists are inevitably subjective, but I will be guided (not ruled) by a number of tangible measures of achievement in the game and problems:
(1) Titles. The familiar titles of Grandmaster, International Master, and FIDE Master in OTB play all have their counterparts in problem composition, as conferred by the World Federation for Chess Composition. An obvious criterion for my lists is the attainment of such titles, ideally in both fields. In cases where a person doesn’t hold an official title in one activity, I will give an estimate of their skill level.
(2) Best World Rank. The highest ever ranking of a player as calculated by Chessmetrics provides a simple but effective way to (indirectly) compare masters from different eras. Such a measure of relative strengths seems more revealing than Elo ratings, which are fraught with issues such as inflation.
(3) FIDE Album points. The FIDE Albums, dated from 1914 to the present, are anthologies of the world’s best chess compositions. The selection for inclusion in these Albums also determines the aforementioned titles awarded to composers. The title requirements are based on a point system; each problem selected gains 1.00 point while an endgame study earns 1.67. A composer must accumulate the following number of points to acquire the corresponding title: 12 for FIDE Master, 25 for International Master, and 70 for Grandmaster.
Honourable Mentions: The World Champions
Many World Champions in the past also engaged in chess composition. Steinitz, Capablanca, Botvinnik, and Smyslov all produced endgame studies, while Lasker and Euwe devised both directmate problems and studies. Each of these individuals’ output was good in numbers, suggesting a serious interest in the activity. However, their works were not exceptional in quality, and none of these World Champions are represented in the FIDE Albums.
Honourable Mentions: Solving Grandmasters
The solving of composed problems represents yet another major branch of chess. Akin to the competitive game, there are international solving tournaments in which participants could gain norms and titles. Only six people hold the distinction of achieving the grandmaster titles in both solving and OTB play: Jonathan Mestel, Ram Soffer, John Nunn, Bojan Vučković, Kacper Piorun, and Alexander Miśta. Since solving problems and playing the game are relatively similar (both are about finding the right moves), the overlap in expertise here is less surprising. That is one reason why these doubleGMs don’t make my topfive list, with one exception…
The standout among the OTB/solving GMs is the English player John Nunn, whose accomplishments in both the game and composition are well ahead of the rest of the group. His best results as a player include winning the prestigious Wijk aan Zee tournament three times, and obtaining two individual gold medals at the Chess Olympiads. On the problem side, Nunn has been crowned World Champion for solving on three occasions. His book Solving in Style guides you through the thinking process of a master solver and it also serves as an excellent introduction to the different types of chess problems. He is a fine composer as well, adept in a variety of genres including endgame studies and helpmates. In the problem below, he makes a rare foray into directmate territory.
Key: 1.Sec4! (threat: 2.Bxg2+ Rxg2 3.Se3). 1…Rbb2 2.Sc2 (3.Bxg2) Rxc2 3.Sb6, 2…S~ 3.S4e3. 1…Rab2 2.Sb5 (3.Sb6) Rxb5 3.Bxg2. 1…Raxa1 2.Sc2 (3.Bxg2) Rxf1/Re1 3.Sb6, 2…S~ 3.S4e3. 1…Rbxa1 2.Sb5 (3.Sb6) Ra6 3.Bxg2. The WurzburgPlachutta mutual interferences seen in 1…Rbb2 and 1…Rab2 are complemented by the 1…Raxa1 and 1…Rbxa1 pair.
The Estonian grandmaster Paul Keres is regarded by many as the greatest player never to have become World Champion. He won the famous AVRO tournament of 1938 and could have been the world title challenger to Alekhine if not for the outbreak of WWII. As a composer, Keres created about 200 works, mostly directmates of various lengths and some studies. The thematic contents of his directmate problems indicate a standard that is generally a class above that of the World Champion/composer group.
Key: 1.Bg2! (threat: 2.Sf3). 1…Sc7 2.Be5, 1…Se7 2.Bc5, 1…Sb6 2.Sc6, 1…Sf6 2.Se6, 1…Sc3 2.Qf2, 1…Se3 2.Qb2, 1…Sxb4 2.Rxb4, 1…Sxf4 2.Rxf4, 1…Bxd3 2.Qxd3. The eight black knight moves are answered by different mates – the knightwheel theme.
FIDE officially introduced the grandmaster title in 1950, and among the select group of 27 first recipients was the Czech player Oldřich Duras. He was an elite tournament player a few decades earlier; one of his best results was equal first place at Prague 1908 ahead of Rubinstein and Marshall. In composition, other than studies Duras focused on threemove directmates. He belonged to the Bohemian school which emphasises elegant model and echo mates. Although he had sufficient FIDE Album points for the FIDE Master title, when the award was established it was not conferred retroactively to deceased problemists.
Key: 1.Kg5! (waiting). 1…Kd8 2.Ba4 (threats: 3.Qd7/Qe8) Ke7 3.Qf6 [model], 2…Kc8 3.Qxa8 [model]. 1…a5 2.Bg4+ Kb8 3.Qb5 [model], 2…Kd8 3.Qd7. 1…Kb8 2.Bf3 (3.Qxa8/Qb7/Qe8) Kc8 3.Qe8 [model]. 1…Rb8 2.Bg4+ Kd8 3.Qd7. Four model mates are shown, two of which are echoes.
The great SlovakAustrian player Richard Réti was a proponent of the Hypermodernism school which revolutionised chess theory in the 1920s. His most celebrated victories were perhaps those over Capablanca and Alekhine in the New York 1924 tournament, using the opening that now bears his name. Réti was also a worldclass composer of endgame studies. His classic K+P vs K+P Draw must be one of the most famous positions in chess history. The high quality of his compositions makes up for his fairly small oeuvre of about 50 studies. Many of his best works, displaying great depth and complexity, are all the more remarkable considering they were constructed before the advent of computertesting.
Not 1.a5? Kb5! 1.Ba5! (threats: 2.Bd2/Be1… 3.a5) Kb3 2.Bc3!! Kxc3 (2…Bxc3 3.a5 c4 4.a6 Bd4 5.a7! Bxa7 6.g7 c3 7.g8(Q)+; not 5.g7? Bxg7 6.a7 c3 7.a8(Q) c2=) 3.a5 c4 4.a6 Kd2 5.a7 c3 6.a8(Q), e.g. 6…c2 7.Qa5+ Kd3 8.Qe1 Bh6 9.Kg2 Bg7 10.Qc1 Be5 11.Kf2 Bd4+ 12.Kf3 Kc3 13.Ke2 Bg7 14.Qd2+ Kb3 15.Kd3. Paradoxical firstmove blocks the white pawn, followed by a doublesacrifice.
A top grandmaster for three decades from the 1950s to the 1970s, the HungarianAmerican Pal Benko won the US Open Championships a record eight times. He qualified for two Candidates Tournaments which determined the world title challenger. The Benko Gambit is named after him. As a problemist, he is both prolific and versatile, producing hundreds of compositions in all genres. He has published studies, directmates of various lengths, helpmates, retroanalytical problems, and even some unorthodox or fairy compositions. He remains the only person to have officially gained both the GM title for OTB play and the IM title for composing.
Part (a): Tries: 1.b8(Q)+/f8(Q)+/f8(S)? Kc6! Key: 1.b8(S)! (threat: 2.f8(Q)+ Ke6 3.Qe7). 1…Ke6 2.f8(S)+ Kxf6 3.Sd7, 2…Kd6 3.Rd7. Part (b): Tries: 1.e8(Q)?=, 1.f8(Q)/f8(S)? Kc6! Key: 1.e8(B)! (2.f8(Q)+ Ke6 3.Qe7/Bd7). 1…Ke6 2.f8(B) Kxf6 3.Rh6. Two pairs of underpromotions.
Such “greatest” lists are inevitably subjective, but I will be guided (not ruled) by a number of tangible measures of achievement in the game and problems:
Honourable Mentions: The World Champions
Many World Champions in the past also engaged in chess composition. Steinitz, Capablanca, Botvinnik, and Smyslov all produced endgame studies, while Lasker and Euwe devised both directmate problems and studies. Each of these individuals’ output was good in numbers, suggesting a serious interest in the activity. However, their works were not exceptional in quality, and none of these World Champions are represented in the FIDE Albums.
Honourable Mentions: Solving Grandmasters
The solving of composed problems represents yet another major branch of chess. Akin to the competitive game, there are international solving tournaments in which participants could gain norms and titles. Only six people hold the distinction of achieving the grandmaster titles in both solving and OTB play: Jonathan Mestel, Ram Soffer, John Nunn, Bojan Vučković, Kacper Piorun, and Alexander Miśta. Since solving problems and playing the game are relatively similar (both are about finding the right moves), the overlap in expertise here is less surprising. That is one reason why these doubleGMs don’t make my topfive list, with one exception…
5. John Nunn (1955) Game: GM, Best World Rank: 10 Solving: GM Composing: Expertlevel 

Photo: Lovuschka Wikimedia Commons 
The standout among the OTB/solving GMs is the English player John Nunn, whose accomplishments in both the game and composition are well ahead of the rest of the group. His best results as a player include winning the prestigious Wijk aan Zee tournament three times, and obtaining two individual gold medals at the Chess Olympiads. On the problem side, Nunn has been crowned World Champion for solving on three occasions. His book Solving in Style guides you through the thinking process of a master solver and it also serves as an excellent introduction to the different types of chess problems. He is a fine composer as well, adept in a variety of genres including endgame studies and helpmates. In the problem below, he makes a rare foray into directmate territory.
John Nunn The Problemist 2012 5th Prize 

Mate in 3 
Key: 1.Sec4! (threat: 2.Bxg2+ Rxg2 3.Se3). 1…Rbb2 2.Sc2 (3.Bxg2) Rxc2 3.Sb6, 2…S~ 3.S4e3. 1…Rab2 2.Sb5 (3.Sb6) Rxb5 3.Bxg2. 1…Raxa1 2.Sc2 (3.Bxg2) Rxf1/Re1 3.Sb6, 2…S~ 3.S4e3. 1…Rbxa1 2.Sb5 (3.Sb6) Ra6 3.Bxg2. The WurzburgPlachutta mutual interferences seen in 1…Rbb2 and 1…Rab2 are complemented by the 1…Raxa1 and 1…Rbxa1 pair.
4. Paul Keres (19161975) Game: GM, Best World Rank: 2 Composing: Expertlevel, FIDE Album points: 3.33 

Photo: Daan Noske/Anefo Wikimedia Commons 
The Estonian grandmaster Paul Keres is regarded by many as the greatest player never to have become World Champion. He won the famous AVRO tournament of 1938 and could have been the world title challenger to Alekhine if not for the outbreak of WWII. As a composer, Keres created about 200 works, mostly directmates of various lengths and some studies. The thematic contents of his directmate problems indicate a standard that is generally a class above that of the World Champion/composer group.
Paul Keres Norsk Sjakkblad 1933 1st Prize 

Mate in 2 
Key: 1.Bg2! (threat: 2.Sf3). 1…Sc7 2.Be5, 1…Se7 2.Bc5, 1…Sb6 2.Sc6, 1…Sf6 2.Se6, 1…Sc3 2.Qf2, 1…Se3 2.Qb2, 1…Sxb4 2.Rxb4, 1…Sxf4 2.Rxf4, 1…Bxd3 2.Qxd3. The eight black knight moves are answered by different mates – the knightwheel theme.
3. Oldřich Duras (18821957) Game: GM, Best World Rank: 4 Composing: Masterlevel, FIDE Album points: 17.50 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 
FIDE officially introduced the grandmaster title in 1950, and among the select group of 27 first recipients was the Czech player Oldřich Duras. He was an elite tournament player a few decades earlier; one of his best results was equal first place at Prague 1908 ahead of Rubinstein and Marshall. In composition, other than studies Duras focused on threemove directmates. He belonged to the Bohemian school which emphasises elegant model and echo mates. Although he had sufficient FIDE Album points for the FIDE Master title, when the award was established it was not conferred retroactively to deceased problemists.
Oldřich Duras České slovo 1922 

