‘British Chess Problem Society Centenary Review 1918-2018’

17 Aug. 2021 | by Peter Wong

Last year the British Chess Problem Society commemorated its 100th anniversary with the publication of BCPS Centenary Review 1918-2018 (2020). It’s an attractively produced book that’s gifted to all members, though (due to the pandemic) many overseas subscribers, including myself, did not receive a copy until recently. Written in a lively style by prominent problemists Barry Barnes and Michael McDowell, the 242-page volume serves as both a history of the world’s longest-running chess problem organisation and a collection of 463 prize-winning compositions.

The book comprises eleven sections covering the various types of tourney awards run by the Society, usually based on problem genres. The first part, which features two- and three-movers, is also where the story of the Society is told. Important events of each decade are described, such as the establishments of The Problemist magazine, the Brian Harley Awards for the best two- and three-move problems, and the organisation’s website. We find written portraits (and photos too) of eminent figures, including the Society’s founders, editors and other contributors to The Problemist. On the selection of problems in each section, the writers chose to showcase one prize-winner by a British or Commonwealth composer from every BCPS tourney. British names naturally predominate – the UK is one of the strongest countries in composition – but problemists from places like India, Malaysia, and Australia are also well-represented. These quality problems are presented chronologically, with solutions and expert comments placed next to the diagrams.

If you are not a member of the BCPS but wish to obtain a copy of the Centenary Review, go to the Latest Information page of the Society’s website for (forthcoming!) details on how to do so. You are also encouraged to join the BCPS – membership is international – and thus subscribe to the bi-monthly Problemist and its Supplement. Refer to my earlier review of this periodical, which is essential reading for problem enthusiasts!

Barry Barnes
Correspondence Chess 1960
BCPS Ring Tourney, 3rd Prize

Mate in 2

It seems fitting to quote a couple of first-class problems by the book’s authors themselves. Barry Barnes is an International Master of Composition, a former two-move section editor of The Problemist, and the co-author of The Two-move Chess Problem: Tradition and Development. His diagram above shows a striking pattern theme in which certain black and white moves recur in cyclic fashion. Note how Black’s e6-bishop, queen, and rook are each guarding two of the three squares, b3, c4, and c3, thereby preventing the white mates, Sb3, Qxb4, and c3. When White moves the e4-bishop, the resulting double-threat, 2.Be5/Bxe3, will draw each of these three black pieces away from its defensive position. The first try 1.Bd5? cuts off the e6-bishop: 1…Re4 [x] 2.Sb3 [A] and 1…Qxf4 [y] 2.Qxb4 [B], but 1…Bxg4! [z] refutes. The second try 1.Bc6? cuts off the queen: 1…Bxg4 [z] 2.Qxb4 [B] and 1…Re4 [x] 2.c3 [C], but 1…Qxf4! [y] refutes. The key 1.Bd3! cuts off the rook: 1…Qxf4 [y] 2.c3 [C] and 1…Bxg4 [z] 2.Sb3 [A]; the would-be refutation 1…Re4 [x] brings a new mate, 2.Qxe4. In the three phases, not only do the black moves x, y, and z recur as defences (or refutations) answered by changed mates, but the white moves A, B, and C also recur as transferred mates against different defences. Such a complex pattern of rotating changes is termed cyclic mating permutation.

Michael McDowell
The Problemist 2014, 2nd Prize

Mate in 19

Michael McDowell is an International Master for solving, an International Judge for composition, and also a regular contributor to The Problemist in various capacities. In the starting position of his more-mover, Black’s force is immobilised except for the king’s single move to e4. If not for the h4-pawn, an immediate knight mate on g3 would be possible, so White’s goal is to remove that pawn without releasing the black force or causing stalemate. The white knight is the only candidate for making this capture, even though the piece seems needed on f1 to protect the e3-pawn from the black king; thus after 1.Sh2! Ke4, the rash 2.Sf3? fails to 2…Kxe3. Instead, the knight takes a much longer trip that would allow it to re-guard e3 every second move, and thereby keep the king trapped in the f5-e4 cage. 2.Sg4 Kf5 3.Se5 Ke4 4.Sc4 Kf5 5.Sa3 Ke4 6.Sc2 Kf5 7.Se1 Ke4 8.Sg2 Kf5 9.Sxh4+ Ke4. With the first task accomplished, the knight wants to return to f1 for the g3-mate, but there’s no short-cut for the same reason: 10.Sf3? Kxe3. The piece must rather retrace the steps it had taken, in precise reverse order. 10.Sg2 Kf5 11.Se1 Ke4 12.Sc2 Kf5 13.Sa3 Ke4 14.Sc4 Kf5 15.Se5 Ke4 16.Sg4 Kf5 17.Sh2 Ke4 18.Sf1 Kf5 – restoring the diagram position minus a pawn – 19.Sg3. An amazing 18-move rundlauf by the white knight where the piece is beautifully controlled.