Australian Chess Problem Composition
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Prominent Australian problemists write about their involvement in the contemporary problem scene, and present some of their best compositions.
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Recently the Weekly Problems section of this site featured an original two-mover by the Sydney composer, Karel Hursky. As mentioned then, he has produced some excellent selfmates and helpmates too, and here I wish to present two of them. Also, because his output of problems is very small, readers may not be familiar with his name as a composer, so I asked if he would like to share how he got involved in chess problems and what influenced him. Here is his interesting response:
Thinking about chess and myself brought a period of introspection. As I am nearly 72, there are a lot of memories! I learned chess when I was about 10 years old from my neighbour, who also taught me how to find mushrooms in the forest (a popular activity in Czech). Soon I was beating everyone in school and joined the chess club in a neighbouring town, Strakonice.
My first chess books were the selected games of A. Alekhine. The chess combinations fascinated me and from combinations it was a small step to chess problems. The first ones I saw were by Sam Loyd, usually accompanied by a humorous story. My chess problemist education came from reading chess magazines and from An ABC of Chess Problems by John Rice.
For many years I was just an occasional solver and admirer of chess compositions. My good friend Frank Korostenski had composed a few good helpmates; some of them were published in British Chess Magazine, and I was often acting as his proof solver. I never thought I could get an original idea myself, always preferring to be behind the chess board and playing the game.
The chess composers who raised my interest in composition are the famous names: A. C. White, Comins Mansfield, Karel Traxler, and the father of fairy chess, T. R. Dawson. I actually enjoy all kinds of chess problems, and think the composers should get a medal for creating a piece of intellectual interest or beauty, while being restricted to 32 chess pieces on 64 black and white squares.
I would call chess composing a sort of “chess dreaming.” On a few occasions I indulged there, time disappears. I would wake up with an idea in the middle of the night and keep thinking of chess even in my bed. This may go on for days or weeks until the problem is finished or when I come to the conclusion that an idea is impossible to express. Then I can sleep soundly again.
One may ask, why do we compose chess problems? I can just agree with Dawson: “We do these things for ourselves alone”!
In the joint selfmate, White has a couple of potential tactics for compelling Black to mate: Qxe7+ Bxe7 and (if the black knight is unpinned) Rxh8+ Sg8. Neither works immediately because the white king will have flights on g7 and f5. We also note how almost every black move, with the exception of …Rf8, carries the weakness of guarding one of these flight-squares. The key 1.Bf5! actually blocks one directly, but the move surprisingly contains no threat. If 1…Bb1, White can unblock f5 and force the black king to attack g7 with 2.Bd7+ Kf8 (unpinning the knight) 3.Rxh8+ Sg8. After 1…Rf8, White proceeds with the quiet self-block 2.Rg7, as …Rh6+ is no longer playable, and there’s no defence against 3.Qxe7+ Bxe7. Black’s B + S battery is exploited another way in 1…0-0 2.Qg4+ hxg4 3.Rxg4+ Sg6 (not 2.Rg4+? Sg6+! 3.Qe7). A few short variations round off this fine problem: 1…Rxh7/Rg8 2.Qxe7+ Bxe7 and 1…Kf8 2.Rxh8+ Sg8.
Karel writes: “My intention here was to compose a selfmate where Black can castle. The set up around the kings was fairly easy to construct, but I got stuck there and my friend Frank Korostenski came with the idea of a waiting problem by adding the bishop on a2 and pawns on b2/b3. And it works splendidly.”
In the miniature helpmate, it’s tempting to try queening the white pawn on either the third or the final move, but no mating position can be arranged with either plan. Instead, White underpromotes to a knight so as to control g6 and h7, two flights of the black king upon its arrival on the edge-square h6. 1.Kg5 f6 2.Bh5 f7 3.Kh6 f8=S 4.Bg5 Sf5 – an attractive model mate. Part (b) sees the pawn promoting to a knight on f8 again, but with a changed function. 1.Kg7 f6+ 2.Kh7 Sf5 3.Bg8 f7 4.Bh8 f8=S. So the promoting pawn and the original knight, while playing their same respective moves in the two parts, swap their duties in guarding and mating the black king. The two mating configurations nicely reflect each other, and they are chameleon echoes as well in that the king’s final squares are of different colours. The white king doesn’t take part in the mate – in fact the problem remains sound if the piece is shifted to another square like e1; but by cleverly placing it close to the action, so that the solver assumes it will be utilised, the composer makes the solutions even more difficult.
Karel says: “To compose this problem had make me happy, like finding a four-leaf clover in the clover field.”