Mate in 3 
Key: 1.Kg5! (waiting). 1…Kd8 2.Ba4 (threats: 3.Qd7/Qe8) Ke7 3.Qf6 [model], 2…Kc8 3.Qxa8 [model]. 1…a5 2.Bg4+ Kb8 3.Qb5 [model], 2…Kd8 3.Qd7. 1…Kb8 2.Bf3 (3.Qxa8/Qb7/Qe8) Kc8 3.Qe8 [model]. 1…Rb8 2.Bg4+ Kd8 3.Qd7. Four model mates are shown, two of which are echoes.
2. Richard Réti (18891929) Game: GMlevel, Best World Rank: 5 Composing: Masterlevel, FIDE Album points: 15.00 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 
The great SlovakAustrian player Richard Réti was a proponent of the Hypermodernism school which revolutionised chess theory in the 1920s. His most celebrated victories were perhaps those over Capablanca and Alekhine in the New York 1924 tournament, using the opening that now bears his name. Réti was also a worldclass composer of endgame studies. His classic K+P vs K+P Draw must be one of the most famous positions in chess history. The high quality of his compositions makes up for his fairly small oeuvre of about 50 studies. Many of his best works, displaying great depth and complexity, are all the more remarkable considering they were constructed before the advent of computertesting.
Richard Réti Tagesbote 1925 

White to play and win 
Not 1.a5? Kb5! 1.Ba5! (threats: 2.Bd2/Be1… 3.a5) Kb3 2.Bc3!! Kxc3 (2…Bxc3 3.a5 c4 4.a6 Bd4 5.a7! Bxa7 6.g7 c3 7.g8(Q)+; not 5.g7? Bxg7 6.a7 c3 7.a8(Q) c2=) 3.a5 c4 4.a6 Kd2 5.a7 c3 6.a8(Q), e.g. 6…c2 7.Qa5+ Kd3 8.Qe1 Bh6 9.Kg2 Bg7 10.Qc1 Be5 11.Kf2 Bd4+ 12.Kf3 Kc3 13.Ke2 Bg7 14.Qd2+ Kb3 15.Kd3. Paradoxical firstmove blocks the white pawn, followed by a doublesacrifice.
1. Pal Benko (1928) Game: GM, Best World Rank: 17 Composing: IM, FIDE Album points: 40.00 

Photo: F.N. Broers/Anefo Wikimedia Commons 
A top grandmaster for three decades from the 1950s to the 1970s, the HungarianAmerican Pal Benko won the US Open Championships a record eight times. He qualified for two Candidates Tournaments which determined the world title challenger. The Benko Gambit is named after him. As a problemist, he is both prolific and versatile, producing hundreds of compositions in all genres. He has published studies, directmates of various lengths, helpmates, retroanalytical problems, and even some unorthodox or fairy compositions. He remains the only person to have officially gained both the GM title for OTB play and the IM title for composing.
Pal Benko Magyar Sakkélet 1975 3rd Hon. Mention 

Mate in 3 Twin (b) Pb7 to e7 
Part (a): Tries: 1.b8(Q)+/f8(Q)+/f8(S)? Kc6! Key: 1.b8(S)! (threat: 2.f8(Q)+ Ke6 3.Qe7). 1…Ke6 2.f8(S)+ Kxf6 3.Sd7, 2…Kd6 3.Rd7. Part (b): Tries: 1.e8(Q)?=, 1.f8(Q)/f8(S)? Kc6! Key: 1.e8(B)! (2.f8(Q)+ Ke6 3.Qe7/Bd7). 1…Ke6 2.f8(B) Kxf6 3.Rh6. Two pairs of underpromotions.
28 Jun. 2018 – The greatest masters of both the game and problems – Part 2
In this instalment, we continue our survey of the greatest chess masters who have attained prominence in both the overtheboard game and problem composition. Whereas in Part 1 we focused on famous OTB grandmasters who are proficient problemists to boot, here I give my list of topfive outstanding problem and study composers who also play competitive chess at the master level. My selection is once again partly based on three measures of an individual’s achievements: (1) chess titles acquired, (2) Best World Rank as determined by Chessmetrics, and (3) FIDE Album points, indicative of the number of firstclass compositions produced.
All but one of my picks are official grandmasters of chess composition, a title bestowed to those who have gained at least 70 FIDE Album points. I want to stress how this simplesounding requirement is in fact extremely stringent, so that on average only a handful of people per year would qualify. Indeed, since the title was established in 1972, only 88 people have ever earned the distinction, as this complete list of Grandmasters for Chess Compositions shows. Hence unlike the grandmaster title for the OTB game, now held by about 1500 players, the corresponding title for composition is in no danger of devaluation!
In passing, I should also mention a select group of eight brilliant problemists who have obtained the grandmaster titles for both composing and solving problems: Milan Velimirović, Marjan Kovačević, Michel Caillaud, Aleksandr Azhusin, Miodrag Mladenović, Andreï Selivanov, Michal Dragoun, and Ladislav Salai Jr. The last of these doubleGMs also appears in my topfive list.
The Czech composer Ladislav Prokeš deserves a place here not only because of his impressive highest playing rank of 36, but also for his style of endgame composition. He was dubbed “the player’s composer” as his studies often have naturallooking positions with few pieces and their solutions are typically short but surprising – an appealing blend for the practical player. Remarkably prolific, Prokeš devised over 1,200 studies and also some directmates. He became an International Judge for composition in 1956. His International Master title for composing was awarded posthumously in 2016. As a player, he jointly won the Czechoslovak Championship in 1921 and represented his country at three Chess Olympiads (once with Réti as a teammate).
1.d7 Ra1+ 2.Ba2! (not 2.Kb3? Ra8 3.Bd5 Rb8+ 4.Kc4 Kxe5 =) Rxa2+ 3.Kb3 Ra8 4.e6 Ke5 5.e7, 1…Rd1 2.Bd5! Rxd5 3.e6 Ke5 4.e7, 1…Rh8 2.Bg8! (not 2.Bf7? Kxe5 3.Be8 Rh4+ 4.Kb5 Rd4 =) Rxg8 3.e6 Ke5 4.e7. The white bishop is sacrificed three times, each on a different square.
The Israeli Yochanan Afek is the epitome of professional chess versatility, being the only person to hold five FIDE titles: Grandmaster and International Judge for composition, International Master and International Arbiter for the game, and FIDE Master for solving. He’s also a chess trainer, tournament organiser, and writer! As a composer, Afek is bestknown for his endgame studies – which make up the majority of his output of more than 400 works – but he has additionally published directmates, selfmates, and helpmates of excellent quality. In competitive play, his best result was winning the 2002 Paris City Championship, which earned him a GMnorm. His expertise in both studies and the game makes him an ideal author of books such as Extreme Chess Tactics.
Try: 1.b6? (threat: 2.Ra5). 1…Qd4+ [a] 2.Bd6 [A], 1…Qxe5 [b] 2.Bc5 [B], but 1…Qc3! refutes. Key: 1.Kc7! (2.Re8). 1…Qd4 [a] 2.Bc5 [B], 1…Qxe5+ [b] 2.Bd6 [A], 1…Qe1 2.Bb4. Virtual and actual play show a reciprocal change of white battery mates (labelled [A] and [B]) in response to the same pair of black queen defences ([a] and [b]).
Ladislav Salai Jr. of Slovakia recently joined the exclusive club of doubleGMs by gaining the composing title last year, having been a grandmaster solver since 2011. He is an International Master for playing the game as well, and this triple accolade seems to be unique. In composition, he’s equally proficient in studies, directmates, helpmates, selfmates, and unorthodox problems that employ armies of fairy pieces. He tends to favour very complex themes that involve a formal relationship between the variations. In the OTB game, he played for Slovakia at the 1996 Chess Olympiad, and won the Slovak Championship of 1997. Incidentally, his late father Ladislav Salai Sr. was also an accomplished problemist.
Tries: 1.Sd3? (threat: 2.Rd4 [A]). 1…Se6 2.Sf6 [B], but 1…Ra4! 1.Bd7? (2.Sf6 [B]). 1…Se4 2.c4 [C], but 1…Sh7! Key: 1.Sg3! (2.c4 [C]). 1…Rc5 2.Rd4 [A]. The three white moves marked [A], [B], and [C] recur in the virtual and actual play as threats and variation mates, in a pattern called the cyclic pseudo le Grand theme. Furthermore, in all three variations White’s mating move cuts off a white line of guard to a flightsquare, after it’s blocked by a black piece.
The YugoAmerican Milan Vukcevich was a topclass problemist, brilliant player, and distinguished scientist rolled into one. Unusual among composers highlyskilled at the game, he created few endgame studies, and his diverse FIDE Album entries comprise directmates, selfmates, helpmates, and unorthodox types. He was also a strong solver who came third in the 1981 World Chess Solving Championship. In practical play, Vukcevich represented Yugoslavia in the 1960 Chess Olympiad where he won a bronze medal, and his best tournament results were equal first in the 1969 U.S. Open Championship (shared with Benko and Bisguier) and third place in the 1975 closed U.S. Championship. There’s little doubt he could have scaled even greater heights as a player if not for his chosen career as a professor and theoretical scientist, one who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Key: 1.Qh7! (threat: 2.Rh1+ Kxg2 3.Qe4). 1…Qxh7 2.Kc3 (3.B~) Qxh2 3.Be4, 2…Qd3+ 3.Bxd3, 2…Qc2+ 3.Bxc2, 2…Qxb1 3.Rxb1, 2…Kf1 3.Bd3. 1…Bxh7+ 2.Kb3 (3.B~) Bd3 3.Bxd3, 2…Bc2+ 3.Bxc2, 2…Bxb1 3.Rxb1, 2…Kf1 3.Bd3. 1…Sxh7 2.Kd3 ~ 3.Bc2. 1…Sg6 2.Kc3 (3.B~) Kf1 3.Bd3. 1…g6 2.Rh1+ Kxg2 3.Qb7. 1…Kf1 2.Rh1+ Ke2 3.Qd3. This famous work features a threefold queensacrifice key that also invites two black checks, followed by quiet white king moves and battery mates.
Considered by many to be the greatest study composer of all time, the Armenian Genrikh Kasparyan was one of four people honoured with the grandmaster title for composition when it was instituted in 1972. His body of work, consisting of about 600 studies, is marked by great depth of analysis and subtlety of play. His favourite themes include domination, positional draw, mate, stalemate, and systematic manoeuvre. He was an International Judge for composition, and he also authored many endgame anthologies that are now regarded as classics. In competitive chess, Kasparyan became an International Master in 1950 when the title was introduced. He won the Armenian Championship ten times, including twice with Petrosian as the jointwinner, and qualified for the finals of the USSR Championships four times.
Not 1.Qe4+? Kb8! 2.Qxe7 Qg6+ 3.Kxh4 Qh6+ 4.Kg4/Kg3 f1(Q), and Black wins. 1.Qc8!+ Ka7 2.Qc7+ Ka6 (2…Ka8 3.Qc8+ perpetual check) 3.Qxe7 Qg6+ (3…f1(Q) 4.Qb7+/Qa7+ Kxb7/Kxa7 stalemate, else perpetual check, e.g. 4.Qb7+ Ka5 5.Qb4+ Ka6 6.Qb7+) 4.Kxh4 Qh6+ (4…f1(Q) 5.Qb7+/Qa7+ Kxb7/Kxa7 stalemate, else perpetual check) 5.Kg3 f1(Q) 6.Qe2+! Qxe2 stalemate. Three different stalemate positions occur, the final one of which involves exploiting the black king’s placement on a6.
All but one of my picks are official grandmasters of chess composition, a title bestowed to those who have gained at least 70 FIDE Album points. I want to stress how this simplesounding requirement is in fact extremely stringent, so that on average only a handful of people per year would qualify. Indeed, since the title was established in 1972, only 88 people have ever earned the distinction, as this complete list of Grandmasters for Chess Compositions shows. Hence unlike the grandmaster title for the OTB game, now held by about 1500 players, the corresponding title for composition is in no danger of devaluation!
In passing, I should also mention a select group of eight brilliant problemists who have obtained the grandmaster titles for both composing and solving problems: Milan Velimirović, Marjan Kovačević, Michel Caillaud, Aleksandr Azhusin, Miodrag Mladenović, Andreï Selivanov, Michal Dragoun, and Ladislav Salai Jr. The last of these doubleGMs also appears in my topfive list.
5. Ladislav Prokeš (18841966) Composing: IM, FIDE Album points: 38.33 Game: Masterlevel, Best World Rank: 36 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 
The Czech composer Ladislav Prokeš deserves a place here not only because of his impressive highest playing rank of 36, but also for his style of endgame composition. He was dubbed “the player’s composer” as his studies often have naturallooking positions with few pieces and their solutions are typically short but surprising – an appealing blend for the practical player. Remarkably prolific, Prokeš devised over 1,200 studies and also some directmates. He became an International Judge for composition in 1956. His International Master title for composing was awarded posthumously in 2016. As a player, he jointly won the Czechoslovak Championship in 1921 and represented his country at three Chess Olympiads (once with Réti as a teammate).
Ladislav Prokeš Louma Tourney 1941 1st Prize 

