The Art of Composition

Nov 30, 2013, 7:11 PM |






This month, rather than puzzles from actual games, the puzzles are all composed positions, mostly chess problems. The world of chess problems is a centuries old art and has produced a wide range of spectacular achievements. We certainly don't have room to show the huge range of problems that exist but I hope to give you a little taste.



Unlike endgame studies, chess problems often have little resemblance to positions you are likely to encounter in a game. Meant more for entertainment and enjoyment than for instruction, a good problem usually clearly shows the fulfilment of a chess idea. Some of those ideas and themes do occur in games from time to time, for example the idea of interference, which you will see in one of the problems below, has occurred often in master games.



The convention for all chess problems is that white is to play and mate in a specified number of moves. In traditional problems, they must be a "legal position", that is the problem setting must be one that could have occured in a game. It also usual that the first move is not a check which is seen as too forcing; a more subtle first (or key) move is the general rule. None of the problems in this set breaks that rule.



No particularly difficult or particularly exotic problems for you in this set, I will keep them relatively simple. However if anyone is up for a real challenge, I do have one problem that specifies that white is to move and mate in 1320 moves!



So on with the show.



Just to get those brain cells tuned up and working, let's start off with a pawn endgame study by Chernev from 1960. Minimal material to begin with, looks simple doesn't it? Well, it is but be careful, it is easy to go astray. It's white to play and win.



Now that you are warmed up, our first problem is by G. Carpenter (1873). This is a miniature problem and clearly white will win in this position. However in a chess problem, it isn't quite that simple. It is not enough to win, it has to be mate in a specific number of moves. In this case, it is white to play and mate in 2 moves.



Next another miniature problem (that is a problem with no more 7 pieces), this time from the 13th century. Even in the medieval era, the composer of this problem had the modern composers feel for economy and symmetry. Again, it is white to play and mate in 2 moves.



Problems often have a theme, of which there are many. The following problem, by Sam Loyd (1859), of the greatest problemists who also produced puzzles in a very wide range of areas, illustrates what is called the Grimshaw theme which involves interference by the rooks and bishops on key squares. In this problem we see what is called the Organ Pipes, the particular position of the black rooks and bishops, invented for this problem by Loyd. Again it is white to mate in two moves.




I'm sure that you have all heard of Adolf Anderssen, who won the Immortal Game and the Evergeen Game, two of the most famous games in chess history. It is perhaps less well known that he also composed problems as we will see in our next position. It is white to play and mate in three. One small clue – don't be hasty in this one.




Another simple looking position next, with only 4 pieces including pawns ready to promote, from A Werle (1945). It is white to play and mate in 4 moves; can I suggest that it doesn't pay to be greedy.




 Finally, something a little more … exotic, but not too much so. In this composition by C. C. W. Mann (1907), how does the white queen penetrate the formidable looking defences of the black king? It is white to play and mate in 4 moves.



 I hope you enjoyed that all too brief introduction to the wonderful world of chess problems. For those who enjoy the beauty of chess, it is a field of endless variety and delight. See you again next month.