‘Anything but Average’ by Werner Keym

23 Nov. 2020 | by Peter Wong

Two years ago I reviewed Werner Keym’s Chess Problems Out of the Box, an excellent compilation of striking and unusual compositions. The German problemist has recently published a follow-up, entitled Anything but Average: Chess Classics and Off-beat Problems (2020). This anthology of 375 positions by 240 authors takes a broader approach, in that it includes some classic games and combinations. As such, the book may be viewed as an up-to-date (and more comprehensive) successor of 100 Classics of the Chessboard (1983) by A. Dickins and H. Ebert. By and large, though, the new volume focuses on compositions and Part 1 provides a great selection of classic problems, divided into the major genres. Thus we are presented with dozens of brilliant and famous works for each of these types: endgame studies, two-movers, three-movers, more-movers, helpmates, selfmates, and some curiosities.

The remaining sections of the book mostly feature “off-beat” problems, and they cover similar territories as Out of the Box, with some overlap of cited positions. Part 2 deals with asymmetry, where symmetrical set-ups yield non-symmetrical play. In Part 3, we see the special moves – castling, en passant captures, and promotions – occurring as a problem’s main theme. Part 4, the largest section, discusses a variety of uncommon types, primarily retro-analytical problems. Werner is one of the world’s foremost experts on retros and here he explains their many sub-categories with instructive examples. Lastly, Part 5 quotes some top compositions as voted by readers of the publication, Probleemblad. All in all, Anything but Average represents another terrific collection of classy and entertaining problems, and it’s highly recommended.

Herbert Grasemann
Deutsche Schachhefte 1950

Mate in 4

Our first selection from the anthology is a classic more-mover. The black king initially has two flight-moves, both strong defences especially in view of the pawn promotion that could follow. For instance, if 1.Qd3? then 1…Kg1! 2.Qf3 (threat: 3.Qxf1) S~? 3.Qf2+ Kh1 4.Sg3, 2…h1=Q? 3.Qf2, but 2…h1=S! refutes; or 1.Qd4? Kg2! 2.Qf2+ Kh3! White can try to eliminate both flights with 1.Kf2? but that produces stalemate by pinning the black knight. To make Kf2 effective, then, White plans to take the queen off the pin-line without giving the black king time to escape, and the only way is 1.Qd5+! Kg1 2.Qh1+ Kxh1, which brings us back to the diagram position but with the queen removed. Now 3.Kf2 leaves Black not in stalemate but in zugzwang: 3…S~ 4.Sg3. The white queen, starting with an unconventional checking key, performs a vanishing act in this delightful work.

Niels Høeg
Skakbladet 1907, 1st Prize

White forces the end of the game in 2 moves

The second sample problem involves a unique stipulation: find the key-move that will force the end of the game in 2 moves, against any defence. The idea is that White can choose between mate and stalemate as the goal, depending on Black’s move, and also arrange for either side to be mated or stalemated. The key 1.Qe1! (waiting) blocks the e2-pawn and obliges it to capture on f1. If Black plays 1…exf1=R, White exploits the promoted rook as a self-block and delivers mate with 2.Qxg3 (the by-play 1…g2 2.Bxe2 also shows White mating Black). If Black promotes to a bishop, the piece gets pinned by the queen and White can stalemate Black: 1…exf1=B 2.Kxg3. On 1…exf1=Q, White makes use of zugzwang to compel the black queen to mate White: 2.Kxg3 Qxe1 – in other words, a selfmate variation. Finally, 1…exf1=S guards g3 with the promoted knight, which enables White to execute a selfstalemate: 2.Qf2+ gxf2/Kxf2. So in response to the four possible black promotions, White forcibly ends the game by wholly different means, effectively crossing genres. An incredibly original display of the Allumwandlung theme!

Anything but Average: Chess Classics and Off-beat Problems (2020) by Werner Keym is published by Nightrider Unlimited. The price is €10 (softcover), €30 (cloth-bound) + postage. For more information about the book, including a free excerpt and contact details for acquiring a copy, visit the book’s page on the publisher’s site.