White to play and win 
1.d7 Ra1+ 2.Ba2! (not 2.Kb3? Ra8 3.Bd5 Rb8+ 4.Kc4 Kxe5 =) Rxa2+ 3.Kb3 Ra8 4.e6 Ke5 5.e7, 1…Rd1 2.Bd5! Rxd5 3.e6 Ke5 4.e7, 1…Rh8 2.Bg8! (not 2.Bf7? Kxe5 3.Be8 Rh4+ 4.Kb5 Rd4 =) Rxg8 3.e6 Ke5 4.e7. The white bishop is sacrificed three times, each on a different square.
4. Yochanan Afek (1952) Composing: GM, FIDE Album points: 77.39 Game: IM, Best World Rank: 791 Solving: FM 

Photo: Stefan64 Wikimedia Commons 
The Israeli Yochanan Afek is the epitome of professional chess versatility, being the only person to hold five FIDE titles: Grandmaster and International Judge for composition, International Master and International Arbiter for the game, and FIDE Master for solving. He’s also a chess trainer, tournament organiser, and writer! As a composer, Afek is bestknown for his endgame studies – which make up the majority of his output of more than 400 works – but he has additionally published directmates, selfmates, and helpmates of excellent quality. In competitive play, his best result was winning the 2002 Paris City Championship, which earned him a GMnorm. His expertise in both studies and the game makes him an ideal author of books such as Extreme Chess Tactics.
Yochanan Afek Probleemblad 1980 3rd Prize 

Mate in 2 
Try: 1.b6? (threat: 2.Ra5). 1…Qd4+ [a] 2.Bd6 [A], 1…Qxe5 [b] 2.Bc5 [B], but 1…Qc3! refutes. Key: 1.Kc7! (2.Re8). 1…Qd4 [a] 2.Bc5 [B], 1…Qxe5+ [b] 2.Bd6 [A], 1…Qe1 2.Bb4. Virtual and actual play show a reciprocal change of white battery mates (labelled [A] and [B]) in response to the same pair of black queen defences ([a] and [b]).
3. Ladislav Salai Jr. (1961) Composing: GM, FIDE Album points: 87.35 Game: IM, Best World Rank: 524 Solving: GM 

Photo: YouTube 
Ladislav Salai Jr. of Slovakia recently joined the exclusive club of doubleGMs by gaining the composing title last year, having been a grandmaster solver since 2011. He is an International Master for playing the game as well, and this triple accolade seems to be unique. In composition, he’s equally proficient in studies, directmates, helpmates, selfmates, and unorthodox problems that employ armies of fairy pieces. He tends to favour very complex themes that involve a formal relationship between the variations. In the OTB game, he played for Slovakia at the 1996 Chess Olympiad, and won the Slovak Championship of 1997. Incidentally, his late father Ladislav Salai Sr. was also an accomplished problemist.
Ladislav Salai Jr. Czechoslovakia–Israel Composing Match 1992 6th Place 

Mate in 2 
Tries: 1.Sd3? (threat: 2.Rd4 [A]). 1…Se6 2.Sf6 [B], but 1…Ra4! 1.Bd7? (2.Sf6 [B]). 1…Se4 2.c4 [C], but 1…Sh7! Key: 1.Sg3! (2.c4 [C]). 1…Rc5 2.Rd4 [A]. The three white moves marked [A], [B], and [C] recur in the virtual and actual play as threats and variation mates, in a pattern called the cyclic pseudo le Grand theme. Furthermore, in all three variations White’s mating move cuts off a white line of guard to a flightsquare, after it’s blocked by a black piece.
2. Milan Vukcevich (19372003) Composing: GM, FIDE Album points: 162.67 Game: FM, Best World Rank: 70 Solving: Masterlevel 

Photo: ‘My Chess Compositions’ book cover 
The YugoAmerican Milan Vukcevich was a topclass problemist, brilliant player, and distinguished scientist rolled into one. Unusual among composers highlyskilled at the game, he created few endgame studies, and his diverse FIDE Album entries comprise directmates, selfmates, helpmates, and unorthodox types. He was also a strong solver who came third in the 1981 World Chess Solving Championship. In practical play, Vukcevich represented Yugoslavia in the 1960 Chess Olympiad where he won a bronze medal, and his best tournament results were equal first in the 1969 U.S. Open Championship (shared with Benko and Bisguier) and third place in the 1975 closed U.S. Championship. There’s little doubt he could have scaled even greater heights as a player if not for his chosen career as a professor and theoretical scientist, one who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Milan Vukcevich StrateGems 1998 1st Prize 

Mate in 3 
Key: 1.Qh7! (threat: 2.Rh1+ Kxg2 3.Qe4). 1…Qxh7 2.Kc3 (3.B~) Qxh2 3.Be4, 2…Qd3+ 3.Bxd3, 2…Qc2+ 3.Bxc2, 2…Qxb1 3.Rxb1, 2…Kf1 3.Bd3. 1…Bxh7+ 2.Kb3 (3.B~) Bd3 3.Bxd3, 2…Bc2+ 3.Bxc2, 2…Bxb1 3.Rxb1, 2…Kf1 3.Bd3. 1…Sxh7 2.Kd3 ~ 3.Bc2. 1…Sg6 2.Kc3 (3.B~) Kf1 3.Bd3. 1…g6 2.Rh1+ Kxg2 3.Qb7. 1…Kf1 2.Rh1+ Ke2 3.Qd3. This famous work features a threefold queensacrifice key that also invites two black checks, followed by quiet white king moves and battery mates.
1. Genrikh Kasparyan (19101995) Composing: GM, FIDE Album points: 175.83 Game: IM, Best World Rank: 31 

Photo: ARVES 
Considered by many to be the greatest study composer of all time, the Armenian Genrikh Kasparyan was one of four people honoured with the grandmaster title for composition when it was instituted in 1972. His body of work, consisting of about 600 studies, is marked by great depth of analysis and subtlety of play. His favourite themes include domination, positional draw, mate, stalemate, and systematic manoeuvre. He was an International Judge for composition, and he also authored many endgame anthologies that are now regarded as classics. In competitive chess, Kasparyan became an International Master in 1950 when the title was introduced. He won the Armenian Championship ten times, including twice with Petrosian as the jointwinner, and qualified for the finals of the USSR Championships four times.
Genrikh Kasparyan 64 1935 

White to play and draw 
Not 1.Qe4+? Kb8! 2.Qxe7 Qg6+ 3.Kxh4 Qh6+ 4.Kg4/Kg3 f1(Q), and Black wins. 1.Qc8!+ Ka7 2.Qc7+ Ka6 (2…Ka8 3.Qc8+ perpetual check) 3.Qxe7 Qg6+ (3…f1(Q) 4.Qb7+/Qa7+ Kxb7/Kxa7 stalemate, else perpetual check, e.g. 4.Qb7+ Ka5 5.Qb4+ Ka6 6.Qb7+) 4.Kxh4 Qh6+ (4…f1(Q) 5.Qb7+/Qa7+ Kxb7/Kxa7 stalemate, else perpetual check) 5.Kg3 f1(Q) 6.Qe2+! Qxe2 stalemate. Three different stalemate positions occur, the final one of which involves exploiting the black king’s placement on a6.
5 Aug. 2018 – ‘Chess Problems Out of the Box’ by Werner Keym
The German expert Werner Keym has brought out a wonderful new book entitled Chess Problems Out of the Box. An updated and expanded English edition of an earlier volume in German, this is a collection of 500 orthodox but outoftheordinary problems by over 200 composers. Its first sections deal with the special moves in chess, namely castling, en passant capture, and pawn promotion, as they occur thematically in directmates, endgame studies, helpmates, and selfmates. A number of unconventional ideas and devices are then covered, such as asymmetry, board rotation, and the addition of pieces. The remainder of the problems – about half of the book’s total – involves retrograde analysis, either as the focus of a composition or a subsidiary feature. Practically all types of retros are represented here: last move determination, legality of castling and en passant capture, retractors, proof games, dead reckoning, illegal clusters, and many more.
The author has made a brilliant selection of problems for this anthology. For each theme that is examined, he provides a variety of firstrate examples that could be, say, a letztform (ideal setting), a maximum task, a first realisation, or a particularly attractive demonstration. Thus we see directmates in which the four castling moves all take place, endgame studies that bring about Allumwandlung, helpmates that (nearly!) accomplish the 100 Dollar theme (black and white excelsior knightpromotions), and so forth. While many famous classics are cited, the vast majority of the selected works are new to me, including the two samples below.
The first is a beautiful rendering of black Allumwandlung in a helpmate. Depending on where the white knight begins in this quadruplet, Black promotes to a different type of piece and uses it to block each of the king’s four diagonalflights. Meanwhile, the white bishop guards four pairs of flights cyclically and the white knight controls the fourth flight as it mates from different squares. 1.h1(B) Bd3 2.Bc6 Bg6 3.Bd7 Sc7, (b) 1.h1(Q) Bg2 2.Qh5 Be4 3.Qf7 Sc5, (c) 1.h1(S) Bb5 2.Sg3 Bc6 3.Sf5 Sg5, (d) 1.h1(R) Bb5 2.Rhd1 Be8 3.R1d5 Sg7. Readers are encouraged to solve the next problem before reading further!
The book’s wideranging coverage of retros, with clear explanations of the various subtypes, also makes it an excellent introduction to the genre, an area in which Keym is an authority. He is a fine composer too, and many of his own works are presented here. The miniature above is a delightful example in which the pleasantly open position disguises the retro content. Ostensibly this twomove problem is solved by 1.Rb6!? Kxc4 2.Qd4, but that’s an invalid solution because Black has no possible last move in the diagram! The black king couldn’t have come from any of its adjacent empty squares, where it would have been in an illegal doublecheck. Therefore White must have made the last move, and it’s Black to play now: …Kxe6 1.Rc7! Kd5 2.Qf5, and …Kxc4 1.Qd4+! Kxb3 2.Re3, 2…Kb5 2.Rb6. This retro idea, categorised under unconventional first move, is suitably described as a “nasty trick”!
Chess Problems Out of the Box (2018, Nightrider Unlimited) is available for €10 (paperback), €28 (hardback) + postage. For more details on the publication (including a free excerpt) and information on how to order, go to the book’s page on the publisher’s site.
The author has made a brilliant selection of problems for this anthology. For each theme that is examined, he provides a variety of firstrate examples that could be, say, a letztform (ideal setting), a maximum task, a first realisation, or a particularly attractive demonstration. Thus we see directmates in which the four castling moves all take place, endgame studies that bring about Allumwandlung, helpmates that (nearly!) accomplish the 100 Dollar theme (black and white excelsior knightpromotions), and so forth. While many famous classics are cited, the vast majority of the selected works are new to me, including the two samples below.
György Páros FIDE Review 1958 Special Prize 

