# Nabokov's amazing synesthesic chess problem

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977) was a russian-born writer who wrote both in russian and, after emigrating to America, in english,  and is one of the great literary figures of the 20th century. He was known to be a great chess problemist (although not so good player, I do not know of any recorded games however), he even published a book containing both poems and chess problems. He wrote several books containing chess references, most notably The Defence (or The Luzhin Defence), the story of a chess genius descent into madness, which was adapted in a movie in 2000. His most famous novel is Lolita (later adapted into a movie by Stanley Kubrick), the story of a pedophile. He was also a lepidoptory specialist and has been curator of lepideptory at Harvard.

White to move and mate in two:

This problem is Nabokov's symbolic answer to the chess sequence forming the plot of Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. Consult this website for the very interesting story and all the implications of the symbols: http://www.lolitariddle.com/chess.htm

(Note that this website gives a wrong solutiont to the problem, the rest of the solution is (highlight between brackets to see the answer):

[After 1. Bc2! ...

If 1. ...Nxf4 (or any other knight move)  2. Qd4#

If 1. ...c5 2. Rf5#

If 1. ...d6 2. Rf5#

if 1. ...d5 2. Qc7#

If 1. ...Kd5 2. Qc5#]

An interesting sidenote.

"In any case, whether it is exchanged for a knight or a queen, advancing the White Pawn to b8 (a ruse that is the equivalent of the 'irresistible try') is the wrong move to make. White cannot ensure check-mate in the prescribed two moves if it 'queens' the pawn on b8."

I put the position to Fritz to see how it would react, and it fell for the "irresistible try" with a mate in three!

Nabokov and his wife Vera

• 8 months ago

1. Bc2 d5 2. Qc7# (the black rook on g7 is pinned).

• 3 years ago

If 1.Qc5+, d5

Someone suggested 2. b8=Q#. That move is illegal, as it is exposing the white king to a check by the Rook on g7. If the white king wasn't on a7 it would be mate, because black cannot block the mate 2.b8=Q#, Rc7 as someone suggested, because the rook is pinned. The only way to mate in two is 1. Bc2 to force zugzwang.

• 3 years ago

black has 2...Rc7!

• 5 years ago

um no mate in 1 pawn D5 yea the pawn can move 2

• 6 years ago

1. Qc5+  d5

2. b8=Q#

That's a different solution to the one given above.

• 6 years ago
1. Qc5+ d5 and no mate in one or in two.
• 6 years ago
Yes, DBHinz   is right Queen to C5 and it appears to be over in one move.
• 6 years ago
There is only one way to mate in two and it's the solution I gave.
• 6 years ago

Pawn on d7 to d5 blocks the check so there is no mate in 1 by moving the queen to c5

right?

Taha

• 6 years ago

## " You can finish this game with 1 move, just moving the queen down and to the right 1 spot.. boom, checkmate.. unless I missed something.. but I don't think I did.."

There is no mate in one, look carefully.

• 6 years ago
You can finish this game with 1 move, just moving the queen down and to the right 1 spot.. boom, checkmate.. unless I missed something.. but I don't think I did..
• 6 years ago

Is 'the Lolita riddle' something you know more about? I've never heard of it. Are the 'clues' only dropped in his english-language books?

i have heard, from a few perhaps unreliable sources, that there is a  very complex mathmatical equation somehow embedded in lewis carrols 'the Jabberwocky...'

• 6 years ago
When I first read Lolita  many many years ago, I thought that this author, whom I had never heard of, had the best command to the english language than anyone I had ever read.  Only later did I learn he was a Russian immigrant.
• 6 years ago
Right, sorry the solution to c5 is Rf5#
• 6 years ago

I was wondering about the solution. In one of the variations you have

1. ... c5 2. Nf7#

Is this actually a checkmate? Can't the black king go to d5?

Taha

• 6 years ago

The solution on the website is wrong I posted it only for the story.

I added the real solution in the post, it's between the brackets, you only have to highlight it to see the solution.
• 6 years ago

according to the website the winning combination is Bc2 which then allows Qc5#. However, after Qc5, black can just interpose it's pawn at d5 blocking mate in 2.

It looks to me that the fastest you can achieve mate is in 3 moves with 1. Qc5+...d5 2. Bxg7+...Bxg7 3. Rxg5#.

Another option seems to be 1. b8 = Q/B+...d6+ 2. Ka6...c2 3. Qc5# or if instead of 2. ...c2 black goes Nxf4 then 3. Qd4#.

Am I missing something for the mate in 2? I just don't see it.

• 6 years ago
Nice puzzle, and very interesting read on Nabakov. I saw the movie Luzhin's defense, out or curiosity, how is the book different?