A help mate on black in 7 moves. Black to play. Try not to mate white in the process!
The thing that immediately strikes one is that, given that in helpmates Black is doing all he can to collaborate in being mated, it is remarkable that there is only one way in which mate can be achieved in 7 moves. Upon further inspection we realize that the difficulty is that Black is going to find it very difficult to avoid mating White! In a helpmate Black generally plays first and he has only one non-mating move – 1.f4. (In helpmates, confusingly, Black’s moves are written ‘1.f4’ and White’s moves ‘1…h8N’ – the other way round from in the score of a game.) In playing 1…h8N White avoids 1…h8Q+, forcing 2.Nc8 mate! He is preparing to give Black something else to do instead of inflicting mate; 2.f3 Ng6 3.fxg6… and as 3…g8Q+ fails as before we have 3…g8B!. Play then proceeds 4.g5 Be6 5.dxe6 d7 6.Kc7 b8R 9.e5 d8Q mate!
Amazingly, White has made all 4 types of promotion (problemists refer to this by the German term ‘Allumwandlung’, or ‘AUW’ for short). It’s always quite an achievement to set up an AUW in any type of problem; in helpmates, while there are a reasonable number of examples showing black AUW, it’s virtually unheard-of to show white AUW. Bear in mind that the composer not only has to create a scenario in which each promotion has to be that specific piece, but that he has to avoid ‘cooks’ (unintended extra ways of solving the problem), the perennial bane of a helpmate composer’s life.
For some reason, Hungarians (such as Molnar) have often been the most inspired helpmate composers. So I’d like to round this column off by showing you a helpmate by another great Hungarian composer, Gabor Cseh. This problem was one of Molnar’s favourites. It also features some truly remarkable promotions. It’s a helpmate in 8, published in Thema Danicum in 1997.
A help mate on black in 8 moves. Black to play. Try not to mate white in the process!
Again it looks as though White is on the verge of mating Black in very short order. And again the big obstacle is that Black will find it difficult not to move his Knight so as to give checkmate. After 1.b4 (again, the only non-mating move), White mustn’t go in for 1…e8Q+ 2.Ne3 mate! Instead we have a series of promotions to Bishop. In the case of the first such promotion it’s fairly clear why it has to be a Bishop, but in the case of the second promotion (3…f8B!!) it isn’t at all clear, as 3…f8Q wouldn’t be check. You may like examining why 3…f8Q fails. Even when you see why the intended solution doesn’t work with a Q at f8, you have to admire the great technical skill of the composer in ensuring that there are no cooks in which the f8Q would get through to mate in some other way. The full solution: 1.b4 e8B 2.b3 Bb5 3.axb5 f8B!! 4.b4 Bc5 5.f2+ Bxf2 6.Kf3 f7 7.Re8 fxe8B 8.Ke2 Bh5 mate.
Christopher holds the Grandmaster title for Chess Problem Composition and uses his skills to write a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times. He is also a longterm Horfield Chess Club player (where he is acting secretary).