Helpmate in 3 Twin (b/c/d) Sb5 to d3/f3/h5 
The first is a beautiful rendering of black Allumwandlung in a helpmate. Depending on where the white knight begins in this quadruplet, Black promotes to a different type of piece and uses it to block each of the king’s four diagonalflights. Meanwhile, the white bishop guards four pairs of flights cyclically and the white knight controls the fourth flight as it mates from different squares. 1.h1(B) Bd3 2.Bc6 Bg6 3.Bd7 Sc7, (b) 1.h1(Q) Bg2 2.Qh5 Be4 3.Qf7 Sc5, (c) 1.h1(S) Bb5 2.Sg3 Bc6 3.Sf5 Sg5, (d) 1.h1(R) Bb5 2.Rhd1 Be8 3.R1d5 Sg7. Readers are encouraged to solve the next problem before reading further!
Werner Keym WeserKurier 1968 

Mate in 2 
The book’s wideranging coverage of retros, with clear explanations of the various subtypes, also makes it an excellent introduction to the genre, an area in which Keym is an authority. He is a fine composer too, and many of his own works are presented here. The miniature above is a delightful example in which the pleasantly open position disguises the retro content. Ostensibly this twomove problem is solved by 1.Rb6!? Kxc4 2.Qd4, but that’s an invalid solution because Black has no possible last move in the diagram! The black king couldn’t have come from any of its adjacent empty squares, where it would have been in an illegal doublecheck. Therefore White must have made the last move, and it’s Black to play now: …Kxe6 1.Rc7! Kd5 2.Qf5, and …Kxc4 1.Qd4+! Kxb3 2.Re3, 2…Kb5 2.Rb6. This retro idea, categorised under unconventional first move, is suitably described as a “nasty trick”!
Chess Problems Out of the Box (2018, Nightrider Unlimited) is available for €10 (paperback), €28 (hardback) + postage. For more details on the publication (including a free excerpt) and information on how to order, go to the book’s page on the publisher’s site.
8 Sep. 2018 – Adventures with endgame tablebases
In an earlier Walkabout column (12 Mar. 2018) I looked at the engine Stockfish from a problemist’s perspective. Another major advance in computer chess has been the development of endgame tablebases, which in some ways are even more amazing than superstrong engines. Tablebases are essentially databases of endgame positions that have been exhaustively analysed so that their outcomes (win/loss/draw) with best play by both sides are known with certainty. Moreover, in these positions the result of every possible move has been determined precisely, and thus each winning or losing move is provided with a “depthtomate” number, i.e. how many turns before mate is forced. What this means is that for any tablebase position, we know its complete “truth” and how perfect play would proceed.
Early tablebases could only deal with settings of specific materials, e.g. K+Q vs K+R, but as computer performances improved, we saw the creation of general tablebases that could handle any combination of pieces up to a certain total number of units. A milestone was reached in 2012 when a Russian team used a supercomputer to generate the Lomonosov tablebases, which cover all possible endgames with seven units or fewer (barring the trivial cases of six pieces vs king). Consequently, the game of chess is moreorless solved for such miniature positions! Here are some online resources for accessing these marvels of modern technology: (1) Nalimov EGTB – 6 pieces maximum (free); (2) Lomonosov Tablebases – 7 pieces maximum (annual subscription fee required, but free for fewer pieces); (3) Android app for Lomonosov – 7 pieces maximum (free and highly recommended).
Tablebases analysis and resultant discoveries about the endgame have had a profound effect on many facets of the game; see the Wikipedia entry on the subject for details. Here I will consider how tablebases affect chess composition, and delve into three positions that illustrate what has been made feasible in problems and endgame studies. These positions employ the same material of Q+S vs R+B+S, and although I didn’t realise it at the time, this is identical to the pieces used in some lengthrecord settings uncovered by tablebases, where to force mate requires over 500 (!) moves. My initial aim was merely to give Lomonosov some random homebase positions (all units on their array squares) to test and see if any of them would yield interesting play. The most remarkable case that I came across, with a depthtomate number of 90, is diagrammed below. [Syzygy TB Link]
If we treat this position as a directmate problem that requires the quickest mate to be found, a surprisingly large number of white moves in the solution are uniquely forced. In deciding on the main variation, I tried to maximise the number of such precise moves, and in the given line 77 of the 90 white moves are unique and they are marked with an '!'. Since “only” 13 white moves have duals, these alternatives are specified as well whenever they occur. As in most lengthy tablebase solutions, the play is not really humancomprehensible. But out of all these perfect moves, the standouts are three instances where the white king retreats from e2 to d1 for no apparent reason. If this were a composed problem without any duals, these recurring Kd1! (at moves 22, 32, and 41) would have been a marvellous theme!
1.Qa4+! Kf7 2.Qb3+! Kg7 3.Qg3+! Kf7 4.Sd2! Be7 5.Qf3+! Sf6 6.Qb3+! Kf8 7.Qb8+! Kg7 8.Qg3+! Kf7 9.Sf3! Rh5 10.Sg5+! Kg7 11.Sh3+ (11.Se6+) Kf7 12.Sf4! Rh6 13.Qb3+! Ke8 14.Qe6 (14.Ke2) Kf8 15.Qc8+! Se8 16.Qf5+! Bf6 17.Ke2! Sd6 18.Qg4! Be7 19.Sg6+! Kf7 20.Se5+! Kf6 21.Sd7+ (21.Qf4+) Kf7 22.Kd1! Incredible! For instance, 22.Kd3? is one move slower, while 22.Kf3? takes another 195 moves to mate! 22…Rh1+ 23.Kc2! Rh2+ 24.Kd3! Rh6 25.Qf4+ (25.Qf3+) Kg7 26.Qg3+! Rg6 27.Qe5+! Kf7 28.Qd5+! Kg7 29.Qd4+! Kg8 30.Se5! Rg3+ 31.Ke2 (31.Kc2) Rg2+ 32.Kd1! Again! 32…Rg5 33.Qd5+! Kh7 34.Qe6! Rg1+ 35.Ke2! Rg2+ 36.Kf1 (36.Kf3) Rg7 37.Qh3+! Kg8 38.Ke2! Bf8 39.Qb3+! Kh8 40.Qe3 (40.Qf3) Kg8 41.Kd1! Yet again! Here some white king moves permit Black to draw, e.g. 41.Kf1? To see why, check the next diagram! 41…Be7 42.Sc6 (42.Qb3+) Bf8 43.Sd8! Be7 44.Qb3+! Kh7 45.Qd3+! Kg8 46.Qd5+! Kh8 47.Se6! Rf7 48.Qe5+ (48.Qh5+) Kg8 49.Qg3+! Kh8 50.Qg6! Rf1+ 51.Kd2! Rf2+ 52.Ke1 (52.Ke3) Rf7 53.Ke2! Rh7 54.Sf4! Bf8 55.Qg5! Sf7 56.Qf5 (56.Qd5) Kg8 57.Se6! Rh2+ 58.Kf1! Another mysterious retreat; now 58.Kd1? is slower by two moves. 58…Rh1+ 59.Kg2! Rh7 60.Qg4+ (60.Qg6+) Kh8 61.Qg3! Rg7 A strangelooking defence but it is the best. 62.Sxg7! Bxg7 63.Qh3+! Bh6 64.Kg3! Kg7 65.Kg4! Kf6 66.Qf3+! Ke6 67.Qb3+! Kf6 68.Qb6+! Ke7 69.Kf5! Sd6+ 70.Kg6! Bf4 71.Qd4! Bh2 72.Qh4+! Ke6 73.Qxh2! Kd5 74.Qg2+ (74.Qd2+/Qg3/Kg5) Ke5 75.Qc6! Se4 76.Qc4! Sd6 77.Qc5+! Ke6 78.Qd4! Se8 79.Qc4+! Kd6 80.Kf5! Sg7+ 81.Ke4! Se6 82.Qd5+! Ke7 83.Ke5! Sf8 84.Qd6+! Kf7 85.Qf6+! Kg8 86.Kf5! Sh7 87.Qe7! Sf8 88.Kg5! Sh7+ 89.Kh6! Sf6 90.Qg7!
In endgame studies, best play by both sides is assumed and since tablebases contain such perfect play information, they become a powerful resource for obtaining correct study positions. Some composers have written special programs to “mine” tablebases and generate studies that meet the criteria of soundness (dualfree variations) and interest (certain themes displayed). This method of composition is contentious for obvious reasons, but regardless, you can see some striking results of this approach in the problemist Árpád Rusz’s blog. Sometimes it’s even possible to “discover” a study by chance simply by examining the tablebase analysis of a random position. In the solution of the Matein90 problem above, it’s mentioned that 41.Kf1? allows Black to draw. It turns out that the way in which Black forces a draw here is both precise and special – sufficiently so to work as a study. Here is the position in question, reflected and with the colours reversed: [Syzygy TB Link]
Black generally has a win with this material (as implied by the forced mate in the homebase diagram), but if the knights were exchanged, the remaining Q vs R+B is normally a book draw. The sacrificial opening 1.Sc5! is thus aimed at bringing about a knight swap via the fork, e.g. 1…Qd5 2.Sxe4 Qxe4 =. Black has two options that avoid an immediate exchange. (1) Accept the sacrifice with 1…Sxc5, but this diverts the black knight to the queenside with the result that it cannot interfere with a perpetual check: 2.Rf2+ Kg7 3.Rg2+ Kh6 4.Rh2+ Kg5 5.Rg2+ Kf6 6.Rf2+, etc. If the king goes to the efile, two subvariations arise: (a) 6…Ke7 7.Re2 Se4 8.Bg2. With the knight about to be lost, Black’s only chance is 8…Qb6+ 9.Kh1! (9.Kf1/Kh2? would lose, e.g. 9.Kf1? Qf6+! 10.Kg1 Qd4+ 11.Kf1 Qa1+ 12.Re1 Qf6+ 13.Ke2 Qf2+) Qh6+ 10.Kg1 Qc1+ 11.Kh2 Qc7+ 12.Kh1 and Black can make no progress despite the material advantage, i.e. a positional draw. (b) 6…Ke5 7.Re2 Se4 8.Bg2 Qb6+, and now in contrast to (a), 9.Kh1? would lose to 9…Kf4! 10.Rxe4+ Kg3 11.Bf1 Qh6+, but 9.Kf1 or 9.Kh2 draws – this dual is a pity – 9…Qb1+ 10.Re1 Qd3+ 11.Re2 Qd1+ 12.Re1 another positional draw. (2) The alternative 1…Qb6 seems to win the white knight without allowing perpetual check, as the piece is both pinned and doubly attacked, but 2.Rf2+! (unpinning the knight with check, e.g. 2…Ke7 3.Sxe4) induces 2…Sxf2 3.Sd7+ Ke7 4.Sxb6. I like how if Black doesn’t take the offered knight on the first move, White promptly sacrifices the rook instead!
How does this tablebaseproduced study compare with existing compositions that involve the same material? The Chess Endgame Study Database, which enables searches based on the exact material used, brings up five studies with matching pieces. An examination of these varied endgames reinforces my view that the setting above is of publishable quality. However, among these examples there is an exceptional study that shows a similar kind of idea; though not an anticipation, it’s clearly the superior work thanks to its more intensive treatment of the theme, and I quote it below.
Naturally, we can set up this position on Lomonosov and check its analysis against the author’s solution. And this brings us to another salient feature of tablebases – their ability to confirm the soundness or otherwise of every miniature study ever composed. While engines like Stockfish are strong enough to solve most studies, they do so without necessarily providing certainty to the accuracy of the intended play. Tablebases can do these verification tasks perfectly and instantaneously, within the 7piece limit. For testing directmate problems, programs like Popeye are still preferable because of the convenience of the solution files they produce, though again tablebases have a speed advantage when solving miniatures with lengthy solutions. In the case of the Matouš study here, it is proved to be sound and completely dualfree. [Syzygy TB Link]
Black has numerous threats in the diagram, including 1…Qxb2, 1…Qf2+, and 1…Sxe2 2.Rxe2 Qxh4+, so White has to start with forcing checks: 1.Rb8+ Kh7 (1…Kg7? 2.Sf5+) 2.Rb7+ Kg8 (2…Kh6? 3.Sf5+) 3.Sf5! Qf2+ (best because Black wants to avoid exchanging the knights, e.g. 3…Qc5 4.Rg7+ Kf8 5.Rxg1 Qxf5 =) 4.Kh1. Now Black has three plausible captures, and in the resulting distinct variations White’s methods of securing a draw are remarkably harmonious. (1) 4…Qxe2 5.Se7+! (5.Kxg1? Qg4+, the black knight is immune to capture because of deadly queen checks, not just here but for the rest of the variation!) 5…Kf7 6.Sd5+ Kf8 (6…Ke8 7.Re7+, 6…Ke6/Kg6 7.Sf4+) 7.Rb8+ Kg7 8.Rb7+ Kh6 9.Rb6+ Kg5 (9…Kh5 10.Sf4+) 10.Rg6+! Kf5 (10…Kxg6 11.Sf4+) 11.Rf6+ Kg4 (11..Ke5 12.Re6+! Kxe6 13.Sf4+) 12.Rg6+ Kh4 (12…Kh3 13.Sf4+) 13.Rh6+ Kg3 14.Rg6+ Kf3 (14…Kf2 15.Rg2+) 15.Rf6+ perpetual check. (2) 4…Qxf5 5.Bc4+! (again White can’t touch the knight: 5.Kxg1? Qe4! 6.Rb8+ Kg7 7.Bf1 Qg4+ 8.Bg2 Qd4+ 9.Kh1 Qd1+ 10.Kh2 Qd6+) 5…Kh8 (5…Kf8 6.Rf7+) 6.Rb8+ Kg7 7.Rb7+ Kg6 (7…Kf6 8.Rf7+) 8.Rb6+ Kh7 (8…Kg5/Kh5 9.Rb5) 9.Rb7+ Kh6 10.Rb6+ perpetual check. (3) 4…Sxe2 5.Sh6+! Kh8 (5…Kf8 6.Rf7+) 6.Sf7+ Kg7 7.Se5+ Kg8 (7…Kh6/Kf6 8.Sg4+) 8.Rb8+ Kh7 9.Rb7+ perpetual check.
Three different perpetual checks are arranged with great precision and economy in this wonderful study. I was delighted to find that it was selected for the FIDE Album, the anthology of the world’s best chess compositions. And as readers may have noticed, this First Prize winner was published back in 1981, well before computers were able to assist with the creation of any chess problems or studies. That’s a victory for human ingenuity, yes?
Early tablebases could only deal with settings of specific materials, e.g. K+Q vs K+R, but as computer performances improved, we saw the creation of general tablebases that could handle any combination of pieces up to a certain total number of units. A milestone was reached in 2012 when a Russian team used a supercomputer to generate the Lomonosov tablebases, which cover all possible endgames with seven units or fewer (barring the trivial cases of six pieces vs king). Consequently, the game of chess is moreorless solved for such miniature positions! Here are some online resources for accessing these marvels of modern technology: (1) Nalimov EGTB – 6 pieces maximum (free); (2) Lomonosov Tablebases – 7 pieces maximum (annual subscription fee required, but free for fewer pieces); (3) Android app for Lomonosov – 7 pieces maximum (free and highly recommended).
Tablebases analysis and resultant discoveries about the endgame have had a profound effect on many facets of the game; see the Wikipedia entry on the subject for details. Here I will consider how tablebases affect chess composition, and delve into three positions that illustrate what has been made feasible in problems and endgame studies. These positions employ the same material of Q+S vs R+B+S, and although I didn’t realise it at the time, this is identical to the pieces used in some lengthrecord settings uncovered by tablebases, where to force mate requires over 500 (!) moves. My initial aim was merely to give Lomonosov some random homebase positions (all units on their array squares) to test and see if any of them would yield interesting play. The most remarkable case that I came across, with a depthtomate number of 90, is diagrammed below. [Syzygy TB Link]
If we treat this position as a directmate problem that requires the quickest mate to be found, a surprisingly large number of white moves in the solution are uniquely forced. In deciding on the main variation, I tried to maximise the number of such precise moves, and in the given line 77 of the 90 white moves are unique and they are marked with an '!'. Since “only” 13 white moves have duals, these alternatives are specified as well whenever they occur. As in most lengthy tablebase solutions, the play is not really humancomprehensible. But out of all these perfect moves, the standouts are three instances where the white king retreats from e2 to d1 for no apparent reason. If this were a composed problem without any duals, these recurring Kd1! (at moves 22, 32, and 41) would have been a marvellous theme!
Lomonosov tablebases position  
Mate in 90 
1.Qa4+! Kf7 2.Qb3+! Kg7 3.Qg3+! Kf7 4.Sd2! Be7 5.Qf3+! Sf6 6.Qb3+! Kf8 7.Qb8+! Kg7 8.Qg3+! Kf7 9.Sf3! Rh5 10.Sg5+! Kg7 11.Sh3+ (11.Se6+) Kf7 12.Sf4! Rh6 13.Qb3+! Ke8 14.Qe6 (14.Ke2) Kf8 15.Qc8+! Se8 16.Qf5+! Bf6 17.Ke2! Sd6 18.Qg4! Be7 19.Sg6+! Kf7 20.Se5+! Kf6 21.Sd7+ (21.Qf4+) Kf7 22.Kd1! Incredible! For instance, 22.Kd3? is one move slower, while 22.Kf3? takes another 195 moves to mate! 22…Rh1+ 23.Kc2! Rh2+ 24.Kd3! Rh6 25.Qf4+ (25.Qf3+) Kg7 26.Qg3+! Rg6 27.Qe5+! Kf7 28.Qd5+! Kg7 29.Qd4+! Kg8 30.Se5! Rg3+ 31.Ke2 (31.Kc2) Rg2+ 32.Kd1! Again! 32…Rg5 33.Qd5+! Kh7 34.Qe6! Rg1+ 35.Ke2! Rg2+ 36.Kf1 (36.Kf3) Rg7 37.Qh3+! Kg8 38.Ke2! Bf8 39.Qb3+! Kh8 40.Qe3 (40.Qf3) Kg8 41.Kd1! Yet again! Here some white king moves permit Black to draw, e.g. 41.Kf1? To see why, check the next diagram! 41…Be7 42.Sc6 (42.Qb3+) Bf8 43.Sd8! Be7 44.Qb3+! Kh7 45.Qd3+! Kg8 46.Qd5+! Kh8 47.Se6! Rf7 48.Qe5+ (48.Qh5+) Kg8 49.Qg3+! Kh8 50.Qg6! Rf1+ 51.Kd2! Rf2+ 52.Ke1 (52.Ke3) Rf7 53.Ke2! Rh7 54.Sf4! Bf8 55.Qg5! Sf7 56.Qf5 (56.Qd5) Kg8 57.Se6! Rh2+ 58.Kf1! Another mysterious retreat; now 58.Kd1? is slower by two moves. 58…Rh1+ 59.Kg2! Rh7 60.Qg4+ (60.Qg6+) Kh8 61.Qg3! Rg7 A strangelooking defence but it is the best. 62.Sxg7! Bxg7 63.Qh3+! Bh6 64.Kg3! Kg7 65.Kg4! Kf6 66.Qf3+! Ke6 67.Qb3+! Kf6 68.Qb6+! Ke7 69.Kf5! Sd6+ 70.Kg6! Bf4 71.Qd4! Bh2 72.Qh4+! Ke6 73.Qxh2! Kd5 74.Qg2+ (74.Qd2+/Qg3/Kg5) Ke5 75.Qc6! Se4 76.Qc4! Sd6 77.Qc5+! Ke6 78.Qd4! Se8 79.Qc4+! Kd6 80.Kf5! Sg7+ 81.Ke4! Se6 82.Qd5+! Ke7 83.Ke5! Sf8 84.Qd6+! Kf7 85.Qf6+! Kg8 86.Kf5! Sh7 87.Qe7! Sf8 88.Kg5! Sh7+ 89.Kh6! Sf6 90.Qg7!
In endgame studies, best play by both sides is assumed and since tablebases contain such perfect play information, they become a powerful resource for obtaining correct study positions. Some composers have written special programs to “mine” tablebases and generate studies that meet the criteria of soundness (dualfree variations) and interest (certain themes displayed). This method of composition is contentious for obvious reasons, but regardless, you can see some striking results of this approach in the problemist Árpád Rusz’s blog. Sometimes it’s even possible to “discover” a study by chance simply by examining the tablebase analysis of a random position. In the solution of the Matein90 problem above, it’s mentioned that 41.Kf1? allows Black to draw. It turns out that the way in which Black forces a draw here is both precise and special – sufficiently so to work as a study. Here is the position in question, reflected and with the colours reversed: [Syzygy TB Link]
Peter Wong OzProblems.com 2018 

