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Friday, December 3, 2010

Chess Problems

A chess problem, aka chess composition, is a puzzle that presents the solver with a particular task to be achieved. There is a good deal of specialized jargon used in connection with chess problems which probably explains why most players aren’t interested in solving a bunch of artificial positions. It probably goes back to the idea of pattern recognition; to most of us the positions look like nothing more than a random position. However, I suppose if you specialize in chess compositions the patterns are recognizable there, too, and it will help in solving the problem if you recognize the theme.

As a kid our newspaper had a chess column which mainly consisted of a problem. You could mail your solution in on a post card and if it was correct, they published your name the following week. It was a pretty big deal if you were a 10-year old kid. One thing I always noticed was that most of the solvers were people I never heard of…they never played in any otb tournaments. A few years ago I played in a some cc tournaments and three times met a CC master (all draws) who is also listed in the US as an Expert Solver. I never heard of any of the others. My conclusion is that problemist, like many cc players and internet players who never played otb and play chess like it is a video game, live in their own little world.

Just out of curiosity, I wanted to see how my engine would do in solving a problem so I put the following position in and let it analyze.

Houdini found a mate in 8 in a few seconds:

But after 15 minutes it still hadn’t found a shorter solution, so I switched over to Robbolito to see if it could do any better and it didn’t. Stockfish, Firebird, Crafty and Fritz 12 fared no better. I suppose they all would find the correct solution though if given enough time. I don’t know what the answer to the mate in two is though because it wasn’t given in the magazine I took it from; it was in the next month’s issue which I don’t have. It could take forever for some engines to solve these things! However there are engines designed for solving problems.

Most compositions, unlike tactical puzzle, have no instructional value and are more geared to demonstrating the art or fantasy or some such that chess offers.

There are even unorthodox compositions, known as Fairy Chess, that has no relationship to real chess. It has invented pieces such as Grasshopper, Camel, Zebra, Nightrider, etc. Then there’s retrograde analysis is a branch of composition based on determining the play leading to the given position. And finally studies which are positions in which White has to reach a clearly won or drawn position after the best play from both sides. Chess compositions are classified into groups such as direct mates (two-movers, three-movers, and more-movers), selfmates, helmates, etc.

Most of us are familiar with the name of GM Pal Benko who is an International Grandmaster and Endgame Composer as well as a former world championship candidate. Less known is that of IM Milan Vukcevich (1937-2003) who was an International Master and International Composition Grandmaster. He was editor of StrateGems, the publication of the Society of U.S. Chess Problemists. I did a post on Vukcevich HERE.  I just found it odd that given the output of Benko that I'm familiar with through Chess Life magazine and the fact that he was the stronger player, Vukcevich had a higher title in composing. Other names we might recognize are Andre Cheron, Vincent Lanius Eaton (1915-1962), Edgar Holladay (1925- ), Henrikh Kasparian (1910-1995), Sam Loyd (1841-1911), Comins Mansfield (1896-1984), Henri Rinck (1870-1952), Alexei Troitsky (1866-1942) and Alain White (1880-1951).

If anybody is interested in investigation this aspect of chess there are several sites dealing with them.
Chessopolis has 25 or 30 links to problem sites
Software designed specifically for solving problems
Handbook of Chess Composition in pdf for download
Chess Problems
Chess Problems

Why do I mention this? I was just thinking about this because maybe if I had gotten involved in chess problems instead of “real chess” back when I was sending in my solutions every week, who knows? Maybe I could have been an IM or maybe even a GM in this specialty. If you're young enough and feel like starting over at something, it's something to think about.

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