Mikhail Chigorin, the lover of chess problems #3
Mikhail Chigorin on 11 September 1892

Mikhail Chigorin, the lover of chess problems #3


Continuing our series on Mikhail Chigorin's love of chess problems, let's look at the third etude that Chigorin wants us to solve.

Problem no. 3

White to move and mate in 2

It took a bit of detective work to figure out who composed this study. In the September 1876 issue of Shakhmatny Listok, Chigorin identified the author as just "ГАЛЕЯ." I initially thought that's Cyrillic for Galley or maybe Galey, Galeya or Galeyi, none of which turned up any leads. It was only when I searched Die Schwalbe's chess problem database that I discovered the composer of this problem was Francis Healey, or, as he apparently preferred to be called, Frank Healey. As I learned in tracking down this name, Russian does not have a letter for "H" so loan words and names including "H" used to be transliterated as "Г", the Cyrillic letter for "G", meaning that "ГАЛЕЯ" properly translates as "Healey."

Frank Healey, from the Wiener Schachzeitung in 1906

While he was previously unknown to me, Frank Healey was a celebrated 19th century chess composer.

Healey was best known for the "Bristol problem" — his submission that won first place in the problem tourney that the British Chess Association sponsored as part of its 1861 congress in Bristol. (I'll look at Healey's Bristol problem in my next post.)

In 1866, Healey authored A Collection of Two Hundred Chess Problems, a collection of his own studies that are still challenging today. In the preface, Healey laid out his case for chess problems in their own right:

Problems are indeed the poetry of chess. The same depth of imagination, the same quick perception of the beautiful, the same fecundity of invention, which we demand from the poet, are to be found, under a different form, in the humble labours of the problematist. Surely, without pressing the analogy too far, we may say that the thirty-two pieces form the alphabet of the composer, while the Chess board is the paper, and the positions finally resulting may be fairly likened to so many stanzas.

Today's problem that Chigorin picked for us was first published on 2 October 1858 in the Family Herald, a penny weekly paper that printed pulp fiction stories for its readers. In a bid to add new readers, the Family Herald briefly ran a chess column. (The chess editor at the time was Johann Löwenthal, a Hungarian chess player and columnist who later wrote Morphy's Games of Chess. Hat tip to @batgirl for her bio of Löwenthal.)

In 1866, Healey reprinted this problem in his book of his 200 best problems (as no. 38). As far as I can tell, the last and only other time when this problem was republished was when Chigorin ran it in Shakhmatny Listok in September 1876 so once again we are looking at a problem that Chigorin liked but very few living chess players have ever seen.

Fair warning, there are spoilers below this photo.

Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg (Photo by Alexxx1979, CC 3.0 license)

Now that we've seen three problems, let's consider what they have in common before we look closer at problem no. 3.

The first three etudes that Chigorin selected for Shakhmatny Listok are all of the same type — direct mates in two against any defense by Black. 

In each of these problems White is ahead in material — 28 to 14 (or 22 once the pawn queens) in problem no. 1, 30 to 21 in problem no. 2 and 23 to 21 in problem no. 3.

In each of these problems Black is making threats — possible checks and promoting a pawn in problem no. 1, a bishop capturing a rook and connected pawns on the 6th and 7th rank in problem no. 2 and capturing a hanging bishop in problem no. 3.

In each case Chigorin wants us to look beyond both White's material advantage and Black's putative threats.

Instead Chigorin wants us to discover for ourselves the tactic that leads to the fastest mate — one that doesn't rely on a war of attrition based on White's material advantage and that isn't distracted by dealing with supposed threats that White can safely ignore.

In problem no. 1 the key move was offering a queen sacrifice that sets up mate in 1, whether Black accepts or declines the sacrifice.

In problem no. 2 the key move was establishing an indirect pin of Black's queen that sets up mate in 1.

In problem no. 3 the key move is offering up a rook sacrifice that sets up mate in 1, whether Black accepts or declines it.

Interestingly in each case the key move isn't a check and doesn't force Black to make any particular move. Rather the key move creates a position where White can overwhelm any response that Black might attempt.

While each of these three problems displays the Romantic style of attacking chess for which Chigorin is famous, today's problem might be the most Chigorinesque.

For one thing, the main line of problem no. 3 (or at least the line I've chosen to show in the puzzle above) uses a pair of knights to deliver mate and Chigorin certainly loved knights. It's not for nothing that the dynamic Chigorin defense to the QGD bets on knights over bishops (as GM @BryanSmith and IM @Silman explain here and here).  

For another thing, eight years after he printed this problem, Chigorin used precisely the same tactic on the board. Just look at how Chigorin finished off this 1884 game against fellow Russian master Alexander Solovtsov, the first chess champion of Moscow. 

As you might be able to tell, I like this problem that Chigorin picked for us quite a bit. A big reason that I like it is that this study draws inspiration from the Légal mate, which dates back to this famous 1750 game and which makes chess.com's list of the 10 best chess traps.

In Légal's mate, a queen sack sets up mate by two knights with a bishop's assistance. In this problem, a rook sack sets up mate by two knights with an assisting piece. So by selecting this etude for us, Chigorin is implicitly reminding us to study the classic checkmate patterns.

For those who wish to do so, chess.com has a wealth of resources. 

  • IM Jeremy Silman (@silman), IM Marc Leski, FM Thomas Wolski ( @gauranga) and NM Mike Arne assembled a course — Exclusively Checkmates — aimed at 1000+ players that goes over a slew of simple checkmate problems.
  • FM Thomas Wolski (@gauranga) has put together a course on Essential Checkmate Patterns aimed at 1200+ players that contains 130 challenges.

I'm just getting started exploring the chess problems that Chigorin picked out. To make sure you don't miss my next post in this series, check the box above to follow my blog.