How To Solve A Chess Mystery
Use these tools to solve any number of chess mysteries.

How To Solve A Chess Mystery

| 47 | Fun & Trivia

Last week, we learned about two friends, Dave and Detective Ron Miller, who were trying to stop a crime by a madman.

While we don't know if they managed to solve the maniac's puzzles (I hope they did!), let me show you how they could easily do it with the numerous useful features of our favorite chess website.

As you remember, the first puzzle was this:

The winner of the game was born while White was executing his brilliant combination.

The following game was attached to the message:

The simplest way to solve this puzzle is to use the opening explorer. Just start entering the opening moves, and by move 14 you'll see the game:

But who is "the winner of the game who was born while White was executing his brilliant combination"?

Anatoly Karpov couldn't be possibly born while executing his own combination, so obviously the madman was talking about another player. The game was played on February 27, 1994. Which great chess player was born that day?

Here another feature will be very handy. Go to the list of the world's top players. Now, let's sort the list by rating, so great players like Lasker or Alekhine (who were born before chess ratings were established, which is way before 1994) will be at the bottom of the list.

Pretty soon you'll see that #43 on the list is the chess player we are looking for! Yes, Hou Yifan was born February 27, 1994!

Hou Yifan. Photo: Maria Emelianova /
Hou Yifan. Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Now let's proceed to the next puzzle:

You wanna know who was the loser of the game? Then watch this commercial.

I think it was very easy, wasn't it? The ladies in the commercial were repeating "short shorts" throughout most of the video. So now we know that the loser of that game must be Nigel Short. Next we need to find the game where Hou Yifan played Short and won the game.

Here we are going to use another very useful feature of Go to master games, enter the name of the players, and use the advanced search to select just the games where Hou Yifan won. You'll get two games:

Here comes the tricky part. Remember the madman said: 

Now, when you know the players, play through their game and it will point you to the place.

So, what can we deduce from these games? Yes, the notorious Berlin variation of Ruy Lopez was played in the second game. Going through the list provided in the story, we can finally locate the place of the coming crime. It is Berlin, New York!

Now we need to figure out the date when the madman is going to strike. While he clearly indicated it in his message, October 23 at 10 p.m., he also submitted a game. Why? Let's investigate.

The move 3...Nb4 looks very suspicious, and the opening explorer confirms our suspicion. Black is doing very poorly after this move. If 3...Nb4 is not good, then why did the madman give a double exclamation point for this move?

Probably he wanted to tell us something, didn't he? And here comes an interesting detail. Have you seen how strong players analyze chess games? Watch this video to get some idea:

Did you notice that both players almost always spell out their moves?

So, instead of saying "what if I play this?," or "I was afraid of that move," they usually say "What if I play Ng6 here?" or "I was afraid of Re1." The situation is totally opposite when you deal with less advanced players. Trust me, I have analyzed thousands of games with players rated below USCF 1500 and they practically never spell out their moves while moving the pieces.

Why so? Well, usually less advanced players are not that proficient with chess notation. When they notate their moves and a board has no coordinates written on it, you can see pain on their faces. So, if chess notation is not a "native language" for them, why would they spell out the moves while analyzing the games? Fortunately, has a very nice tool that can quickly fix the problem. Play with it for a while and pretty soon you'll never have problems with chess notation.

Let's get back to the madman's riddle. If you analyze chess games like a pro and spell out the Nb4 move, what will you hear? "Knight b4," right? Do you hear it now? Yes, the madman encrypted the message "night before" into his chess move! Therefore the crime was supposed to happen the night before the given date of October 23. Now we know both the place, Berlin, NY, and time: October 22 at 10 p.m.

I hope that you enjoyed solving this mystery, especially if it helped you to improve some of your chess skills.

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