Get in Shape!
By Gary Kevin Ware   
June 26, 2008
My last article dealt with composed problems in the form of letters. This one will deal with all other recognizable shapes.
Perhaps the most famous and most remarkable are Sam Loyd's Twin problems, the Kilkenny Cats. Kilkenny has nothing to do with the cartoon, South Park. Although there is an actual place, Kilkenny, in Ireland, the Kilkenny cat is an imaginary creature. A Kilkenny cat is synonymous with a tenacious fighter; to fight like a Kilkenny cat. There is an old story about two cats who fought each other to the death and ate each other up, leaving only their tails, and it has been set to a limerick.

There once were two cats of Kilkenny'
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they hit
And they scratched and they bit
'Til instead of two cats there weren't any!

As with so many of Loyd's problems, he includes a humorous story. "Two professors, lovers of problems, were writing an encyclopedia. They had written about art and bananas and carpets and other things, at the beginning of the alphabet, and had come to the subject of Cats. Unfortunately, they could think of nothing to say, and it being late, they decided to go to bed and think it over. In the morning, their ideas were still very few, but each claimed at least to have seen a cat on a chessboard, in their dreams. When they came to compare notes, and one of the professors set up his problem, there was mystification indeed, for it was the very problem the other professor had seen. It was manifestly impossible that the two men should have dreamt of the same problem, and as they argued it out, the two worthy gentlemen fell to quarrelling most pitifully, as to priority. It was their first quarrel, and consequently all the more heated. To make a long story short, they ended by discovering that their problems, after all, were not exactly the same, one being a square further to the left on the board than the other. It now turned out that neither could solve the other's problem, and the mutual revelation of their solutions gave the two old friends an opportunity of making up."
There are only a few problems in which the solution is so completely changed by a transposition on the board and no case where the change is so complex.

Cat1.jpg
Sam Loyd Texas Siftings c. 1888
White to Mate in Four

 

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Cat2.jpg
Sam Loyd Texas Siftings c. 1888,
 White to Mate in Four

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Loyd has ingeniously made use of the right hand barrier presented by the edge of the board in the first problem. If White tries to play 1 c8=N as in the second problem, Black can try to lead to stalemate by replying 1...Rxh1 2 Nxe7 g1=N! But White can play 1 Nf4+ and the Black King cannot escape to the right as he could do with a similar line of attack in the second problem.

  Loyd represented the 'theological virtues', faith, hope and charity, as, respectively, a cross, anchor and a heart.

Faith.jpg
Sam Loyd "Faith" L'Illustration 1867,
White to Mate in 3


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 Hope.jpg
Sam Loyd "Hope" L'Illustration 1867,
White to Mate in 3


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Heart.jpg
Sam Loyd "Charity" L'Illustration 1867,
White to Mate in 3

 

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Loyd dismissed the importance of dual keys, as in "Faith", considering them only a blemish if they detract from the beauty or difficulty of the theme. Loyd could have easily made his Cross without the dual key as the following problem ascribed to Dr. C.C. Moore shows.
 
Faith2.jpg
Dr. C.C. Moore American Chess Nuts 1868,
White to Mate in 3


 

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  Loyd's next two problems, "The Arena" and "The Columns of Sissa" were accompanied by pseudo-archaeological notes.
"The Arena"- "Poor Abu-Abdallah Mohammed ben Achmed al-Cheyat (whom God preserve!) is an enthusiastic lover of the sport which consoles the mind and refreshes the body. His problems are the delight of the student and the gratification of the adept; but he lately made this stratagem (the Arena), which is so utterly absurd and ridiculous that it has affected his reason. And now, alas, he lies a raving maniac, in the madhouse of Damascus. Let no composer imitate such folly, lest he share the sad, but merited, fate of Abu-Abdallah Mohammed ben Achmed al-Cheyat."
Arena275.jpg
Sam Loyd "The Arena" Chess Monthly May, 1858, White to Mate in 4

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"The Columns of Sissa"- "Not far from the banks of the deep-flowing Indus, overshadowed by the cloud-reaching mountains of Northern Hindustan, stand four time-worn pillars of marble. They mark the burial place of the inventor of chess. His disciples, to honor his memory and to express their gratitude, erected this monument styled the Four Columns of Sissa."
Click here for a chessbase link to more information about Sissa. 

