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Nabokov on Chess Problems: Composers and Solvers

  • qixel
  • | Aug 30, 2012 at 11:01 AM
  • | Posted in: Amy's Blog
  • | 2841 reads

I remember one particular problem I had been trying to compose for months.  There came a night when I managed at last to express that particular theme.  It was meant for the delectation of the expert solver.  The unsophisticated might miss the point of the problem entirely, and discover its fairly simple, “thetic” solution without having passed through the pleasurable torments prepared for the sophisticated one.  The latter would start by falling for an illusory pattern of play based on a fashionable avant-garde theme (exposing White’s King to checks), which the composed had taken the greatest pains to “plant” (with only one obscure little move by an inconspicuous pawn to upset it).  Having passed through this “antithetic” inferno the by now ultra-sophisticated solver would reach the simple key move (bishop to c2) as somebody on a wild goose chase might go from Albany to New York by way of Vancouver, Eurasia and the Azores.  The pleasant experience of the roundabout route (strange landscapes, gongs, tigers, exotic customs, the thrice-repeated circuit of a newly married couple around the sacred fire of an earthen brazier) would amply reward him for the misery of the deceit, and after that, his arrival at the simple key move would provide him with a synthesis of poignant artistic delight.

--Vladimir Nabokov, in Speak, Memory, 1951 1966

White to move and mate in two.


  • 19 months ago


    Try using the chess composition database called Yet Another Chess Problem Database or Yacpdb. In the "Author:" box type in Nabokov, Vladimir; thereafter, hit the "Search" box. There should be more than two dozen of his chess compositions. Other famous celebrities having composed chess problems and/or endgame studies are Oskar Blumenthal (The White Horse Inn),

    Jacob Bronowski (The Ascent Of Man), Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures In Wonderland), Aleister Crowley (The Book Of The Law), Alfred de Musset (The Confession Of A Child Of The Century), Marcel Duchamp (artwork: Nude Descending A Staircase), Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany (Wonder Tales), Alexander P. Kazantsev (The Destruction Of Faena), Francois-Andre Danican Philidor (comic opera: Le Sorcier), Peter Mark Roget (Roget's Thesaurus Of English Words And Phrases), Raymond M. Smullyan (The Tao Is Silent), and Howard Staunton (The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare).

    Chess problems attributed to Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II, have been deemed as hoaxes.

  • 20 months ago


    i don't see the mate i thought queen to c5# but then d5 busts that so i don't see it and Bc2 

  • 20 months ago


  • 20 months ago


    okay, understand, thanks

  • 20 months ago



    This is more about Nabokov discussing this problem than the problem itself. The problem actually appears as Problem 2 in his book Poems and Problems where, of course, he doesn't give the key move (Bc2).  The discussion above is from his autobiography, Speak, Memory.

  • 20 months ago


    :) i like pretty much everything u post, Amy, but this is too obscure for me....what is the object, game over in 2 moves for white? why is the move bishop to c2 given? my literal mind is crashing...

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