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Feb 14, 2014, 12:00 AM 13 Scholastics

Professor: Hello, class. It’s good to see the gang’s all here for another session.

Zephyr: Professor, does that mean we should thank Caissa it’s Friday?

Lucian: Weekend or not, I’m happy as long as I get to do some chess.

Professor: Ah yes, chess – the Final Frontier. Before we space out altogether, and cross into an imaginary neutral zone, let’s take a gander at today’s problem.

Zephyr: By mentioning the term “frontier” Professor, are you in some way alluding to the frontier line that divides the chessboard in half?

Lucian: Not necessarily, Zephyr. Maybe the Professor has in mind a problem taking place entirely in one zone of the board.

Professor: Those are interesting observations, and in a small sense, though not in a large one, I am indeed interested in a particular sector of the chess universe, more or less. But as we anticipate a possible turn to the quadrant containing the square a8, let’s not meander too much. First we should see what today’s problem is really about.

Zephyr: So, what is today’s problem really about?

Lucian: Better yet, instead of telling us what today’s problem is really about, could you just show us today’s problem?

Professor: Why not? Your plaintive words have moved me deeply. Please take a look at this position.

Professor: Here’s the situation. It’s White’s move. White is poised to promote a pawn and win quickly. In fact, White has a forced mate in two moves. Oh, and just for the sake of facetiousness, except for the white king, all the units are on Black’s side of the frontier line.

Question 1: How can White force mate in two moves?

Lucian: The problem doesn’t seem that hard, Professor.

Zephyr: No, not at all. I think it’s even possible to rule out a particular first move for White.

Professor: Actually, I can rule out a bunch of first moves. But I’m curious to know what you’re thinking. Perhaps you could even show us how White mates in two moves.

It didn’t take long (merely a minute) before the two wunderkinder had an answer. Zephyr even explained which move she had ruled out and why. But then, right after that, the Professor had what some might describe as an “Aha” moment.

Professor: Aha! Your group answer is quite correct, and so is Zephyr’s explanation. But I’m afraid I’ve made a slight mistake. I have to “adjust” things a bit. You see, I’ve set up the wrong position. I’ve accidentally put the white king on b4. It should be on c4.

Zephyr: Professor, that’s terrible. You "j’adoube" us an awful lot! Though I must admit, I did like your mixed up problem anyway.

Lucian: Me too Professor. Anyhow, with the white king now on c4, is it still mate in two moves?

Professor: Yes, it’s truly still mate in two moves. Let’s see if you can find the new solution.

It didn’t take long, and the gifted and talented juniors found the correct answer. But once again, the apparently absent-minded Professor (or, should we say, rhetorically bent Professor) had to "j’adoube" things somewhat.

Professor: I’m happy you found the answer to the right position. Unfortunately, it’s still the wrong position. The one you just solved was actually meant for another day. It’s so easy to confuse one day with another. In any case, here is today’s actual problem. Notice the white king is not on c4. Now it’s on d4. I’m glad we straightened that out.

Zephyr: If this weren’t so funny I’d make a joke of it.

Lucian: Let me guess: Are we right in assuming that it’s still mate in two?

Professor: Yes, with the white king now on d4, you’re assumption is right on the money. So, can you tell me the solution to this newly adjusted, possibly maladjusted problem?

Enough of that. Your task, readers, if you should decide to accept it, is to find the three different mates in two and to explain what Zephyr meant when she said for the first solution one of White’s moves could be eliminated immediately. Whether you get the answers or not, may you live long and prosper!

Answer below - Try to solve ProfessorPando's Puzzle first!

For the first setup, White plays 1. a8/B!, underpromoting to a bishop. After 1…Ka6, White wins by 2. Qb7 mate.

Notice, as Zephyr pointed out, that 1. a8/Q is stalemate, and thus could be eliminated at once.

For the second setup, with the white king on c4, White plays 1. a8/R!, underpromoting to a rook. After 1… Kc6, White wins by 2. Ra6 mate.

For the third setup, with the white king starting on d4,

White wins with 1. a8/Q, a typical promotion. After 1…Kb5, White wins with 2. Qgb7 mate!

Take note

Chess players distinguish tactical mating situations, which typically come from genuine games or natural setups, from composed mates, which rarely reflect real positions. To be sure, many compositions have lopsided material and unnatural characteristics and placements. Today’s three problems were created by the great German composer Werner Speckmann (1913-2001).

While today’s offerings are not likely to arise in actual chess games, Speckmann’s formations frequently aspire use in the pragmatic realm. Some of his compositions are marked by simple yet surprising solutions that, with appropriate modification, can have a practical utility to them. Without doubt, he was one of the best.

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