Sissa.jpg
Sam Loyd "The Columns of Sissa" Chess Monthly May, 1858, White to Mate in 4

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  This next problem was dedicated, by Loyd, to C.H. Wheeler, and so appropriately it is "A Wheel within a Wheel". It is also amazing in that it is four problems in one; White to move, mates or self-mates in two moves or Black to move, mates or self-mates in two moves. Loyd explained that he, " was attempting to show the most absurd position I could think of, fettered by the conditions of producing four problems on the one diagram."
wheel2.jpg
Sam Loyd "A Wheel within a Wheel" American Chess Journal August 1878 Dedicated to C. H. Wheeler
Either side to mate or self-mate in two

 

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  This last problem featuring Sam Loyd, "The Arrow", I dedicate to my friend, Ron Hoffman, who has temporarily given up tournament chess for his new passion, archery, with aspirations of making the 2012 Olympics in London. Loyd's friend, Captain Mackenzie, considered it the funniest problem he had ever seen. He used to bet that no one could solve it without taking back a move.
 
Arrow.jpg
Sam Loyd "The Arrow" Unpublished
White to Mate in two


 

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  Christmas trees are a very popular shape to use in composing chess problems. Our first is by Pal Benko and he relates that, "Hungarian grandmaster G. Paros told me that this problem is the best he's ever seen of its kind. I recall starting to compose the Christmas Tree in the early evening and only finishing when the morning's light began to pour through my window!"
TreeBenko1.jpg
Pal Benko Chess Life 1975
White to Mate in Two


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  Our next two Christmas trees come from Don French's website, http://www.geocities.com/Bozito/myChessCompositions.html
 
Tree2.jpg
Don French First Christmas Tree 1996,
White to Mate in two

 
"My first attempt at a Christmas Tree Problem. I composed this problem for Christmas 1996 and put it on my cards that year. Most people missed it, some claiming that it had two symmetrical solutions. Of course, what they missed was black's check. The first move is one of the few on the board that doesn't threaten mate on the following move."

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Anothertree.jpg
Don French, Another Christmas Tree,
White to Mate in Two


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  Our next problem could be considered an upside-down Christmas tree, which is appropriate since the only way to solve it is through retrograde analysis.

Tree4.jpg
T.R, Dawson Falkirk Herald 1914


What was Black's last move? His king couldn't have come from d8 or f8 as he would have been in an impossible double check. Also, not d7 or f7, since White's pawn on e6 has no previous move. So the last move must have been d7-d5 or f7-f5. In the first case, White can mate in two by 1 c5xd6 e.p. and 2 d7 and in the second case, 1 g5xf6 e.p. and 2 f7. So it appears that White can mate in two but doesn't know which move to play! But a subtler retro-analysis solves the problem. The White pawns must have made at least ten captures to reach their present positions and so they have taken all of the missing Black men, including the c8 bishop. Thus the last move could not have been d7-d5 since that would mean that the c8 bishop had been captured on its original square by something other than a pawn. So the key is 1 g5xf6 e.p.

  In my last article, I mentioned that in the excellent book, Pal Benko: My Life, Games and Compositions, Benko's 300 composed problems included at least one for each letter of the alphabet. They also include at least one for each of the numbers from zero to nine.
Five.jpg
Pal Benko Number Five


  Benko claims that this is a mate in two after 1 Bf2 Nxf2 Rg3#. But if Black plays 1...Ng3, then White can only mate in four. From the original position, White has a mate in three but with duals:
 
1 Nd4+ Ke3
1 Rh2

Six.jpg
Pal Benko Number 6
White to Mate in Three


This problem also has a dual. The intended solution is 1 Ne3 Kxe3 2 Rd6 Kf3 3 Rd3#. The alternate solution is 1 Rh2 Kg3 2 Bf1 Kf3 3 Rh3#.

  Our last Benko number problem has a spectacular Rook sacrifice.

Nine.jpg
Pal Benko Number Nine,
White to Mate in 3

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  Benko, like Sam Loyd, also tried his hand at composing a 'heart' problem and it is spectacular!

Heart2.jpg
Pal Benko,
White to Mate in Two


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Here is one more 'number' problem.

Two.jpg
Anthony J. Taffs U.S. Problem Bulletin 1966,
 White to Mate in two

Originally, this problem had the stipulation: "White mates in how many?" There's a visual hint!

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  For our last problem, we go to Egypt and the pyramids. The Black King is buried in the center chamber of the pyramid.

Pyramid.jpg
Alain C. White British Chess Magazine 1906,
 White to Mate in two


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For questions about this article, email me at garykevinware@yahoo.com . Feel free to post or email me with comments as well.