White to play and draw 
Black generally has a win with this material (as implied by the forced mate in the homebase diagram), but if the knights were exchanged, the remaining Q vs R+B is normally a book draw. The sacrificial opening 1.Sc5! is thus aimed at bringing about a knight swap via the fork, e.g. 1…Qd5 2.Sxe4 Qxe4 =. Black has two options that avoid an immediate exchange. (1) Accept the sacrifice with 1…Sxc5, but this diverts the black knight to the queenside with the result that it cannot interfere with a perpetual check: 2.Rf2+ Kg7 3.Rg2+ Kh6 4.Rh2+ Kg5 5.Rg2+ Kf6 6.Rf2+, etc. If the king goes to the efile, two subvariations arise: (a) 6…Ke7 7.Re2 Se4 8.Bg2. With the knight about to be lost, Black’s only chance is 8…Qb6+ 9.Kh1! (9.Kf1/Kh2? would lose, e.g. 9.Kf1? Qf6+! 10.Kg1 Qd4+ 11.Kf1 Qa1+ 12.Re1 Qf6+ 13.Ke2 Qf2+) Qh6+ 10.Kg1 Qc1+ 11.Kh2 Qc7+ 12.Kh1 and Black can make no progress despite the material advantage, i.e. a positional draw. (b) 6…Ke5 7.Re2 Se4 8.Bg2 Qb6+, and now in contrast to (a), 9.Kh1? would lose to 9…Kf4! 10.Rxe4+ Kg3 11.Bf1 Qh6+, but 9.Kf1 or 9.Kh2 draws – this dual is a pity – 9…Qb1+ 10.Re1 Qd3+ 11.Re2 Qd1+ 12.Re1 another positional draw. (2) The alternative 1…Qb6 seems to win the white knight without allowing perpetual check, as the piece is both pinned and doubly attacked, but 2.Rf2+! (unpinning the knight with check, e.g. 2…Ke7 3.Sxe4) induces 2…Sxf2 3.Sd7+ Ke7 4.Sxb6. I like how if Black doesn’t take the offered knight on the first move, White promptly sacrifices the rook instead!
How does this tablebaseproduced study compare with existing compositions that involve the same material? The Chess Endgame Study Database, which enables searches based on the exact material used, brings up five studies with matching pieces. An examination of these varied endgames reinforces my view that the setting above is of publishable quality. However, among these examples there is an exceptional study that shows a similar kind of idea; though not an anticipation, it’s clearly the superior work thanks to its more intensive treatment of the theme, and I quote it below.
Naturally, we can set up this position on Lomonosov and check its analysis against the author’s solution. And this brings us to another salient feature of tablebases – their ability to confirm the soundness or otherwise of every miniature study ever composed. While engines like Stockfish are strong enough to solve most studies, they do so without necessarily providing certainty to the accuracy of the intended play. Tablebases can do these verification tasks perfectly and instantaneously, within the 7piece limit. For testing directmate problems, programs like Popeye are still preferable because of the convenience of the solution files they produce, though again tablebases have a speed advantage when solving miniatures with lengthy solutions. In the case of the Matouš study here, it is proved to be sound and completely dualfree. [Syzygy TB Link]
Mario Matouš Tidskrift för Schack 1981 1st Prize 

