‘The Original Christopher Reeves’

30 Mar. 2014 | by Peter Wong

The recent January issue of The Problemist includes a supplement on Chris Reeves (1939-2012), one of the best British problem composers. As the title of the booklet suggests, Chris was a highly original and inventive problemist – demanding qualities especially in the well-worked genre of two-movers, his favoured field. He came to prominence in the 1960s and produced many masterful works for a decade or so, before his other, “real life,” commitments brought about a period of inactivity. He returned to the problem world in the 1990s, prolifically as a composer, editor, tourney judge, and team leader of his country in international competitions. His extended break from chess, quite unusual for a composer of his calibre, no doubt contributed to his relatively small output of about two hundred problems.

The booklet is introduced by David Shire in ‘Chris Reeves: Composer and Editor extraordinary’, which discusses Chris’s perfectionist style and the way he draws the best from his collaborators. The main section presents about one hundred of Chris’s two-movers, selected with comments by David, followed by two small chapters on his three-movers and helpmates.

Christopher Reeves

Die Schwalbe 1965

Mate in 2

Here are two sample works that are illustrative of his standard. The first two-mover features the Pickaninny theme: a black pawn on its initial square has four available moves and each induces a different mate. Thus the d7-pawn generates these set variations: 1…dxc6+ 2.Bxc6, 1…dxe6 2.Bc8, 1…d6 2.Sd5, and 1…d5 2.Qb4. The key 1.Qxe5! threatens 2.exd7, and because the queen has opened the d-file for the d3-rook – as well as lost control of b4 – none of the set mates work anymore against the pawn defences. Instead, the actual play becomes 1…dxc6+ 2.Sxc6, 1…dxe6 2.Qxe6, 1…d6 2.Qf6, and 1…d5 2.Qc7. The problem hence achieves the remarkable task of a completely changed Pickaninny. Two other variations are 1…Rd5+/Re3 2.Sxd5 and 1…Rd6 2.Qf6.

Christopher Reeves

problem 1969, 1st Prize

Mate in 2

The second selection is even more impressive, showing a cycle of white self-interferences. First note the set play, 1…Sh5 2.e4, 1…Bxd3 2.Rxd3, and 1…Rxb4 2.Sxb4. If White moves one of the three thematic pieces on e2, f2, and h3 to e3, the black d2-bishop is cut off and White threatens 2.Sf4. The piece landing on e3, however, would also interfere with the remaining two of the white trios, and thereby disrupt two of the set variations. Thus the try 1.e3? impedes the h3-rook and f2-bishop, but 1…Bxd3 allows the changed mate 2.Qxd3, and only 1…Rxb4! refutes (2.Sxb4+ Kc5!). The second try 1.Re3? obstructs the f2-bishop and e2-pawn, but 1…Rxb4 now enables 2.Bxc6, and 1…Sh5! is the only spoiler (2.e4??). The last try 1.Be3? blocks the e2-pawn and h3-rook, but another change takes place with 1…Sh5 2.Qf3, and Black must answer with 1…Bxd3! (2.Rxd3??). In these try phases, the cyclic play combined with changed mates runs beautifully like clockwork. The post-key phase utilises the queen in a new way, with 1.Qd1! threatening the pin-mate 2.Sf4. Since no white self-interference occurs, the set play is retained: 1…Sh5 2.e4, 1…Bxd3 2.Rxd3, and 1…Rxb4 2.Sxb4. Good by-play follows with 1…Rxd1 2.c4, 1…Se5 2.Rxe5, and 1…Qc7/Qb8 2.Se7.