Improving a century-old problem and some composing resources

31 Dec. 2012 | by Peter Wong

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

Henry Tate
Good Companions 1917, 4th Hon. Mention

Mate in 2

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

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

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