Task and record problems – Part 1

15 Oct. 2013 | by Peter Wong

If chess problems have an “extreme” aspect, it’s in the area of tasks and records, where they push the limit of what is possible within the rules of the game. Such task and record problems focus on demonstrating a maximum effect of some sort. For instance, the knight-wheel theme presents a task in which a knight makes its full eight moves in turn. Record problems are a sub-category of tasks. They typically involve achieving the highest number of a thematic element, e.g. the most number of self-block variations in a two-mover. Another type of record relates to the length of play, such as the longest directmate with a dual-free solution.

Perhaps the world’s foremost expert on the subject is Sir Jeremy Morse, whose collection, Chess Problems: Tasks and Records, comprehensively surveys the field. A second edition of the book containing over 850 problems appeared in 2001. Since then the author has published annual updates in The Problemist, presenting new tasks and inspiring composers to break existing records. According to the most recent update, a third edition of the book that incorporates his latest research will be released soon, and it’s sure to become a standard work.

Alberto Batori
Good Companions 1918
Version by Brian Tomson

Mate in 2

Let’s look at two examples of maximum play, the first of which features the most number of black queen checks in a two-mover. The overall record for the number of checking defences that yield different mates is 15, but it was set in a problem involving multiple threats that clutter the solution somewhat. Here Batori’s problem (reconstructed by the late Australian composer to save six pieces) has the normal single threat, and it lucidly shows 11 black queen checks leading to distinct white mates – the record for a sole checking piece. The key 1.Sxd7! threatens 2.Rf4. 1…Qxb6+ 2.Sxb6, 1…Qc5+ 2.Qxc5, 1…Qd4+ 2.Qxd4, 1…Qa3+ 2.Sxa3, 1…Qd2+ 2.Sxd2, 1…Qd3+ 2.exd3, 1…Qxe7+ 2.Rxe7, 1…Qe6+ 2.Qxe6, 1…Qe5+ 2.Sxe5, 1…Qg3+ 2.Rf3, and 1…Qf4+/Qh6+ is answered by the threat 2.Rf4. With the exception of an unimportant dual, 1…Qf6 2.Rxf6/Qc5, the play is remarkably precise.

Vojko Bartolovic
Shakhmaty v SSSR 1970, 1st Prize

Mate in 2

The second problem is described as a modern masterpiece by Sir Jeremy, and it beautifully combines a white pawn task with the star-flights theme. A white pawn on its initial rank has the potential to make four different moves – the maximum possible – and if every one occurs during the course of play, the Albino theme results. Here the d2-pawn makes these four moves as possible keys. They all serve to remove or immobilise the black pawns on c3 and e3, so as to compel the black king to move. The king has four flights that form a star-pattern, and each has a set mate provided: 1…Ka4 2.Sxc3, 1…Kxa6 2.Bd3, 1…Kc6 2.Sd4, and 1…Kc4 2.Sxe3. Now the wrong key by the white pawn will disrupt a set variation and permit the king to escape: 1.dxc3? Ka4!, 1.d3? Kxa6! and 1.dxe3? Kc4! These tries fail for a similar reason, namely the self-obstruction of a square needed by White to give mate. Unexpectedly, the key 1.d4! (waiting) also commits this kind of error so that after 1…Kc6, 2.Sd4?? no longer works; instead White plays 2.b5, a changed mate made possible by the key’s attack on c5. The remaining variations are as set: 1…Ka4 2.Sxc3, 1…Kxa6 2.Bd3, and 1…Kc4 2.Sxe3. So the four pawn moves of the Albino task are further unified by sharing the strategic element of square-obstruction.