White to play and draw 
Black has numerous threats in the diagram, including 1…Qxb2, 1…Qf2+, and 1…Sxe2 2.Rxe2 Qxh4+, so White has to start with forcing checks: 1.Rb8+ Kh7 (1…Kg7? 2.Sf5+) 2.Rb7+ Kg8 (2…Kh6? 3.Sf5+) 3.Sf5! Qf2+ (best because Black wants to avoid exchanging the knights, e.g. 3…Qc5 4.Rg7+ Kf8 5.Rxg1 Qxf5 =) 4.Kh1. Now Black has three plausible captures, and in the resulting distinct variations White’s methods of securing a draw are remarkably harmonious. (1) 4…Qxe2 5.Se7+! (5.Kxg1? Qg4+, the black knight is immune to capture because of deadly queen checks, not just here but for the rest of the variation!) 5…Kf7 6.Sd5+ Kf8 (6…Ke8 7.Re7+, 6…Ke6/Kg6 7.Sf4+) 7.Rb8+ Kg7 8.Rb7+ Kh6 9.Rb6+ Kg5 (9…Kh5 10.Sf4+) 10.Rg6+! Kf5 (10…Kxg6 11.Sf4+) 11.Rf6+ Kg4 (11..Ke5 12.Re6+! Kxe6 13.Sf4+) 12.Rg6+ Kh4 (12…Kh3 13.Sf4+) 13.Rh6+ Kg3 14.Rg6+ Kf3 (14…Kf2 15.Rg2+) 15.Rf6+ perpetual check. (2) 4…Qxf5 5.Bc4+! (again White can’t touch the knight: 5.Kxg1? Qe4! 6.Rb8+ Kg7 7.Bf1 Qg4+ 8.Bg2 Qd4+ 9.Kh1 Qd1+ 10.Kh2 Qd6+) 5…Kh8 (5…Kf8 6.Rf7+) 6.Rb8+ Kg7 7.Rb7+ Kg6 (7…Kf6 8.Rf7+) 8.Rb6+ Kh7 (8…Kg5/Kh5 9.Rb5) 9.Rb7+ Kh6 10.Rb6+ perpetual check. (3) 4…Sxe2 5.Sh6+! Kh8 (5…Kf8 6.Rf7+) 6.Sf7+ Kg7 7.Se5+ Kg8 (7…Kh6/Kf6 8.Sg4+) 8.Rb8+ Kh7 9.Rb7+ perpetual check.
Three different perpetual checks are arranged with great precision and economy in this wonderful study. I was delighted to find that it was selected for the FIDE Album, the anthology of the world’s best chess compositions. And as readers may have noticed, this First Prize winner was published back in 1981, well before computers were able to assist with the creation of any chess problems or studies. That’s a victory for human ingenuity, yes?
22 Oct. 2018 – More adventures with endgame tablebases
Endgame tablebases are software that provides perfect play information with total accuracy for any position with up to seven pieces. They can determine (1) the outcome – win, loss, or draw – of every legal move in such positions based on optimal play by both sides, and (2) the precise number of moves required to force a mate for each winning or losing move. I gave a brief overview of tablebases in the previous Walkabout (8 Sep. 2018) and considered how they have been utilised in the field of chess composition. Here I will present three remarkable positions that came about with the aid of this tool. The first two are examples of mutual zugzwang, a paradoxical situation where neither player wants to be the side to move. The third is an offbeat endgame study that cleverly exploits not only tablebase data but also a problem convention relating to the 50move draw rule.
In a mutual zugzwang (MZ) position, whoever has the move would prefer to pass on the turn because every possible move of each side contains a significant weakness, one that would result in a worse outcome than if the other player is to move. This curious type of situation is considered interesting in endgame theory, and tablebases have been used to systematically uncover examples. Recently the composer Árpád Rusz (mentioned in the last column) devised a program to generate hundreds of thousands of 7piece MZ positions, categorised according to materials such as KPPP vs KPP and KRPP vs KRP. He has kindly shared on his site these massive lists of positions, from which I select two unusual cases. Both are attractively open settings with fairly mobile pieces and passed pawns, so the doublezugzwang is especially surprising. They also illustrate the less common fullpoint MZ. Whereas in a typical MZ one of the players would win if it’s the other’s turn but still draw if given the move, in a fullpoint MZ whoever is to move would lose the game.
MZ is a popular theme in endgame compositions, but of course not all MZ positions are suitable for adapting into studies. The diagram below shows a borderline case where White’s play at some stages is too imprecise to work as a proper study, but redeeming features include a delightful keymove and a natural try that make the MZ theme hard to miss, plus a fitting finish. [Syzygy TB Link]
White’s only winning move is 1.h3!!, producing the MZ position. Now not only is Black in zugzwang, but if it’s White’s turn again [Syzygy TB Link], then 2.h4 (or any other move) would lose, and that implies 1.h4? would fail too and hence function as a thematic try. The doublestep is refuted by 1…Kd5! 2.Kc3 (2.h5 Ke6 3.h6 Kf6 4.h7 Kg7 5.Kc3 Kxh7 6.Kb4 Kg6 7.Kxa4 Kg5 8.Kb4 Kg4 9.Kc3 Kf3 10.Kd2 Kf2 and White must lose the pawn) 2…Ke6 3.Kb4 Kf5 4.Kxa4 Kg4 5.Kb4 Kxh4 6.Kc4 Kg3 7.Kd5 Kf3 8.Kxe5 Kxe3 and Black wins.
The advantage of 1.h3!! is that by attacking g4, it will cost the black king an extra tempo to capture the hpawn. 1…Kd5 (1…a3 2.h4 a2 3.Kb2 Kd3 4.h5 Kxe3 5.h6 Kd2 6.h7 e3 7.h8(Q) wins) 2.Kc3 (2.Kb2 and then 3.Ka3 also works) 2…Ke6 3.Kb4 Kf5 4.Kxa4 Kg5 5.Kb4 (the white king can approach in other ways as well) 5…Kh4 6.Kc4 Kg3!? Sets a trap for White: 7.Kd5? Kf3! 8.h4 (8.Kxe5? loses to 8…Kxe3 because Black’s epawn will promote with check) 8…Kxe3 9.h5 Kd3 10.h6 e3 11.h7 e2 12.h8(Q) e1(Q) draws. 7.h4! Kxh4 (7…Kf3 8.h5 wins) 8.Kd5 Kg3 9.Kxe5! (9.Kxe4? Kf2 draws) 9…Kf3 10.Kd4! We end with a wellknown fullpoint MZ position – whichever side is to move will lose their pawn and the game.
Despite both players having a rook in the next position, neither side (if given the turn) has a waiting move that could avoid fatal selfdamage. The rooks are mostly tied to their ranks as they are stopping their opponents’ pawns from promoting. White’s connected passed pawns seem very strong, but to balance that, Black has opportunities for effecting a backrank mate.
White to play: Black forces a win. [Syzygy TB Link] White’s most interesting defence is 1.Ke1. The more tempting 1.g7, by closing the long diagonal, loses to 1…Rb1! because 2.h8(Q) no longer deals with the threat of 2…Rxc1+ 3.Kxc1 a1(Q) mate (or 2.Ke1 Rxc1+ though 2…Ke3 is an even faster win for Black). Any first move by the white rook is defeated easily, e.g. 1.Ra1 Rb1+ 2.Rxb1 axb1(Q) mate. The weakness of 1.Ke1 is that the white king no longer protects the rook, inviting 1…Rb1! Now White has two alternatives with subtle differences, even though they soon transpose into each other. (1) 2.h8(Q) Rxc1+! Not 2…a1(Q)? 3.Qxa1! Rxa1 4.Rxa1 wins. 3.Kf2 a1(Q) and Black has a Q+R vs Q book win, which the gpawn is not sufficiently advanced to thwart. (2) 2.Kf2 Rxc1! Not 2…a1(Q)? 3.Rxb1! Qxb1 (if the black queen checks, White still draws, e.g. 3…Qf6+ 4.Ke1! Qxg6 – threatens mate and the h7pawn – 5.Rb3+!) 4.h8(Q) draws. 3.h8(Q) a1(Q) transposing to the same Q+R vs Q win as (1).
Black to play: White forces a win. [Syzygy TB Link] Black has no standout move that compels White to play precisely for long, but 1…Rf8 could be viewed as the thematic line… If Black tries 1…Rb1 – such an effective response when White moves first – then White wins with 2.h8(Q) a1(Q) (2…Rxc1+ 3.Kxc1) 3.Qxa1 (3.Qh3+ also wins) Rxa1 4.Rxa1. The second alternative 1…Rc8 is a nice sacrifice that cannot be accepted (2.Rxc8? a1(Q)+ 3.Rc1 and Black mates in three with 3…Qb2/Qd4): 2.Ra1! Rb8 (threatening 3…Rb1+) and 3.Kc1 wins as the backrank threats have dissipated and the connected pawns become decisive. After 1…Rf8, the mating threat on f1 forces 2.Ke1 and now 2…Re8+ is answered by 3.Kf2/Kf1, again winning for White because the king is out of danger. Here White must avoid 3.Kd1? when Black wins with the unique 3…Rb8!!, which brings back the diagram position with White to play and in zugzwang!
These MZ positions are extracted from the recently completed 7piece Syzygy endgame tablebases, a free alternative to the Lomonosov tablebases. Their main difference is the metrics used to determine when a position is “won.” The more standard depthtomate (DTM) metric calculates the number of moves needed to achieve mate, disregarding the 50move draw rule. Syzygy examines depthtozeroing (DTZ) instead: how quickly we can reach a “zeroing” move – a capture, a pawn move, or mate – that would reset the count for the 50move rule (while maintaining the win). Now, since the 50move draw rule doesn’t actually apply to chess compositions (see below), the DTZ metric holds no special advantage when used to analyse composed problems and studies. Indeed, for verifying directmate problems, where the quickest route to mate is stipulated, only DTM is suitable. For checking studies, which require a win or a draw to be found without imposing a move limit, the specific DTM or DTZ numbers are not that relevant, but both tablebase types are useful in revealing the win/loss/draw outcome of each possible move.
Oddly enough, our very next example contradicts what I just said about the unimportance of DTM and DTZ figures in studies! To grasp this unusual piece of work, first we have to consider how the 50move draw rule is treated in compositions. On the World Federation for Chess Composition site, the Codex for Chess Composition states in Article 17: “Unless expressly stipulated, the 50 movesrule does not apply to the solution of chess compositions except for retroproblems.” It makes sense for problems and studies – with their aesthetic intent and idealised play – to ignore such a rule, one based on an arbitrary number. The exception is made for retros to cover a subgenre of problems in which it can be proved by retroanalysis that a large number of moves have taken place without a capture or a pawn move, such that the 50move rule comes into play and it becomes part of the problem’s theme. Such retro problems involve intricate retractions and heavy positions, and seem far removed from the miniature studies we’ve been looking at, the sort where tablebase analysis is practicable. Yet by making allowance for these traditional retros, Article 17 has an unexpected consequence in certain situations, one brought to light by the composer of the following study.
By convention, the “Draw” stipulation means White is to play and force a draw, but how can that be the goal here when White has multiple mateinone moves? It turns out, upon further inspection, that Black couldn’t have made the last move to reach the diagram position. That’s because if the black king had just moved from a7 or b7 to b8, the piece would have been in an impossible doublecheck by the white pieces; and if the black queen had just come from any of the empty squares, a7, b7, c6, or d5, the piece would have been checking White while it’s Black’s turn – again an impossibility. That means, for the position to have arisen legally, White must have made the last move and it’s Black to play now. Black’s best move is 1…Qxa6 (anything else would allow White to at least draw easily). Now we have a KQ vs KBB ending, which is generally a win for the queen side. Indeed, if you were to set up this position on the Lomonosov tablebases (or the Nalimov ones), you’d find that the DTM is 69, i.e. Black has a forced mate in 69 moves against White’s best defence. So how can White achieve a draw?
Well, the study has required us to use retroanalysis to determine that it’s Black to play in the diagram. Therefore it also counts as a retro problem, and according to Article 17, the 50move rule comes into effect! The DTM69 here is over 50 but it doesn’t actually tell us if Black could force a win under the 50move rule, as that condition calls for a different winning strategy. This is the zeroing strategy mentioned above, where a player aims for a capture or a pawn move and thus reset the move count. We can see the exact results of this approach, viz. the DTZ numbers, by consulting the Syzygy tablebases. Here’s a link to the Syzygy site with the position already set up. Note that Syzygy also provides DTM data for positions with five pieces or fewer, but a little confusingly, they use singlemove numbers (for both metrics), unlike Lomonosov and Nalimov which use the more familiar pairmove format; that’s why Syzygy indicates DTM137 for this position rather than DTM69. Now for the DTZ results, only one white move has a number higher than 100: Bc7+ with DTZ117. Thus after this bishop move, Black will need more than 50 moves to force a winning capture, but before the latter could be made, White can claim a draw under the 50move rule as per Article 17. Therefore 2.Bc7+! is the unique drawing move. What a witty and imaginative composition! For more examples of this idea, check out its author’s Endgames to make your head hurt.
In a mutual zugzwang (MZ) position, whoever has the move would prefer to pass on the turn because every possible move of each side contains a significant weakness, one that would result in a worse outcome than if the other player is to move. This curious type of situation is considered interesting in endgame theory, and tablebases have been used to systematically uncover examples. Recently the composer Árpád Rusz (mentioned in the last column) devised a program to generate hundreds of thousands of 7piece MZ positions, categorised according to materials such as KPPP vs KPP and KRPP vs KRP. He has kindly shared on his site these massive lists of positions, from which I select two unusual cases. Both are attractively open settings with fairly mobile pieces and passed pawns, so the doublezugzwang is especially surprising. They also illustrate the less common fullpoint MZ. Whereas in a typical MZ one of the players would win if it’s the other’s turn but still draw if given the move, in a fullpoint MZ whoever is to move would lose the game.
MZ is a popular theme in endgame compositions, but of course not all MZ positions are suitable for adapting into studies. The diagram below shows a borderline case where White’s play at some stages is too imprecise to work as a proper study, but redeeming features include a delightful keymove and a natural try that make the MZ theme hard to miss, plus a fitting finish. [Syzygy TB Link]
Mutual zugzwang study (?)  
White to play and win 
White’s only winning move is 1.h3!!, producing the MZ position. Now not only is Black in zugzwang, but if it’s White’s turn again [Syzygy TB Link], then 2.h4 (or any other move) would lose, and that implies 1.h4? would fail too and hence function as a thematic try. The doublestep is refuted by 1…Kd5! 2.Kc3 (2.h5 Ke6 3.h6 Kf6 4.h7 Kg7 5.Kc3 Kxh7 6.Kb4 Kg6 7.Kxa4 Kg5 8.Kb4 Kg4 9.Kc3 Kf3 10.Kd2 Kf2 and White must lose the pawn) 2…Ke6 3.Kb4 Kf5 4.Kxa4 Kg4 5.Kb4 Kxh4 6.Kc4 Kg3 7.Kd5 Kf3 8.Kxe5 Kxe3 and Black wins.
The advantage of 1.h3!! is that by attacking g4, it will cost the black king an extra tempo to capture the hpawn. 1…Kd5 (1…a3 2.h4 a2 3.Kb2 Kd3 4.h5 Kxe3 5.h6 Kd2 6.h7 e3 7.h8(Q) wins) 2.Kc3 (2.Kb2 and then 3.Ka3 also works) 2…Ke6 3.Kb4 Kf5 4.Kxa4 Kg5 5.Kb4 (the white king can approach in other ways as well) 5…Kh4 6.Kc4 Kg3!? Sets a trap for White: 7.Kd5? Kf3! 8.h4 (8.Kxe5? loses to 8…Kxe3 because Black’s epawn will promote with check) 8…Kxe3 9.h5 Kd3 10.h6 e3 11.h7 e2 12.h8(Q) e1(Q) draws. 7.h4! Kxh4 (7…Kf3 8.h5 wins) 8.Kd5 Kg3 9.Kxe5! (9.Kxe4? Kf2 draws) 9…Kf3 10.Kd4! We end with a wellknown fullpoint MZ position – whichever side is to move will lose their pawn and the game.
Despite both players having a rook in the next position, neither side (if given the turn) has a waiting move that could avoid fatal selfdamage. The rooks are mostly tied to their ranks as they are stopping their opponents’ pawns from promoting. White’s connected passed pawns seem very strong, but to balance that, Black has opportunities for effecting a backrank mate.
Mutual zugzwang position  
White to play: Black wins Black to play: White wins 
White to play: Black forces a win. [Syzygy TB Link] White’s most interesting defence is 1.Ke1. The more tempting 1.g7, by closing the long diagonal, loses to 1…Rb1! because 2.h8(Q) no longer deals with the threat of 2…Rxc1+ 3.Kxc1 a1(Q) mate (or 2.Ke1 Rxc1+ though 2…Ke3 is an even faster win for Black). Any first move by the white rook is defeated easily, e.g. 1.Ra1 Rb1+ 2.Rxb1 axb1(Q) mate. The weakness of 1.Ke1 is that the white king no longer protects the rook, inviting 1…Rb1! Now White has two alternatives with subtle differences, even though they soon transpose into each other. (1) 2.h8(Q) Rxc1+! Not 2…a1(Q)? 3.Qxa1! Rxa1 4.Rxa1 wins. 3.Kf2 a1(Q) and Black has a Q+R vs Q book win, which the gpawn is not sufficiently advanced to thwart. (2) 2.Kf2 Rxc1! Not 2…a1(Q)? 3.Rxb1! Qxb1 (if the black queen checks, White still draws, e.g. 3…Qf6+ 4.Ke1! Qxg6 – threatens mate and the h7pawn – 5.Rb3+!) 4.h8(Q) draws. 3.h8(Q) a1(Q) transposing to the same Q+R vs Q win as (1).
Black to play: White forces a win. [Syzygy TB Link] Black has no standout move that compels White to play precisely for long, but 1…Rf8 could be viewed as the thematic line… If Black tries 1…Rb1 – such an effective response when White moves first – then White wins with 2.h8(Q) a1(Q) (2…Rxc1+ 3.Kxc1) 3.Qxa1 (3.Qh3+ also wins) Rxa1 4.Rxa1. The second alternative 1…Rc8 is a nice sacrifice that cannot be accepted (2.Rxc8? a1(Q)+ 3.Rc1 and Black mates in three with 3…Qb2/Qd4): 2.Ra1! Rb8 (threatening 3…Rb1+) and 3.Kc1 wins as the backrank threats have dissipated and the connected pawns become decisive. After 1…Rf8, the mating threat on f1 forces 2.Ke1 and now 2…Re8+ is answered by 3.Kf2/Kf1, again winning for White because the king is out of danger. Here White must avoid 3.Kd1? when Black wins with the unique 3…Rb8!!, which brings back the diagram position with White to play and in zugzwang!
These MZ positions are extracted from the recently completed 7piece Syzygy endgame tablebases, a free alternative to the Lomonosov tablebases. Their main difference is the metrics used to determine when a position is “won.” The more standard depthtomate (DTM) metric calculates the number of moves needed to achieve mate, disregarding the 50move draw rule. Syzygy examines depthtozeroing (DTZ) instead: how quickly we can reach a “zeroing” move – a capture, a pawn move, or mate – that would reset the count for the 50move rule (while maintaining the win). Now, since the 50move draw rule doesn’t actually apply to chess compositions (see below), the DTZ metric holds no special advantage when used to analyse composed problems and studies. Indeed, for verifying directmate problems, where the quickest route to mate is stipulated, only DTM is suitable. For checking studies, which require a win or a draw to be found without imposing a move limit, the specific DTM or DTZ numbers are not that relevant, but both tablebase types are useful in revealing the win/loss/draw outcome of each possible move.
Oddly enough, our very next example contradicts what I just said about the unimportance of DTM and DTZ figures in studies! To grasp this unusual piece of work, first we have to consider how the 50move draw rule is treated in compositions. On the World Federation for Chess Composition site, the Codex for Chess Composition states in Article 17: “Unless expressly stipulated, the 50 movesrule does not apply to the solution of chess compositions except for retroproblems.” It makes sense for problems and studies – with their aesthetic intent and idealised play – to ignore such a rule, one based on an arbitrary number. The exception is made for retros to cover a subgenre of problems in which it can be proved by retroanalysis that a large number of moves have taken place without a capture or a pawn move, such that the 50move rule comes into play and it becomes part of the problem’s theme. Such retro problems involve intricate retractions and heavy positions, and seem far removed from the miniature studies we’ve been looking at, the sort where tablebase analysis is practicable. Yet by making allowance for these traditional retros, Article 17 has an unexpected consequence in certain situations, one brought to light by the composer of the following study.
Andrew Buchanan Problem Database website 2017 

