Arthur Willmott

by Ian Shanahan

It is an unfortunate state of affairs that Australia, at present, possesses only a handful of internationally active chess problemists. Having said this, however, it is equally true that among our Australian problemists we are blessed with a healthy diversity; each of us has his own strengths and passions, so that almost the whole gamut of the problem art is represented ‘Down Under’.

So… where does Arthur Willmott fit into the scheme of things, and what has been his contribution thus far? For a number of years now, Arthur has been the driving force behind Australian chess problem journalism. Throughout the second half of the 1980s, he edited the ‘Problem Corner’ section of Chess in Australia; but when its publisher inexplicably terminated his column in 1992, Arthur decided to establish his own specialist chess problem periodical (which he printed and distributed himself) – the Australian Chess Problem Magazine. This bi-monthly publication, which Arthur continued to print and distribute until November 1997, is by far Australia’s longest running problem journal! Laudably Arthur also has to his credit the authorship and publication of a number of historical booklets, all of them dealing with some aspect of Australian chess during the nineteenth century.

Yet he still manages to find the time to exercise his quite considerable solving skills in several chess problem magazines throughout the world; for example, Arthur always features prominently in the solving ladders of The Problemist and Problem Observer, and he has demonstrated his beneficent versatility by judging an informal tourney in the (sadly defunct) Canadian periodical Apprenti Sorcier.

As a problem composer, having spent many years under the tutelage of his late friend Laimons Mangalis, Arthur might be compared stylistically to the great Sam Loyd; he is prolific (indeed more so than any other living Australian) but most of all, his problems exhibit simple elegance and wit over labyrinthine profundity. (Naturally there are exceptions. The ‘dark doing’ No.5 below, for instance, is an intensive and complex rendering of the ‘king shield’ idea common among series movers.)

Like most problemists early on in their careers, Arthur produced predominantly traditional, well-keyed two-movers – such as No.1 and the exquisite mutate No.2. Then his predilections changed somewhat, to the extent that a large number of his oeuvre consist of series-movers and help(stale)mates. In fact, Arthur composes more of these problem-types than all other Australian problemists. In the series-mover milieux, he instigated in Chess in Australia during the 1980s a theme tourney for series-self(stale)mate minimals. Later on he developed a deep interest in double-series-movers; he is now probably the world expert in this arcane domain and in 1994, had pioneered the phenomenally difficult triple-series-mover genre in the Australian Chess Problem Magazine. Multiple series-movers are notoriously hard both to solve and compose; a problemist counts himself very lucky to find a sound setting.

Arthur also possesses a marked fondness for composing tricky lightweight help-play problems, with or without additional fairy pieces and/or conditions. Arthur Willmott’s problemistic output steadily grows, unabated; and long may he continue to do so. I am certain that any reader who is prepared to study carefully his problems shall be rewarded with much pleasure.

The above text was first published as Ian Shanahan’s foreword to Arthur Willmott’s book collection, 200 Chess Problems (1995). More recently, in 2008 Arthur has won the Whyatt Medal for chess problem composition.

1. Arthur Willmott
British Chess Magazine 1990, Commendation

Mate in 2

Set play: 1…Kd3 2.Sc5.
Key: 1.Re1! (threat: 2.Rd1). 1…Kd3+ 2.Se5, 1…Kd5+ 2.Sf6, 1…Ra3 2.Sf8, 1…Qh6/h2/h1 2.Sb8.

Exemplary battery play. The composer writes: “The key concedes a second flight and permits two cross-checks, and the top-rank shut-offs after 1…Ra3 and 1…Qh6 round off a harmonious problem.”

2. Arthur Willmott
British Chess Magazine 1988

Mate in 2

Set play: 1…R~ 2.Rxc6, 1…Rb6 2.Qe5, 1…Se~ 2.Bd6, 1…Sg~ 2.Se6.
Key: 1.Bc7! (waiting). 1…cxb5+ 2.Bb6, 1…R~ 2.Qb6, 1…Rb6 2.Qxb6, 1…Se~ 2.Bd6, 1…Sg~ 2.Se6.

The wonderful key of this mutate, 1.Bc7!, not only changes the replies to Black’s rook moves by restricting both the white queen and the rook on c8, but also unpins the black pawn to create a new cross-check variation.

3. Arthur Willmott
The Problemist 1991

Mate in 2

Key: 1.Bf4! (threat: 2.Bd2). 1…f5 2.Qc3, 1…e5 2.Qxc7, 1…d5 2.Bxc7, 1…c5 2.Rxa4, 1…Bb5 2.Sb3.

The five black defences have a homogeneous motive – unpin of the bishop on g5 (yet the moves all occur on different squares on the fifth rank). Simultaneously, four of these defences open a white line, which is then exploited by White in the mate. “Probably a new task combination,” noted one of the solvers, the task expert Jeremy Morse, who included this problem in his definitive book on the subject, Chess Problems: Tasks and Records.

4. Arthur Willmott
The Problemist 1995

Mate in 3

Key: 1.Rg6! (threat: 2.Qd8+ Ke5 3.Qd5).
1…d3+ 2.Scd4 (3.Rxe6) Bc4 3.Sf5, 2…Rxd4+ 3.Qxd4.
1…dxe3+ 2.Sed4 (3.Rxe6) Bc4 3.Sf5, 2…Rxd4+ 3.Qxd4.
1…Bb5 2.Bxd4 (3.Qe5) Sc4 3.Bc5, 2…Rxd4+ 3.Qxd4.
1…Bc4 2.Qh5 (3.Qc5) Bd5 3.Qxd5.

After a good key that allows two black checks on the rank, Black has three principal defences that involve an anticipatory interference effect. For instance, 1…d3+ closes the queen-line from b1 to g6 that would have been opened by 2.Scd4, thus disabling 2…Qxg6! Likewise, 1…dxe3+ prevents 2…Rxe3! after 2.Sed4, and 1…Bb5 stops 2…Qb5! after 2.Bxd4. The white second moves in these main variations all put a piece on d4 and self-pin it. In each case, the threat entailed by the white move forces Black to place a piece on c4, which unpins the white piece on d4 and enables it to mate. An excellent problem showing highly intensive strategy, matched in three thematic variations.

5. Arthur Willmott
The Problemist 1988

1.g3 2.gxh4 3.h5 4.h6 5.hxg7 6.g8=B 7.Bxh7 8.Bxg6 9.Bxe8 10.Bb5 11.Bxa6 12.Be2 13.Ke1 14.Kf2 15.Bf3 16.Kg3 17.Kg4 18.Be4 19.Bf5 20.Kxg5 21.Kf6 22.Be6 23.Ke7 24.Kxd6 25.Bxd5 26.Be4 27.Kxe5 28.Kxd4 29.Kxe3 30.Kd2 31.Kc1 32.Kb1 33.Ka1 34.Bb1, b2.

The diagram shows an intriguing “dark doing” position, meaning White possesses only one piece besides the king while the whole of Black’s force is present. White needs to bring about Black’s mating move by zugzwang, since the set-up does not allow White to arrange the final selfmate by giving a forcing check at the end. The zugzwang plan, of placing the king on a1 and the promoted bishop on b1 to compel …b2 mate, requires the capture of most of Black’s pieces. The two white pieces coordinate the captures, an elaborate process involving multiple shielding of the king from checks.