Professor: Happy Independence Day, Class!
Lucian: You mean happy July Fourth, don’t you?
Zephyr: They’re the same day.
Thomas: That’s the way the Founding Fathers planned it.
Zephyr: Maybe the Founding Mothers had the same plan.
Thomas: I wonder if any of them played chess?
Rachel: Well, Ben Franklin did.
Ryan: That’s right. He even wrote “The Morals of Chess.”
Hale: John Adams also played.
Rachel: So did Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence.
Ryan: Franklin, Adams and Jefferson even read lots of books, like Philidor’s “l'Analyse du jeu des Échecs.”
Professor: Anyway, before adjourning to our annual class barbecue, I thought you might like to see some classic American compositions.
Hale: Compositions? You mean composed mates and endgame studies?
Professor: Precisely, in tune with the American spirit.
Ryan: Would you say there’s an American style of composition?
Professor: Not distinctly, but American chess composers tend to prefer sensible solutions, simplicity and clear lines of play.
Zephyr: You mean similar to American philosophers such as pragmatists William James, John Dewey and Charles Peirce?
Professor: Somewhat like them but also very different.
Lucian: Can you give us a few examples?
Professor: Well, let’s start with the following problem. It was on the cover of the first issue of "Chess Review" back in 1933.
Question 1: How can White force mate in two moves?
Professor: The problem was composed by a U.S. postal worker, Otto Wurzburg.
Wurzburg’s art aside, it didn’t take long for the group to work out the solution.
Thomas: Should we mail you the answer?
Professor: I don’t think that will be necessary.
Rachel: How about another problem?
Professor: OK, let’s try this one, composed by H. Otten and first published in 1892.
Question 2: Can White queen the a-pawn by force?
Ryan: Of course White can.
Hale: I’ve certainly seen variations of this problem before.
Thomas: Still, it’s nice and simple.
Lucian: Very American, too.
Rachel: And a great way to celebrate the Fourth.
Professor: Let’s celebrate some more with a problem composed by the great Sam Loyd.
Question 3: How can White force mate in eight moves?
Once again, the group quickly concatenated a series of moves to get the main solution.
Rachel: What an extraordinary knight!
Lucian: Yes, it’s a great night, with all those fireworks.
Zephyr: Not that kind of night! She means the other kind of knight. You know — the minor piece kind.
Professor: That brings us to a problem with no minor pieces at all.
Question 4: Can White force mate?
Hale: That problem is simple and pretty, too.
Rachel: Which American composed it?
Professor: Andrew Efron, an American composer of Russian ancestry, who eventually found a home in New England. The problem was first published in "Schach-Echo" in 1957.
Lucian: I knew that.
Thomas: So Efron was an American who came from Russia?
Zephyr: Everyone has to come from somewhere.
Lucian: Besides, America is the great melting pot.
Ryan: Uh huh.
Professor: Before this melting pot of a chess class homogenizes any further, let’s turn to one last problem. Remind me to tell you a story about it.
Question 5: How does White force a win?
Rachel: This one seems a bit trickier than the others.
To be sure, the class had to work a little harder, but they eventually blended together as one and solved the problem.
Zephyr: OK, what’s the story?
Professor: The story?
Ryan: The one you wanted us to remind you about.
Professor: Oh, that story. Well, one of the first times I went to the Marshall Chess Club in the early 1960s was on Independence Day. There was only one other person in the club, a friendly senior citizen, who promptly challenged me to a game. Afterward, he showed me a problem he had composed many years earlier.
Hale: What’s so special about that story?
Professor: The man’s name was David Joseph. He was the composer of this last problem the class just solved.
Ryan: Wow! That’s a neat story.
Lucian: I’m curious. Did you get the problem right?
Professor: You know, it was a long time ago, and I can’t remember.
Thomas: Too bad you can’t remember.
Professor: There is something I do remember, however, and that’s the annual class barbecue.
Zephyr: Is it time for that?
Professor: Yes it is. Now, who’d like to clean the grill?
Answers below - Try to solve NM brucepandolfini's puzzles first!
Answer 1: The key move is 1. Re2. Black then has three moves (A) 1…Kd5; (B) 1…Kb5; or (C) 1…d5.
If (A) 1…Kd5, then 2. Bg2 mate.
If (B) 1…Kb5, then 2. Rc2 mate.
Or if (C) 1…d5, then 2. Re6 mate.
Answer 2: White wins directly with 1. a5. After 1…Bf8 (hoping to play Bf8-c5) 2. Kd5 Bh6 (hoping to play Bh6-e3), White has the obstructive move, 3. g5+!.
If Black continues with 3…Bxg5, the a-pawn soon queens after 4. Ke4.
And if 3…Kxg5 instead, then 4. a6 and the pawn heads directly to a touchdown.
Answer 3: The solution to Loyd’s charming puzzle begins with 1. Rc8+. After 1…Rxc8, White has the surprising rejoinder 2. Na7!.
A plausible continuation thereafter is 2…Rc7 3. Nc6+ Rxc6 4. Kxc6 Ka7 5. Kc7 Ka6 6. b8=Q Ka5 7. Qb3! Ka6 8. Qa4 mate (or the equally good 8. Qb6 mate).
Answer 4: White wins with 1. Kc4!, when 1…Ra7 2. Kc5 Ra6 (2…Rb7 3. Qa8+) 3. Qd2+ Ka4 (3…Rb4 4. Qxb4 mate) 4. Qa2 is mate.
(Note that 1. Kc5 Ka4 2. Qd1+ can be answered by 3…Ka3.)
Answer 5: This classic problem by David Joseph was first published in 1922 in "British Chess Magazine". The main winning line is 1. h8=Q a1=Q (Black’s queen is immune from capture because of the stalemate) 2. Qg8! Qa2! (capturing the black queen again gives stalemate) 3. Qe8 Qa4! (the black queen is still uncapturable) 4. Qe5+ Ka8 5. Qh8!, with a winning discovery on tap — a nice queenly triangulation (e8 to e5 to h8).
Note that 2. Qe8? fails to 2…Qg7!, with a draw in hand.
Nor does 2. Qf8? Qa3 fare any better (if 3. Qg8 Black has 3…Qd6+).
Ben Franklin’s treatise "The Morals of Chess," besides offering some fine insights into human behavior, is viewed as having particular chessic significance. Indeed, first sketched out in 1732, though not printed until 1786, it may have been the very first chess text published in America. Happy July Fourth!