A tribute to Ian Shanahan (1962-2021)

27 Sep. 2021 | by Peter Wong

Ian Shanahan, one of Australia’s best problem composers, has sadly passed away on 27 Aug. 2021, after a long illness. He was aged only 59. A lifelong Sydneysider, Ian was also an accomplished music composer and academic who had lectured at two universities. He obtained a doctorate in composition in 2002. A summary of his music career can be found on his page in the Problemists section of this site. On the same page there are six of his chess problems selected by Ian himself and accompanied by his commentaries. His output of over 200 problems encompasses almost all genres, though he excelled especially at two-movers and fairies, the main sources of many prestigious tourney awards he acquired. In 2016 Ian was the recipient of the Whyatt Medal, bestowed for his outstanding achievements in the chess problem field.

On a personal note, Ian and I met infrequently over the years, the first time in the late 1980s, when we were young problemists, at Sydney University where he was teaching. He was a jovial extrovert and a self-described social conservative – a big contrast with me, so it was probably a good thing we rarely discussed politics! By an odd coincidence, he once applied for a government department job at a venue that used to be the building of my old high school! In late 2019 I drove him to meet with the German GM Torsten Linss who was visiting Australia, and we had an enjoyable time showing one another our works. I last saw Ian on a hospital visit earlier this year, and though fragile he was busy working on his laptop, and it’s obvious from his recent emails that his mind was clear to the end.

Bob Meadley writes in response to Ian’s passing:

I first met Ian Shanahan in 1981 at the chess problemists get-together at the Sydney PSA club. He was 19 and towered over all of us except perhaps George Meldrum. He was enthusiastic, funny and loved chess problems. He was a great student and won the Sydney University Medal in a double degree of Music and Pure Mathematics. He added a PhD in composition in 2002. As the years rolled by, he attended more chess problem get-togethers in 1982, 1983, 1989, 2003 and 2009 where it was great to have his support to start a website now 12 years old under Peter Wong’s guidance. The short biography on OzProblems with his six compositions take some beating and he sure knew how to stump me. He won the Whyatt Medal for chess problem composition. His academic music career was fruitful but music at his level is an unknown area to me. I went over to 57 Yates Avenue, Dundas Valley and met his mum and the cats and we had a great time talking with me mostly listening. There were many phone calls from the early days up until the early 2000s when he got sick and required dialysis three times per week. He had some tough final years. His love of religion lasted all his life and he wrote a book on aspects of the Bible. Thankfully we have some of his compositions in the chess problem and music areas to remember him by. There are some good photographs of him on the OzProblems Archives but they help only a little to know him. Some tributes have appeared on Music sites and it is a pleasure to add this one. He was a great problemist and his compositions show that.

Dennis Hale writes:

Ian’s passion for music and chess problems was overwhelming in its heartfelt intensity. In addition to his admirable problems, I always appreciated his learned and unstinting appreciation of the problems of others on OzProblems. He will be truly missed.

Besides his erudite comments on the Weekly Problems as mentioned by Dennis, Ian greatly contributed to the creation of this site by scanning much of the materials now available on the Oz Archives. Among this large collection of Australian chess problem materials is the ‘Problem Billabong’ column in Australian Chess ran by Ian himself from 2003 to 2007. In 2016 he gathered his compositions in an e-book, Chess Problems by Dr. Ian Shanahan, as announced in this update. It is from this wonderful compilation that I select two examples of his works, neither of which has appeared on this site before.

Ian Shanahan
The Problemist 2003

Mate in 2

One of Ian’s favourite themes in two-movers is combinative separation, which perhaps reflects the mathematician in him. A preliminary try illustrates the basic idea of separating two threat-moves in different combinations. 1.S~? (e.g. 1.Sh5?) threatens 2.Qb4 [A] and 2.Qe3 [B], 1…c1=S 2.Qb4 [A], 2.Qe3 [B]; 1…c1=B 2.Qb4 [A]; 1…c1=R 2.Qe3 [B]; but 1…c1=Q! refutes. The theme proper with three threat-moves begins with 1.Se4!, an excellent sacrificial key that also concedes a flight. The threats are 2.Qb4 [A], 2.Qe3 [B], and 2.Qd3 [C], and they appear in every possible combination in response to all of Black’s legal moves. 1…b4 2.Qxb4 [A], 2.Qe3 [B], 2.Qd3 [C]; 1…c1=S 2.Qb4 [A], 2.Qe3 [B]; 1…c1=B 2.Qb4 [A], 2.Qd3 [C]; 1…c1=R 2.Qe3 [B], 2.Qd3 [C]; 1…Sb3 2.Qb4 [A]; 1…Kxe4 2.Qe3 [B]; and 1…c1=Q 2.Qd3 [C]. An extra variation, 1…dxe4 2.Qd6, shows an elimination mate after all three threats are thwarted. The combinative separation scheme, in which dual mates occur in an orderly manner, makes it possible here to achieve a black Allumwandlung in a two-mover.

Ian Shanahan
StrateGems 2013, Commendation

The selfstalemate goal indicates that at the end of the white sequence, Black will be induced to immobilise the whole white force, excluding one piece likely to be captured when it gives a compelling check. A promising final square for the white king is h7, which intersects lines controlled by the b1-bishop and b7-rook so that two white pieces may be pinned, plus the king on that square can help lock in two other pieces on h8 and g8. The difficulty here is how to account for the g7-flight, which cannot be blocked by a pinned knight (it would be checking Black) or bishop (the white pawns can’t promote on a black square). The answer is to force the black king to control that flight by sacrificing a queen on f8 as the last move. This plan requires the black king to be stopped from escaping to d7, a job that can be assigned to a pinned rook on d3. Lastly, a pinned knight on f7 can serve to confine a bishop on g8 and also to prevent the f6-rook from guarding f8. 1.Ke3 2.c4 3.c5 4.c6 5.c7 6.c8=S 7.a8=R 8.Ra5 9.Rh5 10.a5 11.a6 12.a7 13.a8=R 14.Ra3 15.Rd3 16.a4 17.a5 18.a6 19.a7 20.a8=Q 21.Qa3 22.Se7 23.Sf5 24.Kf4 25.Kg5 26.Sh6 27.Sf7 28.Kh6 29.Kh7 30.g7 31.g8=B 32.Kg7 33.Rh8 34.Kh7 35.Qf8+ Kxf8. The Allumwandlung theme with an extra rook promotion is remarkably realised in a long yet totally capture-free white sequence. Additional features are a nice backward key by the white king (not 1.Ke5?) and an intricate finale in which the same piece gets repeatedly shielded from checks before it manoeuvres to let the remaining two white units through.