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Problems.—A chess problem[1] has been described as “merely a position supposed to have occurred in a game of chess, being none other than the critical point where your antagonist announces checkmate in a given number of moves, no matter what defence you play,” but the above description conveys no idea of the degree to which problem-composing has become a specialized study. Owing its inception, doubtless, to the practice of recording critical phases from actual play, the art of problem composition has so grown in favour as to earn the title of the “poetry” of the game.

Position by B. Horwitz.
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As a rule the game should be drawn. Supposing by a series of checks White were to compel Black to abandon the pawn, he would move K – R8; Q × P and Black is stale-mate. Therefore the ingenious way to win is:— 1. K – B4, P – B8 = Q ch; K – Kt3 and wins. Or 1. ... K – R8 (threatening P – B8 = Kt); then 2. Q – Q2 preliminary to K – Kt3 now wins.


Position by B. Horwitz.
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Without Black’s pawn White could only draw. The pawn being on the board, White wins as follows:— 1. Kt – B4, K – Kt sq; 2. Kt (B4) – K3, K – R sq; 3. K – Kt4, K – Kt sq; 4. K – R3, K – R sq; 5. Kt – B4, K – Kt sq; 6. Kt (B4) – Q2, K – R sq; 7. Kt – Kt3 ch, K – Kt sq; 8. Kt – B3 mate.


Position by B. Horwitz.
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White wins with two pieces against one—a rare occurrence. 1. Kt – K6, B – R3; 2. B – Q4 ch, K – R2; 3. B – B3, B moves anywhere not en prise; 4. B – Kt7 and Kt mates.


Position by O. Schubert.
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White wins as follows:— 1. P – Kt5, Kt – Kt5; 2. K – B3, Kt – K6; 3. B – K6, Kt – B8; 4. B × P, Kt – Q7 ch; 5. K – Kt4, Kt × P; 6. P – Kt6, Kt – B3, ch; 7. K – Kt5, P – K5; 8. K × Kt, P – K6; 9. B – B4, K × B; 10. P – Kt7, P – K7; 11. P – Kt8 = Q ch, and wins by the simple process of a series of checks so timed that the king may approach systematically. The fine points in this instructive ending are the two bishop’s moves, 3. B – K6, and 9. B – B4, the latter move enabling White to queen the pawn with a check.


Position by F. Amelung.
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White with the inferior position saves the game as follows:— 1. P – R6, P × P; 2. K–B3 dis. ch, K moves; 3. R–R2, or Kt2 ch, K × R; 4. K–Kt2 and draw, as Black has to give up the rook, and the RP cannot be queened, the Black bishop having no power on the White diagonal. Extremely subtle.


Position by B. Horwitz.
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The main idea being to checkmate with the bishop, this is accomplished thus:—1. B – K4 ch, K – R4; 2. Q × R, Q × Q; 3. K – B7, Q – B sq ch; 4. K × Q, BXP; 5. K – B7, B × P; 6. B – Kt6 mate.


Position by A. Troitzky.
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White wins as follows:— 1. P – R8=Q, R – R7 ch; 2. K – Kt5, R × Q; 3. Kt – Q7 ch, K – Kt2; 4. P – B6 ch, K – R2; 5. QP × Kt, R – R sq; 6. Kt – B8 ch, R × Kt; 7. P × R=Kt mate.


Position by Hoffer.
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A position from actual play. White plays 1. R – B5 threatening to win a piece. Black replies with the powerful Kt – Kt5, threatening two mates, and finally White (Mr Hoffer) finds an ingenious sacrifice of the Queen—the saving clause. The following are the moves:— 1. R – B5, Kt – Kt5; 2. Q – Kt8 ch, K – Kt3; 3. Q – K6 ch, K – R2; 4. Q – Kt8 ch, and drawn by perpetual check, as Black cannot capture the Queen with K or R without losing the game.

A good chess problem exemplifies chess strategy idealized and concentrated. In examples of actual play there will necessarily remain on the board pieces immaterial to the issue (checkmate), whereas in problems the composer employs only indispensable force so as to focus attention on the idea, avoiding all material which would tend to “obscure the issue.” Hence the first object in a problem is to extract the maximum of finesse with a sparing use of the pieces, but “economy of force” must be combined with “purity of the mate.” A very common mistake, until comparatively recent years, was that of appraising the “economy” of a position according to the slenderness of the force used, but economy is not a question of absolute values. The true criterion is the ratio of the force employed to the skill demanded. The earliest composers strove to give their productions every appearance of real play, and indeed their compositions

  1. The earliest known problem is ascribed to an Arabian caliph of the 9th century. The first known collection is in a manuscript (in the British Museum) of King Alphonso of Castile, dated 1250; it contains 103 problems. The collection of Nicolas of Lombardy, dated 1300, comprises 192 problems.