Part of the skill in running such a competition is in selecting problems of the right level of difficulty. On August 26th I ran the problem solving event at the MindSports Olympiad in London. Only five competitors turned up, but they all took the event seriously, and as lively discussions broke out at the end of each round about problems they’d solved correctly and problems they hadn’t I think they found it a stimulating experience. All five were more familiar with chess-playing events, though some had at least a passing interest in problems. The event took the form of two one-hour ‘papers’, each comprising six problems, nearly all of them orthodox, and as the scores, out of 60, ranged from 47.5 to 14.5 I was pleased that no competitor found the problems either too easy or hopelessly difficult.
Of the problems, my own favourite, which was solved I think by two of the five competitors, was one that I managed to solve when looking for problems to set:
It’s mate in 4. Composed by one Walter I. Kennard, it was published in American Chess Bulletin in 1915.
In this case, Black has only two legal moves, so the obvious approach to solving is to see what happens if White ‘passes’ and Black plays either of these moves. Well, White isn’t worried about 1…c5. This move, losing control over d5, allows 2.Rd1 b5 3.Rd5 and 4.Rxc5#. But as matters stand White doesn’t have a mate after 1…b5; the only way then in which you might hope to mate within the 4-move time-frame is 2.c5, but then after 2…b4 what happens? If 3.cxb4+ Kb5 and there is no mate.
But of course it is White to play in the initial position, and can we finagle it so that in that line there is a mate after 3…Kb5? If so, the mate would have to be 4.c4. So the Rook must guard c4. The natural way to do this is to play 1.Rf4 – but the drawback then is that 1…c5 now defends successfully! (If 2.Rd4 then of course 2…cxd4.) So the ‘lightbulb moment’ is when one sees that the key has to be 1.Rc1! It is very attractive that this move, which of all the moves on the board seems to give the Rook the least influence, does have the well-concealed potential to guard the c2P when it administers mate on move 4. And of course the Rook at c1 can still play the mating line, beginning 2.Rd1, if Black plays 1…c5.
Mate in four after: 1.Rc1 b5 2.c5 b4 3. cxb4 + kb5 4. c4# (editors note – Lovely stuff!)
Although you may feel under pressure in a solving event if you’re competitively minded it’s still possible to enjoy ‘lightbulb moments’ when you spot a nice paradoxical key move like this. And even if, competitive-minded, you find a solving tourney as stressful as a game in the Bristol League, it’s like a League game in which you’re guaranteed that you’re going to have the opportunity to play a brilliant winning move!
If you’re interested in solving events don’t hesitate to contact me.
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).