Draw 
By convention, the “Draw” stipulation means White is to play and force a draw, but how can that be the goal here when White has multiple mateinone moves? It turns out, upon further inspection, that Black couldn’t have made the last move to reach the diagram position. That’s because if the black king had just moved from a7 or b7 to b8, the piece would have been in an impossible doublecheck by the white pieces; and if the black queen had just come from any of the empty squares, a7, b7, c6, or d5, the piece would have been checking White while it’s Black’s turn – again an impossibility. That means, for the position to have arisen legally, White must have made the last move and it’s Black to play now. Black’s best move is 1…Qxa6 (anything else would allow White to at least draw easily). Now we have a KQ vs KBB ending, which is generally a win for the queen side. Indeed, if you were to set up this position on the Lomonosov tablebases (or the Nalimov ones), you’d find that the DTM is 69, i.e. Black has a forced mate in 69 moves against White’s best defence. So how can White achieve a draw?
Well, the study has required us to use retroanalysis to determine that it’s Black to play in the diagram. Therefore it also counts as a retro problem, and according to Article 17, the 50move rule comes into effect! The DTM69 here is over 50 but it doesn’t actually tell us if Black could force a win under the 50move rule, as that condition calls for a different winning strategy. This is the zeroing strategy mentioned above, where a player aims for a capture or a pawn move and thus reset the move count. We can see the exact results of this approach, viz. the DTZ numbers, by consulting the Syzygy tablebases. Here’s a link to the Syzygy site with the position already set up. Note that Syzygy also provides DTM data for positions with five pieces or fewer, but a little confusingly, they use singlemove numbers (for both metrics), unlike Lomonosov and Nalimov which use the more familiar pairmove format; that’s why Syzygy indicates DTM137 for this position rather than DTM69. Now for the DTZ results, only one white move has a number higher than 100: Bc7+ with DTZ117. Thus after this bishop move, Black will need more than 50 moves to force a winning capture, but before the latter could be made, White can claim a draw under the 50move rule as per Article 17. Therefore 2.Bc7+! is the unique drawing move. What a witty and imaginative composition! For more examples of this idea, check out its author’s Endgames to make your head hurt.
27 Nov. 2018 – CarlsenCaruana WCC Game 6 – The actual forcedmate sequence that was missed
Game 6 of the 2018 World Chess Championship is perhaps most notable for an incredible winning sequence that was found by a computer named Sesse, but missed by the players. As widely reported, the Norwegian computer running the Stockfish engine announced a mate in 30 moves for Black after 68.Bc4, and even Carlsen was asked about it in the postgame press conference. Many GMs have since explained this very impressive winning manoeuvre starting with 68…Bh4!!, but they all finish their analysis with 84…Kxh7, because that capture leaves Black in a clearly won position. Like a lot of players, I was interested in seeing the full forcedmate sequence, but it wasn’t easy to find online. And strangely, some sources claim that it’s a mate in 36 moves rather than 30, while others that provide a specific mating line suggest that it takes even longer, such as the M42 given in a Chess.com news article, and a M63 from a Reddit post that apparently shows a Sesse screenshot. So what is the actual forced mate and how many moves does it involve? The answer is… none of the above!
I first noticed something was amiss when looking at the justmentioned M42 in the Chess.com article. It commences with Sesse’s 17move studylike play that wins the hpawn with 84…Kxh7, but note that this capture reduces the position to 7 pieces, meaning from here we can use endgame tablebases to determine the shortest mating line with best play by both sides. (If you’re not familiar with tablebases, which effectively play perfect chess in light positions, check out my introductory column, Adventures with endgame tablebases.) And the Lomonosov tablebases indicate that it takes another 41 moves for Black to force mate, after the pawn capture. Checking some random moves in the M42 sequence – as well as those in the Reddit post M63 – against Lomonosov’s perfect analysis confirms that they include many suboptimal choices. Now if the tablebases prove that after the first 17 moves, Black needs 41 more to mate, that’s a total of 58 moves. So how could Sesse have announced a mate in 30 or 36? Perhaps it started with another manoeuvre that’s quicker, but then all of the GMs would have been discussing a weaker line, which doesn’t make sense.
After more digging around online, I eventually found the full variations for the purported M30 and M36. Both were posted by a user on Chessgames.com, and confirmed by other sites. Here’s an image for each; the first is from a live coverage of the game on Chessdom.com, and the second is a Sesse screenshot posted on Imgur.com.
Both lines indeed begin with the familiar series of 17 moves, so the GMs were correct, but if they had examined Sesse’s ensuing play in these variations, they would have noticed something quite bizarre. In the M30, White’s play isn’t merely suboptimal, but outright suicidal! After leaving the bishop en prise, White obligingly marches the king to a corner to make it easy for Black to mate, as if this were some sort of helpmate problem. The M36 isn’t as obviously erroneous, but consider the position after 98.Kh2 (=31.Kh2 below), for instance: the Stockfish on Chess.com finds various matesin3 for Black here, but Sesse took 6 moves to mate.
1…Bh4!! 2.Bd5 Se2 3.Bf3 Sg1!! 4.Bg4 Kg8! 5.Kh6 Bg3 6.Kg6 Be5 7.Kh6 Bf4+ 8.Kg6 Bg5 9.h6 Kh8! 10.h7 Bh4 11.Kh6 Be1 12.Kg6 Bc3 13.Kh6 Bd2+ 14.Kg6 Bg5 15.Bh5 Sh3 16.Bg4 Sf4+ 17.Kf7 Kxh7
“M30”: 18.Bd1 Kh6 19.Kf8 Sd5 20.Kg8 Se7+ 21.Kh8 Sxf5 22.Kg8 Se3 23.Kf7 Sxd1 24.Ke6 f5 25.Kd5 f4 26.Kc4 f3 27.Kb3 f2 28.Ka2 f1(Q) 29.Ka1 Qe2 30.Kb1 Qb2.
“M36”: 18.Bd1 Kh6 19.Kf8 Bh4 20.Kf7 Kg5 21.Kg7 Kxf5 22.Kh6 Ke5 23.Kg7 f5 24.Kh6 Be1 25.Kg5 Sh3+ 26.Kh5 f4 27.Kg4 Sg1 28.Kg5 f3 29.Kg4 f2 30.Kg3 f1(Q)+ 31.Kh2 Qh3+ 32.Kxg1 Bf2+ 33.Kxf2 Kf4 34.Ke1 Ke3 35.Be2 Qf5 36.Kd1 Qb1.
How could the same Sesse/Stockfish that discovered the brilliant 68…Bh4!! and 70…Sg1!! make these terrible moves in its analysis? Sesse is even linked to the Lomonosov tablebases, according to their site. I’m no engine expert and could only hazard a guess that it relates to some incorrect or incomplete tablebases lookup. Tablebases provide two kinds of information: (1) the windrawloss outcome of a position and (2) the quickest route to a forced win/loss for any decisive move. Because the two types of data could be stored independently, perhaps Sesse had access to (1) and knew that 84…Kxh7 would result in a won position, but not (2) and so chose nonoptimal moves based on a formula best known to itself.
Until this software issue is fixed, the Sesse team should really avoid announcing mate in X moves, and chess journalists should take the computer’s pronouncements of such with a grain of salt. But while there was actually no forced mate in 30 or 36 moves in Game 6, there was one in 58 moves as mentioned, and Sesse could have declared such a daunting mate if it was able to consult the tablebases properly. For the record, here is the correct mating sequence that combines Sesse/Stockfish’s winning manoeuvre with Lomonosov’s perfect finish.
1…Bh4!! 2.Bd5 Se2 3.Bf3 Sg1!! 4.Bg4 Kg8! 5.Kh6 Bg3 6.Kg6 Be5 7.Kh6 Bf4+ 8.Kg6 Bg5 9.h6 Kh8! 10.h7 Bh4 11.Kh6 Be1 12.Kg6 Bc3 13.Kh6 Bd2+ 14.Kg6 Bg5 15.Bh5 Sh3 16.Bg4 Sf4+ 17.Kf7 Kxh7
Lomonosov M41: 18.Bf3 Bh4 19.Bh1 Kh6 20.Bf3 Kg5 21.Be4 Se2 22.Bd3 Sd4 23.Bb1 Sxf5 24.Ke6 Sd4+ 25.Kd5 Bf2 26.Ba2 f5 27.Ke5 f4 28.Bd5 f3 29.Bb7 Bg1 30.Bxf3 Sxf3+ 31.Ke4 Kg4 32.Kd5 Kf4 33.Kd6 Se5 34.Kd5 Bb6 35.Ke6 Ke4 36.Kd6 Kd4 37.Ke6 Bc7 38.Kf6 Sd7+ 39.Ke6 Sc5+ 40.Kf6 Ke4 41.Kg5 Bd6 42.Kh5 Kf4 43.Kh4 Se4 44.Kh3 Kf3 45.Kh4 Bg3+ 46.Kh5 Kf4 47.Kg6 Bh4 48.Kh5 Be7 49.Kh6 Kf5 50.Kg7 Sd6 51.Kh6 Se8 52.Kh5 Sg7+ 53.Kh6 Kf6 54.Kh7 Sf5 55.Kg8 Kg6 56.Kh8 Bd6 57.Kg8 Sh6+ 58.Kh8 Be5.
I first noticed something was amiss when looking at the justmentioned M42 in the Chess.com article. It commences with Sesse’s 17move studylike play that wins the hpawn with 84…Kxh7, but note that this capture reduces the position to 7 pieces, meaning from here we can use endgame tablebases to determine the shortest mating line with best play by both sides. (If you’re not familiar with tablebases, which effectively play perfect chess in light positions, check out my introductory column, Adventures with endgame tablebases.) And the Lomonosov tablebases indicate that it takes another 41 moves for Black to force mate, after the pawn capture. Checking some random moves in the M42 sequence – as well as those in the Reddit post M63 – against Lomonosov’s perfect analysis confirms that they include many suboptimal choices. Now if the tablebases prove that after the first 17 moves, Black needs 41 more to mate, that’s a total of 58 moves. So how could Sesse have announced a mate in 30 or 36? Perhaps it started with another manoeuvre that’s quicker, but then all of the GMs would have been discussing a weaker line, which doesn’t make sense.
After more digging around online, I eventually found the full variations for the purported M30 and M36. Both were posted by a user on Chessgames.com, and confirmed by other sites. Here’s an image for each; the first is from a live coverage of the game on Chessdom.com, and the second is a Sesse screenshot posted on Imgur.com.
Both lines indeed begin with the familiar series of 17 moves, so the GMs were correct, but if they had examined Sesse’s ensuing play in these variations, they would have noticed something quite bizarre. In the M30, White’s play isn’t merely suboptimal, but outright suicidal! After leaving the bishop en prise, White obligingly marches the king to a corner to make it easy for Black to mate, as if this were some sort of helpmate problem. The M36 isn’t as obviously erroneous, but consider the position after 98.Kh2 (=31.Kh2 below), for instance: the Stockfish on Chess.com finds various matesin3 for Black here, but Sesse took 6 moves to mate.
Carlsen vs Caruana World Chess Championship 2018 Game 6 

Position after 68.Bc4 Sesse “M30” and “M36” variations 
1…Bh4!! 2.Bd5 Se2 3.Bf3 Sg1!! 4.Bg4 Kg8! 5.Kh6 Bg3 6.Kg6 Be5 7.Kh6 Bf4+ 8.Kg6 Bg5 9.h6 Kh8! 10.h7 Bh4 11.Kh6 Be1 12.Kg6 Bc3 13.Kh6 Bd2+ 14.Kg6 Bg5 15.Bh5 Sh3 16.Bg4 Sf4+ 17.Kf7 Kxh7
“M30”: 18.Bd1 Kh6 19.Kf8 Sd5 20.Kg8 Se7+ 21.Kh8 Sxf5 22.Kg8 Se3 23.Kf7 Sxd1 24.Ke6 f5 25.Kd5 f4 26.Kc4 f3 27.Kb3 f2 28.Ka2 f1(Q) 29.Ka1 Qe2 30.Kb1 Qb2.
“M36”: 18.Bd1 Kh6 19.Kf8 Bh4 20.Kf7 Kg5 21.Kg7 Kxf5 22.Kh6 Ke5 23.Kg7 f5 24.Kh6 Be1 25.Kg5 Sh3+ 26.Kh5 f4 27.Kg4 Sg1 28.Kg5 f3 29.Kg4 f2 30.Kg3 f1(Q)+ 31.Kh2 Qh3+ 32.Kxg1 Bf2+ 33.Kxf2 Kf4 34.Ke1 Ke3 35.Be2 Qf5 36.Kd1 Qb1.
How could the same Sesse/Stockfish that discovered the brilliant 68…Bh4!! and 70…Sg1!! make these terrible moves in its analysis? Sesse is even linked to the Lomonosov tablebases, according to their site. I’m no engine expert and could only hazard a guess that it relates to some incorrect or incomplete tablebases lookup. Tablebases provide two kinds of information: (1) the windrawloss outcome of a position and (2) the quickest route to a forced win/loss for any decisive move. Because the two types of data could be stored independently, perhaps Sesse had access to (1) and knew that 84…Kxh7 would result in a won position, but not (2) and so chose nonoptimal moves based on a formula best known to itself.
Until this software issue is fixed, the Sesse team should really avoid announcing mate in X moves, and chess journalists should take the computer’s pronouncements of such with a grain of salt. But while there was actually no forced mate in 30 or 36 moves in Game 6, there was one in 58 moves as mentioned, and Sesse could have declared such a daunting mate if it was able to consult the tablebases properly. For the record, here is the correct mating sequence that combines Sesse/Stockfish’s winning manoeuvre with Lomonosov’s perfect finish.
Carlsen vs Caruana World Chess Championship 2018 Game 6 

Position after 68.Bc4 Sesse variation and Lomonosov DTM41 
1…Bh4!! 2.Bd5 Se2 3.Bf3 Sg1!! 4.Bg4 Kg8! 5.Kh6 Bg3 6.Kg6 Be5 7.Kh6 Bf4+ 8.Kg6 Bg5 9.h6 Kh8! 10.h7 Bh4 11.Kh6 Be1 12.Kg6 Bc3 13.Kh6 Bd2+ 14.Kg6 Bg5 15.Bh5 Sh3 16.Bg4 Sf4+ 17.Kf7 Kxh7
Lomonosov M41: 18.Bf3 Bh4 19.Bh1 Kh6 20.Bf3 Kg5 21.Be4 Se2 22.Bd3 Sd4 23.Bb1 Sxf5 24.Ke6 Sd4+ 25.Kd5 Bf2 26.Ba2 f5 27.Ke5 f4 28.Bd5 f3 29.Bb7 Bg1 30.Bxf3 Sxf3+ 31.Ke4 Kg4 32.Kd5 Kf4 33.Kd6 Se5 34.Kd5 Bb6 35.Ke6 Ke4 36.Kd6 Kd4 37.Ke6 Bc7 38.Kf6 Sd7+ 39.Ke6 Sc5+ 40.Kf6 Ke4 41.Kg5 Bd6 42.Kh5 Kf4 43.Kh4 Se4 44.Kh3 Kf3 45.Kh4 Bg3+ 46.Kh5 Kf4 47.Kg6 Bh4 48.Kh5 Be7 49.Kh6 Kf5 50.Kg7 Sd6 51.Kh6 Se8 52.Kh5 Sg7+ 53.Kh6 Kf6 54.Kh7 Sf5 55.Kg8 Kg6 56.Kh8 Bd6 57.Kg8 Sh6+ 58.Kh8 Be5.